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