When I first realized my phone had died, I tried not to panic. I calmly thumbed the “on” button but nothing happened. I did what any sane person would do—raised it to eye level and stared as I thumbed harder. The stare was telepathic, threatening even, but the phone didn’t flinch. I could feel my palms starting to sweat. In true simian fashion, I banged the phone on my leg, stared again as I thumbed. Nothing. Banged it against the dash, the steering wheel. Still nothing. I blew through the red light, thumbing violently now, contemplating the meaning in the screen’s utter blackness. I didn’t like what I saw, didn’t like what it suggested. The void, the emptiness staring back at me forced me to consider my eventual end. One day, like my phone, I too would stop, go blank, cease to function. That was a lot to contemplate, but contemplate I did. Perhaps the asshole blowing his horn from the lane beside me caused my epiphany, or maybe it was the bloody-kneed, psycho bicyclist waving his arms in my rearview. I couldn’t be sure of the origin, but an epiphany had occurred.
This is it, I decided. Done, finished, over and out. Break the chain, emancipate my—wait, emancipate, that’s a great one for Words with Friends… No. Just no. No more cats playing the accordion, no more instant Beiber tweets. Let those stupid pigs eat the eggs, let the birds be angry. The time had come, I was going low-tech. Some might call it quaint, I called it vintage, old-school, primal. I’d check Facebook at my desk. I’d get a landline. I felt a chill pass through me with the thought, but I ignored it. The decision made, a slight hint of superiority engulfed me as I drove home. Look at them, their silly phones to their ears. Texting. Snapping pictures. Get a life, I yelled, once traffic was moving.
The first phone-free day took a toll. By noon I found myself weighing the pros and cons of smoking, thinking the habit might be a suitable replacement. The rituals seemed to be the same: fiddling with lighters and packs of cigarettes and all the manual-oral fixation innuendo. After a quick Wikipedia check where I learned Hitler was against smoking, I decided against it as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I took Hitler’s advice on the matter, but given his list of acceptable activities, you had to give some credence to his view that smoking was bad for you.
I proclaimed Day Two as Announcement Day. I sent emails, tweeted, and posted on Facebook from the machine at work, smugly informing everyone that they could no longer reach me on my cell. I caught myself reaching for my phone countless times as the day inched along. Yes, I should have left it at home, but I felt a gradual step-down might aid withdrawal. I rationed using my office phone to remotely check cell messages to once an hour. I may have hedged the timing a bit, ten minutes here, twenty there, but I re-started my ration clock each time. Nobody called, but my conviction never wavered.
The third day, Saturday, I didn’t get out of bed. Well, that’s not entirely true. I woke, had breakfast, then tried my lifeless phone a couple times, hoping it had auto-magically fixed itself overnight. When the dark screen began mocking me, I grabbed a fifth of pirate-worthy rum, a bag of super warehouse brand cheetos, my laptop, and crawled back under the covers. I woke hours later with my pillowcase as an eye patch and a grainy, orange keypad.
By the fifth day, the endorphins kicked in. My version of the runner’s high brought on by cell phone deprivation grabbed my initial hint of epiphany-induced superiority and multiplied it ten-fold. A series of stark hallucinations manifested where I imagined everyone on my contacts list gathered at Starbucks. All of them talking and texting and tweeting, unaware of their folly, of their weakness, of their…of their… addiction. Saying it, addiction, admitting it, was orgasmic. I felt an instant and draining release followed by a sense of wholesome newness and clarity, as if I had died a little death, la petit morte as the French say, and had been reborn. These people needed help and I knew the one thing, the only thing that could save them. They needed a Twelve Step Program. Since I suddenly had plenty of free time, I opened a new WORD doc and started typing. Well, first I went to Wikipedia for a copy of the original Twelve Steps. This needed to be authentic.
I should have suspected the problems with this idea as soon as I read the first step. Admitting I was powerless over the phone didn’t give me pause—oh, I was powerless, without a doubt—but the clause about life becoming unmanageable because of the phone, did. The opposite held true, life without a smart phone was unmanageable. My god, I’d have to carry a planner, it was like 1990 all over again. Ultimately, I decided the proliferation of “Something Anonymous” allowed taking liberty with the specific wording of the original Twelve Steps. The steps for Sexaholics Anonymous couldn’t mirror those for Clutterers Anonymous, could they? Highlight, delete, no more troublesome clause.
On to Step Two: believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Well, that’s just redundant. I admitted in Step One the phone had power over me and if the damn thing would just power up, my sanity would be restored. Strike Step Two.
Step Three required making a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, as I understand Him. I thought about this one for quite some time, especially after all the existential contemplation the initial blank screen had created. It took me a couple hours to reach my forest-for-the-trees moment. I replaced “God” with Steve Jobs and steeled myself for Step Four.
I knew immediately that no good would come from making a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, as Step Four implored. Even a half-hearted and veiled attempt meant hours of additional snotty weeping in therapy. The program only works if you work the program, so Step Four had to go.
Revising Step Five called for more development. The original requirements worked with only a minor change dictated by Step Three’s revision. Only the addition of a simple qualifying statement remained. I kept “Admit to Steve Jobs, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” and added, “This admission may be in the form of a text message, a Facebook status update, or a tweet originating from a laptop or desktop computer. No verbal communication with a fellow human is necessary.”
Steps Six and Seven needed very little tweaking. Admitting I was entirely ready to have Steve Jobs remove all these defects of character and humbly asking Him to remove any of my other shortcomings was almost an afterthought.
Eight concerned me at first. Make a list of all persons I had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. Hmm. I kept imagining a plethora of ways this could unfold, none of them pleasant. Then I realized that the wording become willing provided the loophole I needed. Any first year law student would argue ambiguity. To become willing did not imply, suggest, or require actually making amends, it simply meant become willing. Pfft. Done and done.
Based on the interpretation of Step Eight, Step Nine never had a chance. I read “Make direct amends to such people” and didn’t need to read any further. Gone.
Deleting Step Four meant the same for Step Ten—Continue to take personal inventory. No thanks. Adios, Step Ten.
After changing a few necessary words in Step Eleven, I felt spiritual, holy even. I dialed up “Into the Mystic” on my iPod and imagined I was a shaman. The revised version read like scripture: Seek, through prayer and meditation, to improve my conscious contact with Steve Jobs as I understand him, praying only for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out. I wanted a glass of wine at this point, but the last Step remained.
Step Twelve suggested that, having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I should try to carry this message to other Smart Phone-aholics, and to practice these principles in all my affairs. Doubt thickened. I looked over my revised Twelve Steps for Smart Phone-aholics. Technically, the revisions had reduced it to Seven and a Half Steps, and some of those faltered under scrutiny. Suddenly, I felt weak, vulnerable, and the concept of a sponsor became palpable. That’s the problem with starting a new Twelve Step Program, if you’re the first, there are no sponsors.
I knew then it wouldn’t work. I’d hit bottom. The irony of hitting bottom and having no Twelve Step Program to rescue me didn’t help. It was well past midnight, but I started driving, aimlessly. I don’t know, maybe I subconsciously linked driving and talking on the phone. The notion that my attachment was unhealthy on many levels crossed my mind after a few miles. I ignored it. I envied heroin addicts and their methadone clinics. Billboards advertising phone rates elicited Pavlovian tears. At some point, I realized I had no idea where I was. I was lost, yes, but I kept turning left, right, left again with purpose, almost as if some unseen force had taken the wheel. Fog formed on queue and still I drove. Finally, I surrendered. I stopped in a sketchy part of town, a strip mall out near the by-pass. With no phone, all I could do was wait for dawn and hope I’d recognize my surroundings. So I waited, slipping in and out of consciousness, clutching my still dead phone to my chest.
I woke as the eastern sky bled pink, then orange. After a few minutes, the sun surfaced, and everything—everything—became clear. I’ll admit, I’m as skeptical as the next person, but I knew that somehow during the night, somehow as I drove around lost and afraid, a greater power really was guiding me. I’d run across the curb and into a sad looking hedge row, coming to stop in front of—get this—a Verizon store. Thank you, Steve Jobs. I’ll always believe.