Dear Phone Fondlers,

People like new things. People also like old things. But rare is the person who likes the stuff in between. A 2017 Mustang is cool. A '67 Mustang is even cooler. But the '97 Mustang? It's the turd being squeezed out between two rosy ass cheeks.

Things got a little out of hand there for a while

You can play that game with virtually everything.

Xbox One- cool. Atari- cooler. GameCube- lame.

FLAC files- cool. Vinyl- cooler. Cassette tapes- fuck off.

Today's fashion- cool. 80s fashion- cooler. Bootcut jeans and popped Polo collars-          。゚(*´□`)゚。

Believe it or not, what appears to be an emoticon above is an actual photograph of Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World singing Sweetness in 2002.

Now it's true that people have always bitched about other people's smartphone use, but I like to imagine it's getting worse now that the whole smartphone concept is sliding into familiarity's uncanny valley of contempt. Mobile computing isn't fresh and sexy anymore, and it'll be a while before Blackberrys start showing up on the Antiques Roadshow. No one's going to stop using the devices obviously, but that's not going to keep sixty-year-old dads and freshman-year hipsters alike from lamenting the irony of social networks in a lonely world of digital isolation. It's not going to prevent your yoga instructor from pining away for the good old days when houses were built with big front porches. Of course, your yoga instructor says this to you within the larger context of explaining how she's going to live in a yurt and barter in kombucha mothers and mung bean sprouts on an unelectrified, self-sufficient communal farm in Oregon... so take it with a grain of salt.

I'm guilty myself of leveling hypocritical critique on my fellow smartphone devotees.

I'm a pretty heavy user myself, but rubbing your phone like a worry stone or keeping it permanently glued to your palm makes you look like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings crooning to his Precious. The individuals above all have plenty of pockets and bags, but they'd rather keep both hands firmly fixed to the device at all times than risk the off-hand chance they'd miss a vibration. I've met heroin addicts who smacked less of desperation.

And do we ever consider what impact all of this molestation is having on the phones themselves?

Our phones lead traumatic lives

Aside from phone fondling, however, I'm pretty sympathetic to the average American who spends 151 minutes looking at a 5-inch screen every day. I don't think it's unreasonable to spend hours on your phone when you consider everything that it does. 

The smartphone is your telephone, post office, bank, encyclopedia, magazine, newspaper, radio, television, gaming console, cinema, library, walkie-talkie, record collection, instruction manuals, atlas, navigation, wallet, typewriter, stock ticker, calendar, journal, camera, photo album, calculator, compass, level, flashlight, dictionary, alarm clock, watch, personal trainer, grocery list, take-out order, boutique, big-box retailer, weather channel, door key, TV remote, drone controller, doorbell, classroom, video conference, classifieds, personal ads, budget, guitar tuner, betting parlor, airline ticket, subway map, sketch pad, camcorder, pay terminal, altimeter, UPC scanner, voice recorder, and coupon book, plus a lot of other stuff. If you added up all the time we formerly spent doing the things that smartphones replaced, I bet it would be a lot longer than the average person spends on their smartphone today.

Of course, you might argue that while constructive activities like research, formal correspondence, and banking are much more efficient, we're just pouring all the time saved back into Clash of Clans and cat videos. But before you climb too far up onto that high horse, take a moment to consider the ever-evolving nature of the media we call trash and the media we consider cultivated.

Women, of every age, of every condition, contract and retain a taste for novels […T]he depravity is universal. My sight is every-where offended by these foolish, yet dangerous, books. (Sylph no. 5, October 6, 1796: 36)

Today, "Read a book," is the imploring, universal unction of every parent, teacher, hipster, oldster and snob in the land. It's a known fact that a student walking into the high school library and voluntarily requesting Pride and Prejudice at the counter will immediately throw the librarian into a spine-wrenching, whiplash-inducing orgasm. If they ever recover enough composure, they'll eventually mop themselves up off the floor, dash down the aisles gleefully, and return, panting, with the sacred work of literature in hand. The librarian will then present the book to you like the crown at a coronation ceremony, confident that they've done their part as cultural savior of the next generation. 

Pride and Prejudice was the Candy Crush of the 19th century.

Novels. Fictional characters. Trash lit. They were rotting people's minds. But now novels are old, and remember, people like old things. Fifty years ago comic books were the trash medium. Now we call them "graphic novels" and give them Hugo Awards. How long will it be until we're bitching about whatever the next wave is and talking in rueful tones about how kids don't text each other like they used to or go out and play Minecraft anymore? Some people suspect that games are more edifying than we give them credit for. Who's to say... maybe that kid playing Call of Duty is doing more for his intelligence than the kid who just gave his librarian a soul-shredding orgasm by requesting Pride and Prejudice of his own will and volition.

Every generation thinks the following generation will be the downfall of civilization. It usually isn't. Usually we just have a implicit bias towards old shit... like novels.

But maybe it's the virtual reality aspect of today's online life that you find off-putting.

When parents, teachers, hipsters, oldsters and snobs aren't telling people to read books, they're usually telling people to go "out" and enjoy the "real" world. The only problem is that the real world doesn't exist. Or at least it might not. You wouldn't know either way. And in fact it is impossible to know, because we are only tethered to reality by the five thin strands of our senses. We have no direct connection to what we assume is indeed a "real" world. We're only holding on to our own end of the rope, and have no outside perspective from which to verify what the other ends of the ropes are actually connected to. It could be a communal objective reality. Or it could be something more matrix-like.

Philosophers, crackpots and movie directors alike have put forth solipsistic and simulated reality theories for millennia. These theories are rarely falsifiable because all any of us have to work with are the five electrochemical data streams entering our brain. Where the streams originate, how accurate they are to a shared objective reality if it exists, and what data the senses could be missing altogether may forever be beyond our power to detect.

In short, we're already living in virtual reality. We live in a world compiled and interpreted by our brains using a tiny percentage of the actual data available. The resolution might be higher when you take off your VR goggles, but make no mistake about it, you're still in a virtual world. And if you get more out of life slinging an axe in World of Warcraft than you do slinging packages on an UPS loading dock, then I say more power to you. Don't let retro bias hold you back.

Sebastian Braff


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