Friday, January 2, 2009

Cell Phone Induced Adolescence

Last spring, when I was covering a medical conference, I used my cell phone incessantly for several days as I tracked down various doctors to interview for a set of news articles about their presentations. I kept my phone on as I walked from Moscone Center to the train to go home at the end of each long day downtown, and worried about what calls I might miss when the train went underground.

One night, when I got off the train in my neighborhood, I realized that the weather that day was, in fact, absolutely stunning. Who knew? I had been inside all day, running from session to session and downing coffee and sandwiches in the press room. That night, the sky was pink from the setting sun, the air soft and warm, and the tree leaves the pale green of spring. Just as I started to relax and enjoy the evening, my phone rang. I jumped and rummaged in my bag for the phone, but it was silent. That noise wasn't my phone's ring tone. I stopped on the sidewalk and listened. No, it wasn't my phone - it was a songbird. Perhaps the bird was trying to tell me to turn off my phone.

And so, when my husband and I decided to upgrade our old cell phones a few days ago, a growing necessity for our respective work, I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I craved a hip new Blackberry to replace my boring, 4-year-old flip-open phone and (wouldn't it?) enhance my un-hip life. On the other hand, I wondered what owning a Blackberry, commonly referred to as "Crackberries" out here because they are so addictive, would do to me.

When he brought home a Blackberry-esque cell phone for each of us (Blackberries, we decided, were too expensive), within minutes I had it turned on and was playing with it. To keep the kids busy so I could tinker with my phone, I gave them our old cell phones. My four-year-old was not interested in them, but my six-year-old, the High School Musical fan, was. Soon she had curled up on a chair in the living room, poking at buttons to change the the screen image and theme colors of the phone. Before long, she was playing all the different tinny-sounding ring tones on the phone, over and over and over again. When I told her to put the phone away, she rolled her eyes at me. When we took it away, she pouted.

The next morning over breakfast, my husband and I excitedly pulled out our new phones and tried to figure out how the camera function worked. My older daughter ignored her cereal and poked more buttons on her "new" cell phone as well. When I looked up, though, my four-year-old was staring at me, hands on her hips, with an expression of wise exasperation. Um... did I forget to get you your cereal, honey?

"Okay, everyone, put the phones away," I said. I turned mine off and got back to more important business: breakfast.