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Other people’s phones

December 12, 2010

I am often disturbed to find myself the only one on the bus not using an iPhone or something like it.  There’s no telling what they’re all doing.  The iPhone can perform so many functions, each requiring the same bowed head and the same finger-grubbing micro-gestures, that its users become inscrutable to others.  Read a book or a newspaper and it’s clear what you’re up to.  Headphones are merely an accessory: music is less activity than accompaniment.  But pull out a smart phone and you become instantly vague, perhaps even to yourself.  I’m a seasoned iPhone user, but still I never know quite what I’m doing.  It could always be, from one moment to the next, something else.  The iPhone thus dials down the need to make even minor decisions about what you are doing and how you will appear to others.  You ride the little movements of your fingertips.  Commitments are weakened.  Life in the city is necessarily an exercise in ignoring other people, but this studied ignorance is fascinating to watch in its various forms, many of them quite revealing.  With iPhones and their illegible users, the picture goes slightly blurry.  The imagination is cut off.  If I wonder anything at all, it is usually about what the device is doing and what it’s screen is showing, rather than about the person, where she came from and where she may be going.

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