Getting married to your phone

Our gadgets punctuate our lives and burrow deep into our souls. There is an app for every emotion. Getting hitched to your phone is the next logical step.

Loved writing (and rewriting) this column, mostly to get the word play right.  Thanks to the husband for supplying the line, “At least the phone is smart.”

07 July 2016 | E-Paper

Cellphones as lifelines. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Cellphones as lifelines. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

“I am thinking of marrying my cellphone,” I tell my husband. We are sitting beside each other, tapping on our colour-coded iPads—his, black, and mine Hermes orange—the colour, not the brand. “Oh really,” he says in that overly enthusiastic voice he affects when he hasn’t heard a word I have said.

My inspiration is Aaron Chervenak, a Los Angeles man who drove to Las Vegas and married his smartphone, complete with a ring and priest who proclaimed them “husband and cellphone”. Documented and uploaded on YouTube, the marriage isn’t legal. But that, according to Chervenak, is a small price to pay for declaring undying love for what is for many of us our favourite appendage.

“If we’re gonna be honest with ourselves, we connect with our phones on so many emotional levels,” says Chervenak in the YouTube video. “We look to it for solace, to calm us down, to put us to sleep, to ease our minds, and to me, that’s also what a relationship is about. So, in a sense, my smartphone has been my longest relationship. That’s why I decided to see what it was like to actually marry a phone.”

The man is right. Our relationship with our devices is almost as complicated as the Brexit referendum. We may want to quit and return to a way of life that is the stuff of nostalgia but, like David Cameron, Boris Johnson or the British people, we have no idea how galactically difficult it will be to untangle this particular union. More addictive than marijuana, more trance-inducing than Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s addled speeches, our gadgets punctuate our lives and burrow deep into our souls. In a sense, they define us. Look at Chernevak’s list. There is an app for every emotion. For solace, there is MoodKit. For calm, you can meditate through the app Calm or Headspace. To sleep, there are lulling nature sounds, music, or podcasts. To ease your mind, there are a million games. There are countless others. I use Grid Diary for journaling, 7 Minute Workout to exercise, BrainHQ to focus, Freedom and SelfControl to stop distractions, and 50 Languages to learn Kannada. On average, I touch my device more often than I touch my spouse.

“I think I will elope and marry my smartphone,” I say loudly.

This time he looks up, my husband, with that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look that I have come to recognize. I can hear the wheels whirring in his head as he processes this bizarre statement, sans preamble or context. I know what he is thinking: What have I done and what is the best response? I even know what he will say, for it would have been my approach. When you don’t know how you have messed up, offence is the best form of defence.

“Well, you certainly pay more attention to your phone than you do to me,” he says huffily.

“At least the phone is a smart one,” I retort and I meant it to sting.

And so it comes to this. You have been married for so long that you can hear each other think; and the object of your jealousy, the mistress in your ménage à trois, is a device that rings instead of purring, that buzzes in lieu of flirting.

Viewed through this prism, marrying your cellphone is both the logical next step and a little sad. Will Chervenak’s bride put up with it when he upgrades to the next model? Will he leave her for someone from a different species?

On 3 December 1992, the first text message was sent over a phone—“Merry Christmas”. The late Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen, pitched the idea of a “short messaging service” at a telecoms conference in Copenhagen. Nokia incorporated the idea into its phones and the rest is history, or at least over a trillion messages sent per year. Remember voicemail—that quaint outdated thing we used to do?

I love voicemails and try to leave some to friends and family through WhatsApp or iPhones. But they don’t appreciate my cutesy messages because they are an intrusion. Reading a text can be done surreptitiously while you are bored in a boardroom. Listening to a voicemail requires headphones and solitude.

In the new reality, communication is condensed for efficiency and speed. Letters replace words (R u ok?); emoticons replace the emotions that leak through your voice when you actually speak to people or leave voicemail. Texting, unlike live conversation, offers a great buffer. If someone asks you an uncomfortable question, you don’t have to respond. The surprise or pain that you feel will not be apparent to the other party. You can fake a response by sending a “thumbs up” emoji when you actually want to kill yourself and the other person.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in today’s teenagers. Thanks to selfies, they know how to pose: pouty fish lips for girls and macho glares behind glares (sunglasses) for the boys. They are camera-savvy, understanding composition and light in an intuitive way. Facebook is waning in popularity among preteens. They prefer the casualness of Snapchat and the texture of Instagram. A thousand words, typed on Facebook Messenger, cannot convey the mood of a party as effectively as an Instagram photo.

There are many instances when communicating via a device is an excellent option. When you have to spring things on unsuspecting spouses, there is no better friend than a cellphone. Consider this message: “5 friends showing up at home. Know you have world cup finals. Thought u r going to friend’s house to watch so agreed. Hope ok.” Can you imagine springing this on your spouse in person? Through texts you can escape his curses.

Or consider this message to your son or daughter. “Why are you not picking up the phone? You will be grounded if you do not answer my call. I am serious. And by the way, you have to attend the wedding of that cousin you hate next week with us” (offence before defence always, my friends, particularly with children. Yell at them before forcing them to do stuff they detest).

And now I need to go reconnect with my to-be spouse. There are messages to read, emojis to craft, photos to share, and miles to go before I sleep.

Shoba Narayan didn’t elope with her cellphone. Shoba tweets at @ShobaNarayan and posts on Instagram as shobanarayan. Write to her at [email protected]

Also Read: Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

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