On a recent walk through my suburban neighborhood, I kept coming upon people who were standing on the sidewalk, gazing at their phones.
They’d obviously been on a stroll, like me, but they’d been summoned by their ringtones and now stood there, absorbed in their devices.
It wouldn’t be worth commenting on except that I came upon several of these frozen tableaus during the course of my 30-minute ramble.
I turned a corner, for instance, to find a couple I know, standing side by side, staring at the phones in their hands. Like a still photo in a moving landscape.
When I interrupted their phone trances to say hello, they explained that their daughter, on vacation, had just emailed them photos of the Grand Canyon, which they were enjoying.
That’s pretty cool. On the other hand, if I hadn’t stopped to interrupt them, they never would have known that I’d walked by. Because they weren’t really there.
Once you have a smartphone, you are never entirely there again. Some part of you is always elsewhere, either inside the screen, or waiting to be summoned.
So far I’ve resisted the call of the smartphone. I don’t want to be available and connected at all times, and I’ve chosen to reject all of the easy answers that will be available at my fingertips once I have one.
If a question comes up in conversation, unlike my friends and family who immediately dive for their devices and start researching, I’m OK with not knowing the answer that very minute.
(And I am very tired of listening to the world’s ringtones, but that’s just a quibble.)
I am off the grid. And I am increasingly on my own there. One reason I loved my ex, is that he didn’t have a smartphone either and didn’t want one. When the two of us went for a walk, it was about sharing a conversation and the world around us. And that’s it.
Most of my friends were bookish folks who joined me in scoffing at the phone-addicted. Then, one by one, they succumbed. My pals Julie and Rob, a bookseller and a librarian, whom I’d assumed would never get a smartphone, just got a smartphone. They had a good reason. (Everyone always does.)
When they first brought their new phone along to dinner, they did what everyone with a new smartphone does. They enthused at great length about all the amazing things it could do and insisted that it wouldn’t change them.
“It’s already changed you!” I said. “You’re talking about your phone instead of about your cats.”
Julie ignored that comment and continued to tell me about the new phone. It had features! And apps!
“I don’t care about what your phone can do,” I repeated. “I don’t want to hear about your phone.”
In a way, it was funny. But it’s also two more friends lost to being 100 percent there.
You probably have a smartphone yourself. You may even be reading this on your device. I know I’m an oddball in my rejection of the Wonderful World you live in.
I was recently waiting for a train to Center City. There were half a dozen people on the platform with me. All of them were intent upon the devices in their hands, oblivious to their surroundings.
It had been raining earlier and the air was still misty. Suddenly a huge rainbow appeared in the sky. Gorgeous and dramatic, it formed out of nowhere and hung there perfectly.
I was the only person who noticed it. Everyone else was happily absorbed in Phone World.
I savored the sight on my own for a moment, then began tapping my fellow commuters on the shoulder. When they looked up, confused, I silently pointed to the rainbow.
Their faces lit up. One by one, they joined me in enjoying the sight.
The rainbow stayed in the sky. By the time the train arrived, most of the people on the platform were gazing it at.
And why not? It was a rare, and pretty cool, sight.
It’s probably inevitable that I, too, will get a smartphone. How can I resist? Uber! Real-time weather reports and driving directions! Plus my son and daughter-in-law have promised that once I do, they’ll text me all the time.
Once that happens, of course, there will be one less person around to point out the rainbows.
But we’ll all be too busy enjoying Phone World to notice.
Roz Warren is the author of “Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor” (www.rosalindwarren.com).@WriterRozWarren
This article first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer