Choosing wisely

Launching into Limbo

Hey, Siri.

Yes?

I have an important question I’d like to ask you. 

Ask away, Jericho.

Can a 19-year-old boy be considered a grown-up if the fourth-most-used application on his cellphone is NBA 2K18? And does it help if the New York Times is not too far behind? 

Here, I found this on the web.

But what do you think about it, Siri? 

It’s your opinion that counts, Jericho.

Sure, but I’d like to hear yours.

Playing “Yours” by Russell Dickerson.

Noooo! Forget it. I wanted to discuss cellphones, and considering you’re forever trapped inside of mine, I figured you’d be the one to go to. Perhaps that was a mistake. You know what, why don’t I talk and you can just listen for now?

OK, talk to Siri.

Looking back at the nine months I spent in Berkeley this year, I don’t think I ever, not once, inhabited a phoneless space — lecture hall, library, dorm room, lounge, cafeteria, lawn, public bathroom or otherwise.

In fact, let me rephrase: Not a second in a day passed without one of my peers using a phone in my presence. Even in settings where phones were prohibited, my classmates and I would all steal glances at our screens every few minutes, such that, inevitably, there was at least one person in the room on a cellular device at any given moment in time.

Over the course of the year, this omnipresent preoccupation with phones — a result of living among thousands of screen-addicted teens — grew rather exhausting. So exhausting that even I, a fellow screen-addicted teen, began to take notice — you there, Siri?

Wherever you are, that’s where I am, Jericho. 

Right, OK, just checking.

When I returned home for the summer, I returned to a household occupied only by my parents — two 50-year-olds who do not, in fact, have unhealthy relationships with their cellular devices. This lack of obsession differed so drastically from what I had experienced at school that I decided to spend a couple days observing my parents and their phones. And I did so with the same curiosity and confusion that I would have while watching a couple of extraterrestrials who inexplicably landed, UFO and all, on our big, green living room couch. 

As I see it, there are three differences between the ways my parents — contributing members of the mature adult collective — and I interact with our phones. 

The first involves urgency — or rather, a lack thereof. Somehow, when my parents receive notifications on their phones, they don’t feel an overwhelming need to immediately view the contents of said notifications. Did a friend eat a gourmet lunch and want to virtually share it? Did that cool pair of shoes go on sale “just now”? Has Lyft released a new update fixing all those annoying bugs the app never had? It seems as though my parents are perfectly comfortable not knowing — at least for another hour or two. Shocking.

The second concerns proximity. At home and at school, my phone rarely leaves my side. Whether it’s physically touching my thigh through the fabric of my jeans pocket or lying on a chair just 3 feet away, my phone is always safely within reach. My parents’ phones, on the other hand, are not. My parents leave their phones wherever is convenient and never panic when their screens happen to fall out of sight. What neglectful owners they are!

The third, and most important, is utility. My parents use their phones almost solely for productive activities: placing calls, sending important emails, keeping calendars, reading the newspaper and doing all the other bare essentials in our technology-based world. To them, a cellphone is really just an appliance that talks. To me, it’s a toy — one that must be picked up and fiddled with constantly (189 times every day, to be exact). My phone is not, in any capacity, a vessel of productivity — unless, of course, you count the steady progress of MyCareer on NBA 2K18. 

But regardless of how some adults today criticize our obsession with cellphones, it is ultimately our responsibility, as Generation Z, to determine the role that these devices will play in our adult lives. 

Think about it. We’re the control group: Generation Z will be the first cohort of adults to have grown up alongside these ubiquitous gadgets. Life before the cellphone is already fading from our collective memory, and by the time we all reach age 50 — no, 30 — the only life we’ll know will be dependent on this digital world. No other generation before ours can say the same. And so, going forward, it must be up to us, not our parents, to decide the acceptable relationship between a grown-up and their phone. 

Please, everybody, let’s choose wisely.

I’m not sure I understand, Jericho. Would you like me to search the web for “choose wisely”?

Jericho Rajninger writes the Thursday column on the liminal space between childhood and adulthood during a summer home from college. Contact him at [email protected]