I don’t own my phone any­more — now, it must own me

China Daily - - MOSAIC - Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

I didn’t snap pho­tos in the toi­let stall. I didn’t call my boss around 4 am. And I didn’t blast mu­sic at top vol­ume in our of­fice.

My phone did. More pre­cisely, Siri did.

Over half a decade ago, my cat knocked a glass of wa­ter over, splash­ing my phone — not enough to turn it into a brick, but enough to turn it into a lu­natic.

Siri be­gan giv­ing her­self com­mands. The vol­ume, home and off but­tons were un­us­able, although cer­tain func­tions re­mained con­trol­lable.

So, I used voice com­mand to ask Siri to turn her­self off.

Her an­swer was chill­ingly sim­i­lar to that of HAL 9000, the sen­tient com­puter in 2001: A Space Odyssey — some­thing like, “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

So, I made an Ap­ple store ap­point­ment.

In the mean­time, Siri would ran­domly com­mand her­self to play songs at full vol­ume in my work cu­bi­cle or dur­ing in­ter­views.

The phone would take pho­tos spo­rad­i­cally, in­clud­ing while in my pocket when I was in the re­stroom stall.

I can only imag­ine what peo­ple at the uri­nals thought when they heard “Click! Click! Click!” … per­haps fol­lowed by my fa­vorite song.

The day be­fore my ap­point­ment, my phone start­ing blar­ing mu­sic at a restau­rant just as the dishes ar­rived. My wife buried it in cush­ions. We scarfed our meal, and she took it home while I went back to work.

Sev­eral years ago, a mal­func­tion­ing phone was a prob­lem.

In 2019, it’s a dis­as­ter, as I re­al­ized last week when my splin­tered screen started com­ing off and the ma­chine’s guts started spilling out.

China’s mo­bile in­ter­net de­vel­op­ment is so vast that phones are now cru­cial to ev­ery facet of life, from com­merce to ca­reer.

My wife and I of­ten count how many cou­ples or friends are star­ing at their phones rather than each other at restau­rants.

Four out of 12 peo­ple, in­clud­ing the two of us, were not on their phones at the last place we tal­lied.

It’s easy to imag­ine they’re ig­nor­ing each other for some­thing more amus­ing.

Seem­ingly, many mostly are, of­ten.

But to­day, it’s im­pos­si­ble to know whether they’re whim­si­cally surf­ing the web be­tween games or tak­ing care of busi­ness — WeChat­ting clients, col­leagues and bosses, pay­ing bills, check­ing calendars and mak­ing ap­point­ments.

I re­cently cut out al­most all en­ter­tain­ment usage of my phone since it started send­ing me screen­time up­dates.

My screen time is down roughly 20 per­cent — to about six hours a day.

In other words, I’m us­ing my phone for pro­duc­tiv­ity or ne­ces­sity for a quar­ter of ev­ery 24-hour cy­cle.

I spend my an­nual va­ca­tion in a tree­house in the for­est in my home­town — a place without elec­tric­ity, run­ning wa­ter or phone re­cep­tion.

It’s a great break from the rat race, in­clud­ing its dig­i­tal con­duits.

But even a few days away from the ma­chine while in the United States can cause prob­lems with life in Bei­jing. I’ve emerged from the woods to find scores of mes­sages, some of them ur­gent, when I in­ter­mit­tently ac­cess Wi-Fi in town.

I thought about this as I rode my e-bike to the fix-it shop on Wednes­day.

I prob­a­bly could have found a closer re­pair store — if my phone had been work­ing.

Along the way, “phone zom­bies”, star­ing at screens in­stead of watch­ing where they were go­ing, am­bled around, forc­ing me to slalom around them.

It turned out sev­eral parts needed re­pair. The store didn’t have the screen I needed.

“Oh no!” I thought.

“No prob­lem!” the ven­dor said. He whipped out his phone and or­dered it de­liv­ered with a few taps of his fin­ger.

“It’ll be about 20 min­utes.” Even­tu­ally, my phone was fixed. I paid the 1,500 yuan ($222) bill — us­ing WeChat on my mo­bile.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.