Suddenly, Shockingly Phoneless

10/17/2017 06:26 pm ET

Red light. Good. I can check messages. Whoa: the screen is black. I press the Home button again. Nothing. Frantic, I push every button. Nothing. My smartphone is dead. How could it leave me with no warning? How can I live without it?

My mind races. I'm headed to the hairdresser. I know the way, or I'd be lost without WAZE. Next stop: grocery shopping. What's the point? I don't have my list.

I desperately want to call my son, my tech support guru. But my phone - my connection to him, to everyone I know, to emergency services for the phoneless - has died. This little device, my constant companion, is suddenly, without warning, unresponsive. Where can I go to revive or replace it? Can't Google a solution, or search for Apple stores.

What if I was driving to the airport but traffic was jammed or my flight delayed? This little know-it-all wouldn't reroute or warn me, as it always does, with the cool, unflustered tone I've come to rely on. Suddenly I've lost my lifeline to loved ones and my contingency planner. I felt like I'd drawn a "Go to Jail" card banishing me to solitary confinement.

I tried again, pressing the "on" and "home" buttons simultaneously. The beloved Apple logo appeared! As I plugged the battery-drained device into my car charger I realized the battery was not the only one experiencing an awakening.

When did I become so dependent on technology that I'm lost without it? How could I cede such enormous power over my life to this handheld modern-day genie?

In just two decades this pint-size genius has become a personal command central. It's all-knowing, multi-tasking presence transforms our lives. Consider the trade-off we make when we invite it along through all our waking hours. Before wiping the sleep from our eyes we grope for it, arms-length away, so it can tell us the time, the weather, what's happening today in the world and on our calendar, remind us it's Mom's birthday, and more. We text, tweet, traipse through our inbox, then tuck the damned thing in our PJs to continue reading, reacting and responding between bites of bagel or spoonsful of cereal.

Who hasn't had a hair-on-fire moment realizing you've left home without your phone? Backtracking - at risk of being late - to retrieve your tiny, all-knowing sidekick?

When did we surrender control of our lives to an inanimate object that doesn't give a hoot about our well-being? And mindlessly hand over information about who we know, where we go, and what's in our bank account?

What inspired us to give this attention-demanding contraption to our kids? Did we believe they'd heed our "for emergencies only" caveat? How many emergencies does a 10-year old encounter when there's no adult available to call? Are we sorry now that we know smartphones detract children from schoolwork, social and family life while exposing them to online bullies or worse?

Ever hear of brain-hacking? On 60 Minutes, Tristan Harris explained how it works: "Every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, 'What did I get?' This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit.... when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward." Psychologist Larry Rosen says when we put our phones down, the brain signals the adrenal gland to release a burst of cortisol, triggering a “flight or fight” response. To relieve the feeling, we keep checking our phones. This keeps us in a continual state of anxiety; the only antidote is the phone itself.

A whopping 84% of adults polled by Time Magazine said they couldn't go a single day without their cellphones. If grown-ups, who supposedly have more impulse control than children, can't resist peeking to see if there's a new text or Instagram post, and have actually walked head-down straight into traffic, why expect children - you know, those smaller than full-size humans who can't leave their screens at night without increasingly adamant warnings - to resist that pull? Is anyone surprised that Common Sense Media found 50% of teens "feel addicted" to mobile devices?

Those of us who remember having one telephone affixed to the kitchen wall actually move from room to room unaccompanied by electronics. Sometimes we use Find My Phone because our phones are not our constant companions. Not so the rising generation. When my teenage granddaughter visited, after "Hi, Grandma," and a quick hug, she asked, "What's your Wi-Fi password?"

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