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Why My Phone Is Probably More Interesting Than You

Skynet was supposed to attain self-awareness last week.

Yep, that Skynet, the fictional global grid of linked computers featured in the Terminator films that started as an automated global defense network intended to reduce human error and swiftly evolved into a renegade global power that fired nukes against Russia, launched a protracted war against human threats and sparked the only cinematic franchise which featured a governor naked. Three times.

Tahrir Square, not exactly.

However, the Skynet anniversary set off a slew of nostalgic posts on Twitter and Facebook, fondly recalling a simpler time when Guns N Roses were relevant and plot made a cameo in summer blockbusters. Adding to the giddy geekiness, director James Cameron delivered the following edict:

“Now instead of nuclear war and the machines taking over, we need to worry about global climate change.  And the machines taking over.  With everybody going through their lives bent over their Blackberries all day long, you could even argue the machines have already won.”

Cameron’s a good sport for playing along, and while I never ever want him to tell me what to do (see: five wives, Titanic, God complex), I agree with him on climate change.

As for his point about the machines taking over, he’s right, the PCs and Androids and Nooks are winning Charlie Sheen-style, whoring out mental crack whenever we want it.

But how is that a problem?

I love my iPhone. Almost everybody who has one loves it. It’s there all the time. It never screens my calls or ignores my requests, like, say, my family and friends. It tells me what time I need to leave to catch a bus to grab an amazing slice of pizza while playing the live version of “Seek and Destroy” from Metallica’s ’93 concert in Mexico City and showing me the latest Giants’ at-bat, tastefully interrupting me to let me know my brother can’t find a gas station, could I give him directions?

Honestly, the only thing that treats me better more consistently is my dog.

Compare that to, say, talking to you. You’re about my age, income level, education, ideological bent. Interesting clothes, relaxed but purposeful, curious eyes. We meet at a party, walking our dogs, on the bus.

One of us says hello.

We smile, exchange names, lines of work. We fish around for mutual friends, dredge up a particularly smelly ex-roommate or former coworker who got fired for stealing. I attempt a pun that ends badly. You reference the latest Mad Men episode, but I don’t have cable and think the show’s too easy, a stereotype of a stereotype. I comment on a book you haven’t read. Who reads, anyway?

Awkward silence.

But we don’t give up. I start telling you about this article I’m thinking of writing about machines, specifically how computers aren’t the end in and of themselves—because they’re new, cool, sexy—but the means to connecting with other people and the things we love, that it’s only a nerd toy until you get how it works. But you’re missing my point entirely and writing me off as a technogeek-apologist, so I switch to baseball and lose you entirely.

Or you tell me about a new bike you’re buying, and I have to endure it—the test ride, the seat fitting, the various gearshift specs, the mind-blowing deal you landed—even though my bike phase ended years ago and hell if I care what you’re spending money on, conspicuous consumption is a pathetic thing to dissect unless you’re making a sociological statement or adopting a new way to live. Which you’re not.

If you start telling me about your kids I swear to God I’ll drop my drink on your head.

I mention how fun live-band karaoke is and you vanish in a puff of black smoke.

You’re planning a trip to Thailand and all I can think is, how daring and progressive, for seven years ago.

OR, wait, hang on, alternate universe, you tell me about skiing, or Obama’s wussiness (extending Bush tax cuts, not ending the war in Iraq), and then we get into comparing our favorite black diamonds or reflecting that even if Obama has some wussy qualities he’s still way better than the alternative, at least there’s health care, and we start to think yeah, this person’s interesting, well-read, intelligent. You have an inside hook-up to land reservations at the hot new sushi joint I’ve been dying to try. I crack you up by quoting the Ricky Gervais podcast. Your best friend read my novel and loved it. My Hamburger of the Month club is accepting applications. Your softball team needs a hard-hitting leftfielder.

This, I concede, is far better than my iPhone.

But at some point in the next five minutes we’ll almost certainly go our separate ways (dog’s pulling, wife’s gives me the look, your bus stop) so later on, if we remember, we Facebook up and fire off texts and try to set something up, but it’s hard, with work and the significant other, besides we’re hardly each other’s first priority, there are birthdays and vacations mixed in, things slip. Three months later we grab a hot dog at lunch, things go well if less magical, the second time’s never quite the same, but there’s enough banter to know we click. I get invited to your birthday party, a restaurant I wouldn’t pick myself, too expensive and pretentious, full of your old friends who never get out together anymore, the babysitters are lined up and it’s full-bore drink-as-much-as-you-can-before-overtime-hits, with me the interloper, the guy stealing time from true friends. I salvage as much as I can, with comedy; you respect me for playing the role.

We do dinner. It’s a smash. You take a cab home; I drop off your car the next day. You come over to watch the game. We hate the same players, enlighten each other with stories of our hometown teams. Our numbers are firmly programmed in each other’s phones.

A year later, if all goes well, we’ve gestated to mature friendship. We hang out once or twice a month, checking out metal concerts and film festivals. We go on ski trips, forward links, accumulate an arsenal of inside jokes. But most of the time we’re doing other things, you’ve got a trade show or a wedding or you’re sick, I’m holed up to write my next novel or article or just don’t have it that night, and the best we can do is email and text and call.

Pinging back and forth on our smartphones.

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Matt Stewart Matt Stewart's debut novel, The French Revolution, has been called "wildly imaginative," "brilliant," and "an excellent achievement" by people he's not related to. He's mildly infamous for posting the book on Twitter first. You can grab his free French Rev iPhone app via his website, Twitter up, Facebook in, or simply share pleasant thoughts.

4 responses to “I HEART Skynet”

  1. SAA says:

    This was funny as fuck. I’m afraid of new technology, I don’t even have a cell phone. I used to, when they were just phones, now I just stubbornly refuse to get a new one. When I tell people this they look at me like I’m insane.

  2. Mary says:

    I really enjoyed this reflection on the role of technology in modern relationships. People are all up in arms about whether technology is good for society or bad for it, but they’re asking the wrong questions. Technology IS society. I mean, it’s what humans do. We make things. And they become part of our fabric. You did a really nice job of getting around to that point without making all the pedantic statements I find myself making in the same type of conversation.

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