Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Inappropriate Emotional Response of "Losing" a "Phone"

So I lost my mobile phone the other night. Well, that's not entirely
true. It was a 'mobile device' (i.e. smart-phone) and like most
scenarios - I accidentally left the 'phone' unattended for a period of
time, and when I returned to where I know I had left it, it was gone. I
think the reason most of us say "I lost my phone" was that it makes us
feel less cynical about humanity than saying, "Someone stole my phone" -
which is actually what generally happens. Perhaps another way to say it
was that I assisted someone in stealing my phone by leaving it
unattended for a while. Of course that's quite a bit more complicated to
say than "I lost my phone".

My situation wasn't as bad as a co-worker I was relaying this to last
night that 'lost' their phone at Denver airport. To me, stealing an
'unattended' phone at an airport takes an opportunistic based dearth of
morality to a whole other level. Because pretty much everyone going
through an airport has 'lost' their phone at one time or another and
personally knows how that feels.

The point of this post wasn't to elicit sympathy, or decry the declining
ethical fiber of humanity. It was to share what I think is the common
feeling you have when you lose your 'phone'. When I got into work, I put
it succinctly to one of my friends at work.

"The emotional reaction we feel when we 'lose' a 'phone' is completely

With that one statement, my friend instantly knew what I was talking
about and couldn't agree more.

To be specific; we feel a sense of loss - but the replacement cost of it
is the least of that loss. We feel instantly 'lost and untethered'. We
don't know what to do. We feel 'violated' - as if someone just didn't
take an electronic possession, but rather that they intruded on our very
lives. And we can't wait to have a replacement phone in our hands as
soon as possible to make those feelings go away.

The above of course is irrational, but it's almost instinctual - and
other people I've talked to have confirmed it's just not me.

I think the reaction is because our 'phone' is associated with being
connected to our social fabric. They are expressions of who we are. We
personalize them with cases, wallpaper, ringtones and apps. We take
photos and videos of memorable events in our lives with them - and those
accumulate (sometimes just on the phone). We send and receive eMail,
texts and even IM with them. We trust their GPS and navigation to guide
us and our families safely to our destination. They tell us what the
weather is like outside, the latest news and stock quotes and if our
flight is delayed. Some of us even talk on them from time to time.

They have become personal little portals to the unique configuration of
each of our worlds. They tether us to our friends, family and
co-workers. For some people, they appear to be appendages - but even the
lesser afflicted of us grow quite accustomed to them always being there.
And we don't even realize how dependent we've become on them until they
are suddenly removed from our day to day equation.

There's been lots of psychological discussion on similar topics - for
example our obsession with cars and how they are expressions of who we
are. But I think smartphones take it to a whole other level. They are a
convenience and a curse. All the time we are unaware of how addicted
we've become, until we are forced to go 'cold turkey'. What makes it
even more interesting is that in the age of Android / Google and Apple /
iCloud - the phone is just a reflection of our content that is actually
stored somewhere 'out there'. So it's not like I lost any of my contact
information, emails, photos, apps. I'll get a new Android phone, enter
in my Google ID - and within about 30 minutes it will have all the same
stuff loaded back on it automatically (btw - I find that pretty darn cool).

But back to my point about the 'inappropriate emotional reaction' - Like
I said - it just got me thinking. Perhaps as part of a '12 step
program', I'll not replace it right away with a fancy new smart phone.
Maybe instead I'll dig out one of my old RAZR phones (you remember - the
kind that just takes calls and texting is done via a standard phone
keypad)? It would be interesting to go 'retro' for a while. :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have one of those old phones and it works fine. No one has ever helped me lose it either.