My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk.
-Ode to a Nightingale, Keats
Last weekend, I was having a coffee at a coffeehouse on Zelda, a street named after Zelda Fitzgerald, the roaring ‘20s debutante, flapper extraordinaire, and wife of the novelist F. Scott. Zelda and Scott were the premiere couple in Modern literature. Scott was a hopeless romantic, and Zelda, his muse. By sheer coincidence, this uncrowded byway dedicated to their love was the site for love anew. It was sunny and cool and comfortable outside. A group of college kids, two guys and four females, were hanging out on the terrace under a green Starbucks umbrella. They each were engrossed in a mobile device, texting and tweeting and posting Instagrams. I felt the way I always feel when I see scenes like this in public: unjustifiably vexed.
What I realized, but didn’t want to admit, was that they were in love. Not in love with each other, mind you. They didn’t seem that interested in communicating with one another at all. Sure, they feigned to be going Dutch for Frappés, but it was a group date in namesake only. They were each experiencing individually what they couldn’t experience together: a more potent, more resonant, and I daresay realer kind of love. They were in love with their phones.
I grappled for my aging iPod Touch, a fourth generation with sixteen gigabytes of storage and an easy-to-grip rubber case, and it hit me that I had left it in the drink holder of my car. In that moment, I was overcome with the bitterness of a cold jilted miser who loathes the springtime because of a heartbreak in his youth.
Let me explain: You can go on living with an outdated gadget for a long time without ever really noticing that the magic is gone. Then, one day something like this will happen to you, and you’ll know. You’ll tell yourself otherwise. You’ll make excuses. You’ll say it’s just that the mobile games haven’t been that good of late. And, after all, you forget your wallet and keys sometimes too. But it will haunt you for the rest of the afternoon and on into the evening, and, if you’re like me, you won’t want to get out of bed the next day.
“The call of the marimba once sounded so much sweeter,” I sighed, fumbling for the snooze button on the screen. The night before had not been a late one. I was in bed by eleven, but rolled over in the blanket and pretended to be exhausted, uninterested in flicking through my Netflix queue. Playing around under the sheets used to be a nightly thing. Many a’night I had lost sleep, tapping out the beat in Beat Sneak Bandits till the wee hours of the morn, or sending pointless emails to people in my contacts just because I could do it from the luxury of bed. They must have seen the late hour the messages arrived and shook their head, muttering to themselves, “new iPod.” But me and my iPod didn’t care. I’d doze off with it beside my cheek, and wake up face to face with it, the battery with only a sliver of charge left. It never once complained about my morning breath.
At first, it was bliss. I was all, I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE! LOVE! LOVE!!! YOU IPOD. There is a photo, taken of me by my girlfriend, in which I’m opening the box the iPod was delivered in. The year was 2008. My face was beaming. She said, “Yay, iPod!” And I echoed her. “Yay, iPod!” How smoothly I swiped! How swiftly I Googled on IMDb that actor whose name we couldn’t recall! Facebook was only a tap away, and we tapped with the best!
I’d previously owned one of the first iPhones, but had to give it up when it became too slow. It was the same thing with my iPod. We had some good years, but then came the updates. There was potential, what with Facebook integration and iCloud, but it only made Safari run sluggishly. I’d get testy when Notes took too long to open, and more than a few times I hard-reseted in disgust. It wasn’t entirely the iPod’s fault. I admit the screen is smeared with fingerprints of neglect. In a way, I can sympathize with what Manti Te’o is going through. I doubt he was in love with Lennay Kekua. He was in love with an obsolescent smart device.
Sunday, I was invited by a good friend to dinner and to watch the Pats game. Things were going fine until an awkward moment when the room fell silent. I looked around and saw that everyone except for me was engaged with their smart things. Callie was in thrall of her new, white iPhone 5, “the best thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone,” the ads say. Payton was lost in his Samsung Galaxy s3. Joe had his two infant daughters sitting on his lap, both dressed like Disney princesses, one on each knee. He was holding before them an iPad Mini and chuckling jovially. The little girls’ eyes were lit up with the reflections of this bright and wonderful doubloon that responds to you, talks to you, and pretty much shows you whatever you want to see. I tried to take comfort in the fact that Tom Brady looked like he wanted to cry, but it just made me want to cry too. I said something to the extent of, “Kids today…” but the sentiment fell on deaf ears.
Clearly, it’s over between my faithful iPod and me, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing out and looking for a replacement any time soon. I’m going to let this sink in a while, do some wallowing, and try to remember who I am, independent of i-Anything. After all, what is device love except for a conflagrant infatuation that pines from a smily face to a frown? I had a mind to illustrate this in Emoji, but don’t think I have it in me. I’ll just close by saying that I’ll always remember the jogs in the park, those earbuds that my cats liked to chew on, the Heidegger podcasts, and the games. But most of all I will remember the shine.
About the Author:
Jason Johnson is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamasutra, Unwinnable, GameSetWatch, FingerGaming, WSJ Speakeasy, and The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures. He owns 27 Sun Ra albums.
This is a tough one to write. For those of you who know me, in person, by my writing, or…
The Fool and the Villain, Part II
(Warning: In Second Life, pixelated tits and dicks abound. Abandon all hope, all ye who enter this article at work.)…
The Edge Of The Ocean
The problem is to plot the map. My sense of geography is spotted with black holes. There’s the Chinatown and…
Play everything. No, I’m serious, play everything. Play that game of hopscotch those kids drew up on the sidewalk with…
Genre In Question
Why are there so few video game comedies? At least twice in the past year I’ve bumped into conversations trying…