Dabe Alan

In defense of the smart phone, and waiting in line for the next shiny, golden gadget

In defense of the smart phone, and waiting in line for the next shiny, golden gadget

It’s interesting that people are willing to wait in line, sometimes hours at a time, for a new phone. Or a new gaming console. Or any piece of consumer electronics, really. It seems like the sign of a culture that has grown out of bread lines, and now treats our wants as if they were needs. What happens if you don’t get that phone for another week? What could you have done differently with that time?

There is no shortage of sneering articles in the press whenever anything causes people to wait in line. Do teenagers really need to see Twilight on opening night? Will the world end if you don’t get that new smart phone? Hell, look at gaming consoles: They do the least and cost the most at launch. Buying them on the first day is guaranteeing that you get the worst possible deal, at least on the surface.

Technology is fast, cheap, and it's refreshed yearly

We’re not ruled by rational thought, however, and I’d much rather figure out why people are willing to wait than make fun of them for that decision. I don’t think lining up in front of a electronics store is any better or worse than staying at home and watching the big game, or even playing a game. I’ve had a number of amazing experiences in lines, including getting tickets for any number of theatrical Star Wars releases, an idea that seems quaint now.

You wait, you get excited, and you discuss things with those around you, and you share the hardship. It’s a way to show, concretely, that you’re a fan of something. That you want to be the first to see it, to understand it, to hold it in your hand and figure it out. To tear the object apart online, or just have an informed opinion during discussions on the forums. Waiting in line can be a powerful communal experience as groups of people get together in order to share enthusiasm for certain parts of their life.

This works even if that object is something as simple as a new phone, but of course phones are not simple anymore. We break ourselves into tribes based on the device in our pocket, and the online world is full of people who look down at the “sheep” who like one brand, or the men and women we think are tethered to their work because of the device they carry. We want our phones to say something about ourselves, and we want to judge other people by their phones. We stare at them endlessly, and people pay attention to the phones of others when they come out. Then we wonder why they're so important that they're worth waiting in line for?

My phone is my GPS, it’s my camera, my address book, the way I keep up with my e-mail, and it’s a gaming console. I could leave my wallet at home and be okay for a while, but if I found out that I had left my phone back at the house? I’d likely turn around. Never have we had a single device that can do so much while being so small. We take in our lives through our phones, and we capture that same life through the device, and share it. We like to make fun of people who sit with their noses stuck in their phone, but so what? I like being connected to the people I care about throughout my day.

I’m the guy in the corner of the industry event buried in my phone. I like being around people, but I dislike always being engaged in the conversation. Phones are like camouflage for people like me; they are an acceptable way to show up, be present and enjoy the situation, while not feeling the stress of always being part of a group.

There is an entire industry of articles giving the top ten things that are great about introverts, but the fact remains that personalities aren't so cut and dry. I like talking to people one on one, I like giving talks and speeches, and I love parties. But sometimes I need to escape, and smart phones are like a ripchord for uncomfortable situations. They cause people to leave you alone, and give you something to do. God bless and keep them.

We’re still figuring out how our phones fit into modern society, and they’re still a new addition to our lives, hence the sense of fear and distrust. We like to look at everyone with their phones and pretend that we’re the only one awake and not sleepwalking through life. There is a sense of superiority when we put our phones in the middle of the table at dinner. We mock the people who have the nerve to wait in line, like animals, just to give a company money for the newest model. We discuss phones endlessly, and then claim they're not very important when the new one comes out.

Considering how much time we spend with our phones, what we use them for, and how much importance they have in our lives, why not stand in line? Or at the very least, why bother judging others who do? When you can buy a pocket computer that can do damned near everything for $200 and a promise to stick with it for two years, it's hard to find things to complain about, so maybe people who want to get one right away become the new scapegoats, the people who cause us to cluck our tongues and judge, judge, judge.

Me? I like people who like things, who are interested in technology and devices, and who want the latest and the greatest. The people who wait in line are often my people, and I like enthusiasm. I also love the new, shiny things, especially when they can aid your life in so many ways. I work hard at my job, I support my family, and I spend time with my kids. I'm not going to be made to feel guilty because I take pleasure in new devices, or that I'm willing to give up a chunk of my day to play with a new one on the first day of release.

I didn't wait in line for the new iPhone, but the newest iPad? You might see me there, and you're going to call it a waste of time, or think that waiting a few weeks makes you a better person. So be it. We live in an age of wonders, and it's fun to be one of the first people to see what that means. You can say hello at PAX, or any other event, or tell me I'm wrong in person.

Unless I have my phone out. In which case, kindly leave me alone.