I, Phone (Part Two)

Everyone requires a cell phone now; to debate this point is akin to doubting gravity or arguing that time moves in reverse. My iPhone distinguishes me from all non-iPhone users. It expresses me. It’s an extension of my being, a form of identification on my person at all times.

The iPhone as fashion statement. The lucky hipster at the front of the Best Buy line shouting, “I have the latest model.” He’s bought a device for communicating, but he’s actually consuming Communication. He has messages to get across, but it’s not their content that matters: he has to send and share and speak because everybody’s doing it. Everybody has a voice. Who cares what you say as long as you say it.

But with everybody talking at the same time my voice sounds like a whisper into a jet engine. Our world of hyper-communication is built on harmony and dissonance. Our bodies are overloaded, our minds frazzled: hyper-communicating leaves us vulnerable to nonsense, noise and nuisance.

We get away from the Conversation by conversing with our mobile devices. The iPhone user talks to his iPhone as it talks to him. He is mesmerized by all the bells and whistles and in touching/tapping/scrolling leaves the moment. The very thing that connects him to others allows him to disconnect temporarily; it’s a coping mechanism, survival mode. A pocket of air on a sinking ship.

It’s family dinner. Father playing Angry Birds. Mom amused by Grumpy Cat. Children tuning out with Spotify playlists.

Being in touch all day makes us want to lose touch. My iPhone brings the world to me one minute and takes me out of it the next. It speaks volumes about me without conveying my disgust at feeling forced to communicate all the time, even when there’s nothing left to say.

I, Phone (Part One)

Professor Martin Irvine, founding director of the Communication, Culture and Technology Program at Georgetown University, has an interesting way of looking at the iPhone. In a presentation called “Deblackboxing Technology: Mediology and Actor Network Theory,” located on his website, Irvine opens our eyes to the inner workings of the iPhone.

We look at a device like the iPhone as a series of inputs and outputs. We turn it on and expect the device to work. This assumption, according to Irvine, is a function of the blackbox quality of the iPhone. Apple sells us a device that appears simple or user-friendly without revealing the secret worlds behind its interface.

According to Irvine, if we take apart or “deblackbox” it, we find that the iPhone is “a system of prior technology functions and social mediation deployed through the logic of combinatorial hybridity and hypermediation.”

Inside the iPhone exist the following technologies: mobile telephony (radio frequencies); computer chip makers; data transmission that includes Internet connections through telecom providers and ISPs; transaction systems and banking networks; digital voice, image and sound codecs; and GPS, to name a few (Irvine, “Deblackboxing Technology,” slide 36).

All of these processes are dependent upon or are the result of “institutions/regulatory regimes/patents/licenses” that originate within “business/economic ecosystems/manufacturers” and are shaped by (and in turn shape) “demographics/markets/social and cultural practices” (Irvine, slide 36).

So what, the average user says, I like my iPhone because it just works. I am free to use my mobile device as I choose.

Not so fast, says Irvine.

“We say the user ‘plays music on the iPhone’—but the user has no agency or experience apart from the system operations, software prompts, and a complex background system of other agencies and mediations…” (Irvine, slide 43).

I use my iPhone as I see fit but its operation far exceeds my comprehension; its inner workings determine my experience. Mobile devices, many believe, make life easier, but in many ways we’re simply blind to the fact that hidden worlds are operating before and over us—worlds far too complex to put a finger on.

And so we worship the iPhone for all that we see it doing and all that it conceals from us. Arthur C. Clarke was on to something when he wrote in 1962 that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That we convince ourselves we’re in charge of our gadgets is the real trick.

Psychotherapists Or Clergy

I have long maintained that my depression is a spiritual problem. I never ignored the chemistry behind my illness and I’ve always believed that by taking medication I’d relieve some of my symptoms. But I know my depression goes beyond physical concerns. It’s ultimately led me to metaphysics.

But last week my doctor called to say my thyroid levels were high, which means that my thyroid is underactive. “It’s possible your thyroid issues are affecting your depression,” he said. Notice how I wrote “affecting” above, meaning that my thyroid might be making my depression worse. But what if the proper word is “effecting,” meaning that it’s causing my depression—literally bringing it into existence?

If I could take a pill and “lose” my depression, or at least a great deal of it, within a few weeks—why the hell not? Is it possible the root of my illness lies in areas none of my doctors considered before? What if my biology supersedes my will—my brain, not my mind, being the sole determinant of who I am?

We’re still investigating all treatment possibilities. There’s a chance my depression has affected certain hormones, thus leading to lower thyroid function. A lot’s going on inside of me and it’s all, somehow, connected.

Whatever the outcome, I’ve suffered with depression long enough to sense its impact on my whole being. It has brought me closer to my humanity and helped me view my life in a new light, despite the darkness in which I often find myself.

I’m still drawn to the final chapter of Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul, entitled “Psychotherapists or Clergy.” My well-being depends on factors both seen and unseen. Some days I need medicine. Other days I need miracles of a different nature.

A Life Of Magical Thinking

I don’t remember exactly when it began. Maybe I was seven or eight. I started playing a game in my mind: tomorrow would be good, the next bad; a day later would be good, the next bad. After a two-week period, I’d have seven wonderful days and seven horrible ones. Thus began my life of magical thinking.

Looking back I realize this was me meeting my illness in its earliest stages. Feeling helpless, I convinced myself that I held the key to a hidden pattern governing my existence. It was all about gaining control over the uncontrollable, taming a world I feared would swallow me whole.

Most of us spend our adult years trying to reconstruct our time as vulnerable children. Often, in an effort to cope with traumas and hardships from childhood, we act like children, filling up voids with food, sex, booze and drugs—dangerous games of self-medication. Temporarily ignoring—or dulling—all the pain we endured, we see youth as a simpler time to avoid the fact that our entire lives are a struggle. Suffering comes in different forms at different times, but it’s always here.

Today I write lots of notes reminding myself of important tasks. But before moving on from writing down to carrying them out, I need my tasks to equal a multiple of three. Nothing bad will happen to me if I have four notes or eleven, but I feel at ease when six or twelve notes remain. It feels as nutty as it sounds, but the essence of obsessive thinking lies in its resistance to reason.

Every day we vacillate between feelings of comfort and discomfort. Often it’s not what’s happening right now that pleases or upsets us. Seemingly mundane events can summon yesterday’s demons. Our happiness hinges on our ability to accept the consequences of the games we play in order to outrun them.

Fear And Cruelty

While I was in the checkout line at my favorite grocery store this morning, a female customer caused a stir. She walked up to the lady behind me and just kept talking. She might have been speaking Chinese or Korean, or maybe it was gibberish. Clearly she was disturbed.

I tried to ignore her. Soon she was off, just as the cashier prepared to call her manager. The lady behind me laughed, as did other customers and employees nearby. “I don’t care what your problem is,” she said to the checker, speaking of the general You, “just get out of my face.”

The troubled lady was really talking to herself, and she certainly wasn’t in anyone’s face. I felt for her. I wondered how the world might appear to her. And I was ashamed I didn’t speak up for her while everyone laughed and stared.

I’ve been around people who generate odd looks from others. I’ve been that person. I was a patient among patients, hidden away on the psych floor.

But I don’t think I needed this experience to understand compassion. People don’t have to know someone directly who suffers from a disease—compassion for others should naturally take hold of them, simply because another person is in pain.

The grocery store kept operating. Customers bought and retailers sold. A few folks felt briefly uncomfortable and shared their immediate thoughts about it. The world goes on, full of misunderstood people—harmless people, really, who threaten our sense of normalcy. Instead of shunning others, I prefer to ask why I should perpetuate the cycle of fear and cruelty.