Every politician knows that fear wins elections.Just how deep into Orwellian territory we are became clear at 2:18 p.m. on Wednesday.A man I loath and distrust, who happens hold high office sent out a national presidential alert to cell phones everywhere.After being awakened at odd hours a time or two over my cell phone owning years, I’d turned off my smart phone alerts.I wasn’t out driving to spot amber alert situations in the middle of the night.If there’s a severe thunderstorm coming, I’m already awake.The idea that if everyone with a phone is on the lookout we’ll all be safe seems a bogus one to me.There is, however, no way to turn off a presidential alert.Like most Americans I was working when my phone went off.I wasn’t afraid.Just annoyed.
Random scary sounds are among the most frightening things people experience.I recently started writing in the attic (if you read this blog regularly you won’t even ask why).As I was writing this post a gust of wind blew and it sounded like the roof might collapse upon me.Sudden load sounds make us look for comfort in a strong person.On a national scale that means, God help us, politicians.When my phone alert goes off, it’s telling me to vote for the party in power.There’s psychology afoot here.This was no accidental coincidence.Midterm elections are just weeks away.
I know something about fear.Not only do I write about horror films, I grew up with so many childhood phobias that my mother wondered how I would ever get along.Those phobias may have gone underground when I became an adult, but they never truly left me.I don’t encounter them on a daily basis, but I can draw on them for my fiction.I don’t, however, appreciate my government using them against me.Perhaps this sounds paranoid.If paranoid it’s by design.Even if 45 can’t see beyond his own proboscis, those on his team know the fear factor works.Winston will come to love big brother.Fear robs rationality.We’re mere primates, after all.Was it coincidence that there was what appeared to be an impromptu Trump rally later that afternoon?There is a difference between paranoia and naiveté.We’re a wired nation and the Republican Party has the phone number of each and every one of us.If this is not a drill, you know where to find me.
While in the theater to see The Nun (which ended up being the biggest take) this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that the pre-movie adds were all about apps.I couldn’t help it because, much to my own chagrin, I’d left the house too quickly and I hadn’t brought a book to read while waiting.This may not be news to some people, but different cinema chains have different “channels” of what passes for entertainment and ads to try to draw viewers in early.The movie house we used to frequent in New Jersey had a variety of goods on show, most of the time.The one we visited here in Pennsylvania presumed that everyone had their phones in hand, waiting for the show to begin.On screen was the idolization of the app.
My phone is old enough that most modern apps don’t work on it.Most of the time that doesn’t matter to me since I’m not addicted to the device.Of course, when you’re trying to park your car in a town that offers only online options for such a convenience, I sometimes wish I could download the relevant necessary software.Otherwise, I often wonder what we’ve lost in our lust for connectivity.Coming out of New York on the longer distance bus recently, the driver called out, as leaving the Port Authority, “Lights on or off?”The unanimous chorus, for I didn’t speak, answered “Off!”I glanced around.I was surrounded by devices.I carry a book-light with me on the bus, for this has happened before.
“Drink the Kool-Aid” has become post-Jonestown slang for simply following the suggestion of someone without considering the consequences.I sometimes wonder if our smartphones come in more than one flavor.I’m not talking about features or physical colors.As apps chip away at our money, a little bit at a time, they also take larger pieces of our time.I’ve experienced it too, but mostly on my laptop (I don’t text—my thumbs aren’t that limber, and besides, the apocopated messages often lead to misunderstanding, emojis or not), the wonder of one link leading to another then realizing an hour has disappeared and I still feel hungry.Perhaps that’s the draw to the modern commuter.Or movie goer.I’m sitting in the theater, taking a break from unpacking.In my version of multitasking, I’m also doing research by watching a horror movie.Around me eyes glow eerily in the dark.I’m lost in the forest of unsleeping apps.
Perhaps you’ve encountered it too. You’re in a major city. You’re in a hurry. The person in front of you is plodding along, staring at the device in his or her hand and you can’t get around him or her. You’re being held up by technology. I just want to get to the Port Authority before my bus leaves. The late Jonathan Z. Smith called cell phones “an absolute abomination.” I wouldn’t go quite that far—my bus pass, after all, is on my phone, and I’ve been saved from embarrassing conversations on the desk phone in my cubicle by being able to walk away and find a quiet corner in a corridor where I can talk freely—but I do see his point. While technology has had many benefits, in real life it can slow you down.
A news source I recently read said that heavy smart phone users are more prone to psychological problems than, say, those people who live raw in the bush of southern Africa. Phones isolate as well as connect. Instead of asking somebody for directions, you can turn to your monotoned electronic friend and find out. What you lose is the nuance of human communication. On my first interview in New York City—I was still living in Wisconsin at the time—I was disoriented. Which way was Fifth Avenue? I asked a stranger on the street and learned something in the process. New Yorkers weren’t the rude people I’d been told to expect. In fact, I quite frequently see strangers asking others for directions. I’ve never seen someone refuse to help in those circumstances. Although I’m in a hurry if someone asks me “which direction is Penn Station?” I’ll stop and try to help. It’s a people thing.
One of the distorting lenses of a large city is the acceleration of time. Many of us depend on public transit in its many forms, and none of it is terribly reliable. Being late through no fault of your own is part of the territory in a city like New York. It’s become harder to stay on time because of smartphones, however. A few years back I saw it with the Pokémon Go release. Groups of phoners wandering around, slowing the flow of foot traffic on sidewalks that are somehow never wide enough. If only I could communicate with people! How does one do that when they’re riveted to the device in their hand? I wouldn’t say they’re an absolute abomination, but I agree with the dear departed Smith that there are hidden costs to being so connected that we can’t talk to one another. I would say more, but I think my phone’s ringing.