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  • Jan Flynn

Data Driven To Distraction

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of articles and posts and opinion pieces that exhort us hyper-wired masses to take a break from our technology. We are told it is very good for our psyches, our relationships, and our waistlines to untether ourselves from our phones and tablets and laptops on a regular basis. It’s necessary to step away, to remove the earbuds and face the natural world, or what’s left of it, head-on. With none of our habitual digital filters muddying up the present moment.

This is the pathway, we’re assured, to improved focus, mental clarity, creativity, and peace of mind. I have no doubt these assertions are true. I should really unplug more often. Instagram and Tumblr might get along without me for a whole day, who knows? I’m not an obstetrician or a CEO or an Uber driver, so why exactly do I need to be reachable by phone 24/7? Being a writer has its pressures, but there are very few literary emergencies. Yes, taking regular breaks from the endless cascade of connectivity is certainly a good idea. Unless, that is, it happens without my permission. Like when my phone decides, against my wishes, to update itself overnight while I’m out of town and away from my Apple ID and password. So instead of a means of communication when I really need one, I have a pocket-sized paperweight.

I am on the road as I write this, traveling up the California coastal valleys to return home from a family visit, a sort of Christmas 1.0. Don’t worry, my husband

is driving. I am meanwhile tapping away in a Word doc since I don’t have wifi out here on the 101, somewhere between King City and Salinas. Every once in awhile my phone tries to get my attention, saying hello to me in twenty languages and inviting me to press the home button (would you like to know the Czech word for home? I thought not). Doing so only results in another invitation to set up my iPhone as though I just bought the damn thing and am standing in the Apple store next to an earnest hipster in a blue shirt, ready to walk me through the mysteries. But I am not. I am on a freeway heading north, hours away from the elaborately secured you-don’t-get-to-know-what method we have used to encrypt our important logons and passwords. Which I can’t possibly remember.


The last time this happened, I was walking my dog through the vineyards near our home. Innocent, happy, anticipating the return of my better half in a few days from the acting gig that had kept him hundreds of miles away for weeks and weeks. Taking in the golden afternoon light suffusing the vines and the surrounding hills, I pulled my phone out of my pocket to place one of our daily check-in calls and found to my horror that it had literally gone dark. No amount of desperate thumb-tapping and finger-swiping could resuscitate it. We don’t

have a landline. We live an hour away from the nearest Apple store. It’s Sunday in the early evening: the whole mall in which the Apple store dwells will be locked up like a drum by the time I can reach it. I admonish myself not to overreact: this isn’t an actual crisis, I do have friends and neighbors with phones I can borrow, or I can Skype, or I can remind myself that it was not so many years ago when I felt perfectly comfortable out in the world (or, heck, down the hall) without a digital umbilicus continually pulsing. Still, it was unnerving to find myself suddenly and inexplicably disconnected. Forget the beauty of the early autumn vineyards; I hustled home, fretfully checking my screen every 30 seconds. At last, it returned to life. Like a key employee suffering from a sudden bout of amnesia, it acted like it had never heard of me. I had to jump through all manner of cyber-hoops to prove to my phone that I was who I claimed to be. I had to teach it my finger print all over again.

And then when it finally worked , it had rearranged all its icons. Added apps I never asked for. Concealed my oft-used weather app within some mysterious new category entitled Productivity, where it now resides with my reminders, don’t ask me why.

Ever since, my phone has been nagging me to update it all over again. I keep choosing the “remind me later” command since it never offers me a “no f—-ing way” option. Seriously, I don’t need it to achieve anything beyond its current capability, which is already vastly beyond what I will ever use. I’m not overseeing remote satellites. I just want to make calls and text and check my calendar from time to time. And the weather. Take a pic now and then. And maybe tweet a little. And I really do not want to have to learn how to do all those things all over again. I’m not getting any younger, you know.

But my phone is convinced it knows better. So last night, while I was sleeping, it

shut itself down and willingly submitted to having its brain rearranged. Busy with packing and breakfast and saying our goodbyes, I didn’t notice anything amiss until we were out on the open road again. And now my phone not only doesn’t recognize me, it has armed itself with an even more Byzantine security protocol. Once we get home, I’ll have to dig up the original information I used when I purchased, not this phone, but the one before it, and feed that into its demanding maw and hope it’s satisfied.

And then teach it my finger print all over again. It’s as though someone slipped into my house while I was gone and, instead of stealing anything, rearranged all the furniture and changed the locks.


I wonder where I’ll find my weather app?

How about you? Are you ever confounded by the forces that lurk behind your technology? Please comment and share!

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