I assure you – I had no conscious premeditated intent. It was an accident. It wasn’t even entirely my fault. After a week-long Christmas visit, I drive my mom’s Subaru to the airport in Pasco, Washington with my eighty-three-year-old mother in the front seat and Renée in the back. As we cross the bridge over the Columbia River from Richland to Pasco, I marvel at how much the highway system has changed since I left home in 1979. I stretch up my neck to try to catch a final glimpse of the mighty river I had grown up with, but the concrete guardrails and fading twilight mock my attempt.
I don’t remember details, but my phone gets passed around the car for some technologically-imperative reason. After that purpose is fulfilled, I toss the iPhone onto the dashboard and tend to the more immediate task at hand… driving.
At the tiny airport, Renée and I unload our gear onto the concrete sidewalk, make a final cursory visual scan of the car interior, say good-bye to mom, and walk through the main entrance toward the TSA security screening station. As we typically encounter at the Pasco airport, there is one fellow traveler in front of us. We have “TSA Pre” stamped on our boarding pass, but all this really means today is that we do not need to remove our shoes.
At gate #2 (of 5), I spy electrical outlets beneath the seats in the waiting area and seize the opportunity to top off the battery on my omnipresent electronic device while Renée disappears into the ladies room. I pat the front left pocket of my jeans and become confused by the emptiness. Oh, we just went through TSA, I must have slid it into my backpack. After I unzip and rummage through the first couple pockets, it all dawns on me. I run to the ladies room and walk in a step beyond what seems appropriate and raise my voice… “Renée!”
After a quick explanation, Renée hands me her phone and I return to our unattended carry-on luggage. I first send a text message to mom, then call her on the actual “phone” function of Renée’s device… I get voice mail. My mom is incredibly savvy with technology for an 80-something great-grandma, but she is also very wise, and chose not to answer her beckoning phone while driving. I discuss my dilemma with the lady at the gate, and she gives me a hypothetical deadline to get my phone and back through security. The flight, she informs me, was on time.
A couple worry-some minutes later, Renée’s phone rings and mom explains where she is parked and how long it would take to return to the airport. I do some quick math and decide it would cut it too close and add way too much stress for something as trivial as a cell phone. This was Saturday, December 29, 2018, and if she could drop it in the mail on Monday, it would probably get to me back in Colorado by the end of the week. No big deal.
I call it my “phone,” but the telephone function is far down the list of actual uses. More predominantly, I use that device for checking email, text messages, audio books, Facebook, Instagram, local weather, WordPress, LinkedIn, to-do reminders, surfing the internet, writing notes, and a dozen or more other virtually important tasks performed — usually while sitting on the toilet.
On the plane, as we pull away from the gate, the flight attendant announces that we all need to turn off our electronic devices. I grin as I remove a book and sketchpad from my backpack. All is well, at least so far.
With disappointment, I realize that my Duolingo application is somewhere out there on my phone. I am trying to learn more Spanish before an upcoming trip to Colombia. Oh well, maybe I can do it from my laptop. I also wonder, “What temperature is it in Denver now?” And more basically, “What time is it, anyway?” Renée’s sister, Diane, picks us up at the airport and we spend the night at her house in Denver. I remove the laptop computer from my backpack and check my email, as well as a number of other useless social media applications before bedtime. As we crawl into bed, I laugh about not needing to set my alarm clock which is also within the domain of my iPhone. I chuckle, yet feel a pronounced sense of empty forlorn weirdness.
Throughout New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I flip open my laptop computer several times to check my usual meaningless cyber pseudo-connections. It would have been quicker and more convenient on my phone, but I reach the same empty conclusions with my laptop. At 2:20 AM on January 2, I awaken to use the bathroom and my brain shifts into gear. My thoughts now turn toward the power plant I have neglected while on vacation for the last two weeks. Tonight is forecast to produce ambient temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. My combustion turbines might have problems with the extremely cold temperature swing. I roll over to check for messages on my iPhone, but lo, it is not there, but rather, somewhere between Washington and Colorado.
At 3:00 AM, I decide I need to eliminate at least one reason for insomnia. I get out of bed and walk across the wood floor to the kitchen. I flip open my laptop computer and pull up my email to see if any of my combustion turbines have tripped offline… nothing but the same old twaddle about year-end cash-flow reconciliation, “Starting Strong with Safety” in 2019, and minutes from morning meetings that report all combined-cycle units at my plant were online New Year’s Eve with no issues reported.
At 5:17, an unfamiliar repetitive chime awakens me, and I scramble around to silence a foreign alarm clock device. At the 7:00 AM meeting on January 2, I learn that one of my simple cycle combustion turbines failed to start up successfully yesterday morning with the ambient temperature at negative 7 degrees Fahrenheit. An operator had sent a text message to my iPhone which was somewhere between Washington and Colorado at the time. At this point, we chuckle at the situation.
Halfway through my first day back at work on Wednesday, I realize I have not heard from Renée, nor has she heard from me. I pick up my land-line phone and call home… what a concept. She answers. It is nice to make contact, but I harken back to a time I vaguely remember. A couple decades ago I could focus on my task at hand with minor possibility of any significant interruption. Today, the norm is constant distraction and repeated interruption.
As I write these words, my omnipresent and omnipotent iPhone is still en route via USPS from Washington to Colorado. Dare I wish it should actually arrive? At times my answer is yes. At other times, bring on the good ol’ days. My fate lies in the lap of tomorrow. God help me. God help us all.