Jen sat on the bus scrolling through Facebook. Bored, she toggled between apps, checking Twitter and Instagram, then back to Facebook to begin the cycle again. She wasn’t really reading anything, though. She had texted friends about going out that night but was getting radio silence. The length of that silence was less than 10 minutes, but she was frustrated. The smart phone in her hand had given her, and everyone else in the world that owned one like it, the taste for immediacy. Patience had gone out the window with dial-up modems and tv antennae. And as the seconds ticked by, she got more annoyed that no one was texting her back. Jen continued to wander around the internet aimlessly, seething.
It hadn’t always been this way. She used to read books on the bus home. It was an hour all to herself to dive into whatever book she had in her bag at the time. And now, while the book was still in her bag, it remained untouched. She’d been wooed away from reading.
Each day, she’d get on the bus and mechanically pull out her phone instead. A little voice in the back of her head would remind her that she always felt better reading, but the voice was hushed quickly. Why think when you can sit here and stare at pictures?
So Jen continued to stare at her phone, growing more and more frustrated that her friends weren’t texting her back. She even turned off her phone, and turned it back on to see if something was wrong on her end. But when her home screen returned, there was nothing waiting for her.
She opened her messenger app, and began to type. Hey, since you aren’t getting back to me, I think I will just head home and take it ea—Jen stopped typing. Then she deleted the message entirely. She decided to wait a little longer before reneging.
Without even thinking about it, she found herself back on Facebook, and in that moment her hands froze. Oh holy God, she thought, I am being controlled by a tiny supercomputer. This is how the robot apocalypse starts.
The tiny voice in the back of her head took charge. Yes! You have to stop! This is crazy! What have you become? Her hands turned off her phone and her eyes widened in panic. This is for your own good! She didn’t like this at all. She wanted her screen back. But instead of turning back on the now powerless tiny supercomputer, Jen put in her purse.
Now, with nothing in her hands, Jen looked up. Her worldview had been focused down into her hands for so long. She looked out the window and saw that it was raining. She leaned her head against the cool glass and just watched. Jen felt her shoulders relax. When the bus let her off at her stop, she walked down the street slowly. She took off her hood, and let the rain run down her face. She passed neighbors taking their dogs for evening walks and said hello.
When she got home, she made dinner and then took a bath. She put on comfy pants and opened a bottle of wine. While the wine breathed, she walked over to the junk drawer of her kitchen, and pulled out a roll of masking tape. She found a sharpie and wrote NO! on a piece of tape. She pulled her phone out of her purse, and stuck the piece of tape across the screen.
“You have no power here, tiny supercomputer,” Jen said quickly and smiled.
But Jen was wrong. She spent 4 days in weird, twitchy withdrawal. She craved the phone. She’d wake up in the morning and want to dive in. She’d pull it out of her purse over and over without thinking. But if she wasn’t making a phone call, she’d see the tape and put it away. As the days went on, the withdrawals dissipated. After a month, the phantom phone vibrations in her back pocket stopped. After two months, she wasn’t getting headaches anymore from looking down. After three months, she began to ease it back into her life. But never on the bus. Never in bed. Never first thing in the morning. And never just to pass the time.
The tiny supercomputer wasn’t going to rule her life anymore.