Welcome to the Smartphone Olympics! What, you thought with this week’s news that Apple sold a whopping 37 million of the little miracles in the last quarter that I’d be inveighing against our “addiction” to smartphones and our lack of good manners in using them?
Perhaps you thought, I’d be calling in a few experts to pronounce on why spouses are furiously hissing at each other over dinner tables to “turn that damn thing off,” why some grandparents are telling their beloved grandchildren, “if you want to spend time with me, no texting your friends” and why physiotherapists are set to make a bundle on repairing our distended smartphone necks.
Relax. This is no time for lectures. I don’t completely buy into the addiction model to explain our rampant, indiscriminate, obsessive and totally fun use of smartphones. Addiction is a loaded word. Chirpily using it as an excuse for bad behaviour trivializes the terrible struggles of drug and alcohol addicts.(Although I must confess, the oft-repeated 12-step phrase, “Let go and let God” has morphed into “Let go and let Jobs” in the irony chamber of my brain.)
No, I’m here to introduce our new universal sport. I’m no athlete, but I believe that I or someone I live with, might even have a shot at owning the podium (or, more to the point, odium) in the smartphone Olympics in some of these marquee events.
The Rollover: The stealthy, half-roll in bed to turn on your smartphone first thing in the morning, even before lovingly greeting your partner, lest you miss a nanosecond of your data-filled day. To qualify in this event, you must perform the rollover in less than five seamless seconds, literally ceasing to snore, opening one eye, arcing your arm toward the bedside table to reach, switch, click and mutter, while looking at Google news, “hmm, that’s weird.”
The iGlance: While driving, you slide the smartphone onto your thigh – or better yet velcro it there – and at a stoplight, look quickly to see if anyone has texted you. The skill here is in the head-bob, and of course in remaining undetected by passing traffic cops. Oh and not rear-ending the guy in front. The ethics committee has decided that any attempt to answer a text is too dangerous and will immediately disqualify you.
The Blowoff: This daring social gesture is used to aggressively signify you are done with the face-to-face conversation you are having, whether it’s with your colleague, your spouse or if you are totally immature, your mother. Nothing subtle here, you must, without actually saying “kill me now,” overtly start playing with your apps. The skill lies in being steely enough to withstand the ire of the person whose physical presence you are denying. Extra points for giving a self-ennobling excuse as to why you are doing this: “I’m just making sure my daughter got home safely from school.(Never mind she is 24 and studying in another country.)
The Dead-Time Double Step: If you are skillful enough with a smartphone, there need be no downtime, ever, whether you’re in a doctor’s reception room, waiting for a bus, or in the supermarket checkout line. You’ve got your little buddy! This is a subtle event, because there is true but invisible talent involved in not allowing yourself even one moment to daydream, refresh yourself spiritually or even (gasp) engage with strangers. You will be judged on how quickly you whip your phone out, how impermeable the techno bubble around you becomes, and then of course how swiftly you pocket the phone when your name is called, the bus arrives, or the cashier is ready.
The Oracle: In this event, if your companion says, just to keep conversation flowing, I wonder if it’s going to rain, you must, without looking at the sky, instantly access your weather app and report on the precise possibility of precipitation. If she confesses to a second’s indecision about whether a restaurant is on the south or north side, or even if John Kenneth Galbraith is still alive, you will be judged on how obnoxiously, I mean quickly, you can provide an informed reply. The smartphone has killed idle speculation. Long live the know-it-all.
The Multitasking Triathlon: While keeping a colleague waiting in your office, in swift sequence you 1. speak on your smartphone to your elderly mother (“Mom, when did you first start feeling dizzy?”), 2. text your teenager (U may not go shopping until project done!!!) and 3. add “plum tomatoes” to your cellphone shopping list. Winner must complete all three applications, turn ,smile (tightly) and say “where were we? in less than 30 seconds.
As you can see, there is no end of highly skilled events in the Smartphone Olympics. Feel free to invent your own. And at this point it’s no use adapting a Thoreau-like stance, claiming to be above it all. Today, 37 million, tomorrow, billions will know only a world in which “smart,” as the newly deposed executives of our once proud Research in Motion sadly know only too well, means “look what my phone can do.”
In fact, right now, a baby is being born who will start using smartphone technology before she can speak. She is right there in the delivery room, in the arms of her exhausted mother. Her father? He’s busy texting.