Technology sure has a hold on us

By 
  • October 25, 2013

The other day, I lost my so-called smartphone. It was kind of dumb of me. But the episode set off a range of emotions; from the pit-in-my-stomach initial feeling to panic and stress at figuring out what to do next, including a little prayer to St. Anthony, to contentment realizing life without that digital albatross around my neck actually feels pretty good.


If you’ve ever lost your phone you probably know what I’m talking about. It is not fun at all. But no one says learning a lesson is fun. In fact, a wise (and incredibly successful) man once told me that failure teaches you far more than instant success because when you lose something it makes you pause, think and plan. And those things pave a path towards success in life, business, whatever.

The other day I was heading to a meeting with a thousand things on my mind. When I arrived, and getting out of the car in the parking lot, I thought I’d better turn my phone off before getting into this meeting. I did that, and noticed my shoelace untied so I bent down absentmindedly to tie it.

Even now, I don’t know what I did with that phone in my hand. Did I put it on the roof of the car? Did I put it on the ground and forgot about it after tying my shoe and someone came along later and picked it up? The only thing for sure is that it isn’t in the car because I’ve checked as thoroughly as a Canada Customs border guard who suspects you’re bringing back undeclared goods from the United States.

Realization set in after the meeting when I couldn’t find my phone. In a panic, I checked all over the place and asked everyone I had been in contact with. Nothing. I gave up and drove home figuring I must have left it at home. Maybe I simply imagined I turned the phone off before the meeting and I really left it at home, I hoped. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to look on top of the car before driving off.

My next step was to call the phone company and “lock” the phone so if someone found it they couldn’t use it and rack up huge long distance or data usage charges.

That done, I asked if they could tell when the phone was last used and the young man named Jason said the last activity on the phone was just minutes before the time of my meeting. Therefore, I concluded, that must have been when I turned it off.

Next up was a little prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come round. My cellphone is lost and cannot be found.” My mom swore by St. Anthony’s powers and it often amazed me when I was little how things would turn up when mom had us say a prayer to him.

Meanwhile, with my phone gone, I was beginning to feel freer not hearing that constant ding alerting me to e-mails and texts. Sure, I missed the real-time communication, but there was also a feeling of emancipation from that darn thing.

As I sat in my car at a red light heading back to look some more for the phone, I watched people walk by who were like zombies thumbing their smartphones. Many of these people were wearing ear buds, totally unaware of the world around them. And these folks came in all shapes and sizes from teens to middle age and beyond.

Smartphones have exploded into our culture over the past decade and crept into our collective psyches. What will be the long-term impact of these devices? They give us the ability to instantly communicate but do they take away things, too? Does the instant and constant gratification from these digital tools prevent us from pausing, thinking more deeply and planning beyond the next text message?

Much has been studied and written about both the positive and negative aspects of technology upon society from great advances in medicine to a loss of personal privacy and increased isolation. Losing my phone gave me pause to think about a few of these things.

So far, St. Anthony hasn’t come through in helping me find my phone. But maybe he’s helped me find some other things. Hopefully, I keep them in mind when I get that new phone.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@abc.ca.)




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