In Warhol’s autobiography, there’s a scene where his friend has locked herself in the bathroom to recopy her address book. This is such a romantic notion to me—that over time, additions to the book would end up out of order, and one would periodically review and rewrite each entry. It would be an opportunity to think about everyone you know, and the result—the alphabetized book—would be both satisfying and useful.
Bolaño’s Savage Detectives takes place in 1970s Mexico City. The student characters may wallow away an entire day at a cafe, hoping that a friend might show up, or walk to meet someone new who has called from the subway station.
But in the 2010s, our lives are too frantic to tolerate discomfort.
I feel that my phone is a near necessity. It’s my camera, my music, podcast, and audiobook player, my navigator, my flashlight, and my constant contact so that I need never endure a dull moment. Life without a smartphone seems almost unthinkable. I even pay for service in Toronto, though I only visit occasionally. When I need to traverse the city in 15 minutes by public transportation, my phone is an indispensable guide.
My dream, however, is to reclaim the lost romance of a 1970s novel, where interesting events can only happen without the convenience of instant global communication. Shy of that, one compromise could be a weekly tech sabbatical. Another might be a feature phone. Or I could set my current phone to gray scale and uninstall the most alluring applications.
Without my phone, I’m left to my own thoughts. Ideally, I would replace the tech loneliness with real people. Perhaps we could meet reliably at a cafe or bar. But then I think of all the incredible relationships I have online, and how easy it is to access them—I just reach into my pocket, and there they all are. It’s like an acid trip on demand. I’m in Appalachia! I’m in Berlin! I’m writing this sentence!
What is life like without my drug? How can I cope with the sobriety of a plain existence? Will I turn to food? How will I order it? Am I better off with older technology like cars and books? All of these distractions help me handle discomfort in my life. Perhaps my phone prevents me from solving my own problems.
Disconnecting, at least a little bit, is probably a healthy idea. But I won’t know until I try it, and that’s going to take some courage. In the meantime, I’ll be checking my phone every five minutes for replies to this article. You can find me online. ∎