Smartphones, Mid-life Crises and Penis Envy

IMG_8801There exists a category of person I like to call a “phone person”. One of these will not only have the latest, slimmest, fastest smartphone on the market, and will not only spend inordinate amounts of time swiping the phone’s smooth and gleaming surface, but their very worth as a person will seem to be defined by their gadget’s snazziness and expense. Phone people are almost never not doing something with their handset. They are constantly texting, surfing, uploading, using this app or that or — most annoyingly for me — snapping photos or shooting videos. Or, horror of horrors, taking selfies.

I have observed that over the last few years the prevalence of phone people among the general population is rising. It may even be the case that phone people now form the majority of adults in Western society. This trend is in contrast with that for smokers. Whereas before, everyone smoked everywhere, nowadays it requires effort to unearth the few remaining nicotine addicts sheepishly sucking cancer into their lungs down side alleys or outside the doors of houses of ill repute. It took strict legislation and a societal shift in attitudes to beat smoking into a slow retreat. Perhaps it’s time to think about anti-selfie laws?

As you may have guessed, I am most decidedly not a phone person. In fact, in the same way some people are rabidly anti-smoking, I am anti-smartphone. Think of your venerable great-aunt Mildred, who wouldn’t allow a lit cigarette into her house, who glared at smokers on the street, and perhaps muttered something about cancer sticks, and who upped sticks and stormed out of restaurants when someone lit up at a nearby table. That’s me, except the object of my loathing is not manufactured by Philip Morris, but by Apple, Samsung and Motorola.

It may be an early symptom of the onset of a midlife crisis, but my attitude towards smartphones, selfies, apps and the whole phone person subculture is growing more extreme and curmudgeonly by the minute.

“Look at those fools,” I’ve been heard to snarl. “I’ll shove that selfie stick down their throats if they continue.”

Or: “Can’t they put their shaggin’ phones down and enjoy the concert? Why do they have to record everything? Can’t they live in the moment?”

“They’re penis extensions, plain and simple! See that baldy eejit over there with his iPhone 6? Penis extension for sure.”

Because we all know that at the back of it all, smartphones are penis extensions.

I encountered my first specimens of phone people in the late 1990s, shortly after affordable mobile phones (cell phones) began to appear on the market. You’d be in a bar chatting over a few pints when one of your buddies would pull out this gizmo that looked like a cross between a calculator and a brick. You would feel embarrassment for the poor lad as he gushed about the contraption’s features (you could text and it had a calendar — OMG!) and tried to convince us of the technology’s usefulness. He would be subjected to dog’s abuse, called a yuppie, among other things, and accused of having notions above his station, of wanting to seem like Gordon Gekko, when, in fact, he worked in a burger joint.

“Who are you going to call on that yoke, anyway?” someone would ask. And rightly so, because, in the early days, mobile phones were as rare as hen’s teeth. Bit by bit, though, as the nineties segued into the noughties, everyone had a phone and everyone knew someone who was a mobile phone bore — a proto-phone person. Along with their ubiquity, phones became fancier. Remember when the first phones with colour screens appeared? Followed by ones with polyphonic ringtones? Remember the sensation created by the first camera phones? As manufacturers pimped up their phones, and the Nokia 5110 brick-type phone morphed into the smartphone of today, the proto-phone person underwent a parallel evolution: whereas in the olden days he could while away maybe half an hour of a dinner date fiddling around with his brick’s “features” before exhausting all possibilities, these days he doesn’t have enough hours in the day to app-surf (or whatever it is they call it).

As a young man back in the ’90s I was a late adopter of mobile phone technology. Holding out while all around me plunged into the exciting world of SMS, roaming charges and blinking reception was motivated by a mixture of skepticism (I couldn’t see much use for the things beyond what a payphone offered), inverse snobbery (if yuppies had ’em, there was no way I was going down that road) and poverty (I couldn’t have afforded a phone anyway). When I did finally buckle under societal pressure to own a mobile phone, I bought the cheapest, nastiest model on the market. It had an aerial a couple of years after aerials had become seriously uncool. When I held it to my ear I used to experience a funny tingling on the right side of my brain. The gammy silver finish of its body began chipping almost the minute I took it out of its box. This pathetic excuse for a communications device marked the standard for all my subsequent phones. Well, when I mean all, I am referring to the half dozen I have owned over the last fourteen years. Both of my current phones (I have an Irish and a Spanish number) are over ten years old. They don’t have cameras, not to mind any of this new-fangled smart codology.

There was a time when I felt proud to be seen using one of my Fred Flintstone phones. Using them in public places was like a badge of honour — a defiant statement that I was above trivialities such as fashion, consumerism or gadgetry for its own sake. I didn’t mind one bit when people looked aghast at my old Nokias, or when passing strangers would point and laugh. I was a rebel, a non-conformist, and that was that. Lately, though, in spite of myself, my attitude has seen a change. I began to experience feelings of being left out of a world that had its good points, and regret at depriving myself of some of life’s little conveniences and pleasures, all for the sake of bloody-mindedness and sub-adolescent principles. I wasn’t bothered by the ridicule of my peers or the disdainful stares of geared-up techies, but was beginning to become annoyed by the tiny self-imposed handicaps I faced on a daily basis compared to almost everyone I knew. Because of more than a decade of digging my heels in, I lacked the freedom to take a spur-of-the-moment photo, unless I had my camera or iPad (see, I’m not a total troglodyte!) with me. I couldn’t listen to internet radio or Spotify on the go. I couldn’t WhatsApp. If I happened to be inspired while on a run to the shops, I couldn’t scribble down or record a few lines for a story or a blog. Nor could I mess around with the groovy apps I’ve seen on some friends’ and acquaintances’ phones — e.g. some of those brewing or speech-to-text apps that would make my life a lot easier.

So, this week has seen me shovel in hands excavating those dug-in heels. With grim determination, and promising to myself that I would never allow myself become a phone person, I went on ebay and bought me one of them thar newfangled iPhone things. I’m told it will change my life, but I hope not. I am feeling a mixture of relief and sadness, like the last islander to lock up his door and move to the mainland with the rest of his neighbours. Part of me wishes that I had the gumption to keep my Nokias for another ten years, but island life is hard and lonely. Another part of me that is always on the lookout for signs of that impending midlife crisis is wondering if the purchase of the iPhone is the first sign of the great fall into ridiculousness, or worse, penis envy.

Because we all know that at the back of it all, smartphones are penis extensions.

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About ucronin

Born in the country town of Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland in 1975, I now live in Madrid with my partner and two young daughters and work in a research institute. While I was always a hungry reader and harboured vague notions of being a writer, as a young man writing was the furthest thing from my mind; after leaving school, I did a B.Sc. in Biotechnology in Galway's NUI, an M.Sc. in Plant Science in University College Cork and a Ph.D. in Microbiology in the University of Limerick, the plan being to dedicate my professional career to scientific research. While having written extensively within my technical scientific field, I had never contemplated becoming a writer of fiction until a road-to-Damascus moment on the N69 between Listowel and Tarbert, Co. Kerry in the summer of 2011. Since then, most of my spare time has been occupied with writing. In whatever other free moments I have, I like to listen to music, play the guitar and garden (which here in Madrid means a lot of watering of plants and spraying for red spider mite). My ambition is to become as good a writer as I possibly can, eventually freeing myself from the cold clutches of science and earning a living through my scribblings. The type of writing that excites me is honest, intelligent, well-constructed and richly descriptive.
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2 Responses to Smartphones, Mid-life Crises and Penis Envy

  1. Good luck!
    I am a techno-nerd, however have never, nor will ever, take a selfie!

  2. Jessica says:

    Hello! I feel just like you, I still use a Nokia C2-01 although I do have a Nokia 225( a phone which has all smartphone features except for touchscreen) locked up in a locker. The only thing I want in a phone is that it should have real buttons, no touchscreen. I am not against smart phones per se, but I do not like the touchscreens that make them hard to use. I tried using a touchscreen phone once but I gave up after only one day. If I should use a smartphone it should have real buttons. Period.

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