To lose contact with a friend is a misfortune. To lose contact with family members—a tragedy. But to lose contact with over 200 friends, family and coworkers—in a manner of seconds—is a catastrophe.
Yesterday my little brother dropped my cell phone in the tub.
Introducing the key players: Daniel is three-and-a-half years old. He likes plastic swords, the phrase “I couldn’t resist” and wearing his swimsuit in the tub. I am twenty-three years old. I like foreign films, guys with beards and—oddly enough—wearing my swimsuit in the tub. Daniel and I get along just fine.
The elephant in the room here is my cell phone, which follows me everywhere. It keeps me informed, connected, and on time. It is three years old. It likes running out of battery in the middle of important conversations.
On days when I babysit, Daniel and I explore common interests. We fill the bath to Daniel’s belly button, don swimsuits and play with bath toys. It’s not a typical childcare routine, I know, but I’m just barely twenty-three . . . Whenever we play, I keep my phone on the sidelines to double as a referee, sounding the alarm when it’s time to get out. But on this particular day, a misguided water fight landed our referee approximately eight inches under water.
It would be pointless for me to say that eight inches of water can do a lot of damage to a cell phone—that it turns your screen into an aquarium, shorts out lights, makes the thing vibrate in a death rattle for an hour. I’m sure you can guess—eight inches of water can delete your entire contact book.
But when did this become such a big deal? Contact books? Lost text message capability? As I was frantically ripping off the battery, trying to towel dry the dinky plastic keys while simultaneously dripping water all over the bathroom floor, I got a glimpse at myself in the mirror—hunched over the counter, sopping wet, eyes wide, on my lips the desperate murmur . . . “my precious.”
Was that me? That creature in the mirror? Tied so desperately to an object? Thoughts crossed my mind, crazy irrational thoughts like, “My one link to the outside!” and “This changes everything….” But hadn’t life been relatively happy prior to my cell phone years? Why can’t I remember?
Okay. So there are things that hold me to them—physical things in my life that I am bound to, that tie me to them through their usefulness or beauty. The real question is will I spontaneously combust every time one of those things disappears?
The answer is yes. Every time.
Almost. Whenever I have lost something that carried real or imagined import, a version of me has collapsed on itself. It’s not exactly combustion, and maybe not every time, but the result is a purging like fire—a refined version of me, sans notebook, or necklace, or boyfriend. It’s a kick in the pants to realize losing a notebook affects you.
I’d like to say that this near-death experience (I was, after all, on the brink of losing my second brain—the one that held information like friends’ birthdays, phone numbers, and memos for books I’d like to read) refined me in a way that made me realize the importance of self-reliance. I want to say that I threw my phone in the garbage, cancelled my plan, and vowed to take my life into my own hands.
But flash back to that image of desperation, the girl hovering over her perishing cell phone. Could I blot it all out by simply surrendering a phone, or was it something deeper? Standing there, staring at my reflection, I began to recognize concepts I could explore in writing: “Maybe it’s natural or important to cling to objects,” “Examine society’s dependence upon technology,” “Tell the world that you hate yourself for needing something transitory.” Each idea flickered through my brain while the water-damage dot on the back of my phone went from white to red. Then, I got an idea that stuck.
I gave my phone mouth to mouth.
Nothing brilliant. Nothing transcendental. Every place that had an opening—the earpiece, the keypad, the battery pack—I covered with my lips and sucked in. Little blasts of lukewarm water sprayed the roof of my mouth with each try. Water that tasted like metal—metal with a hint of possibility. I stopped thinking about dependence and focused on saving hundreds of people, businesses and a few corresponding pictures from an untimely demise.
I looked like an idiot (staying in front of the mirror was a mistake) but I’m happy to say my phone is working again. Like new, and it looks cleaner. I resuscitated the phone and then held the screen up to a blow dryer for a half hour. That’s dedication.
It is also obsession, compulsion, and fear—and I have reconciled myself to it. Even without the actual loss, the experience changed me. First, I cracked open an address book I had never used before. I wrote down every important phone number, to be stored safe from Daniel’s reach. But later, in the quiet hours of the evening, I walked around my house, out into the neighborhood, around the block . . . forced myself to leave the cell phone on its charger.
And today I sat down to write this paper, to tell the world how a brief encounter with “life without cell phone” broke the chains that keep my phone constantly at my side. But before I could finish writing, I had stopped to answer my cell phone. Twice.