Longform

What Would Life Be Like Without Technology? A Onetime Addict Finds Out

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My sister's voice suddenly rings out: "Look up, dork." She's standing right in front of me.

"Oh. Hey! This says you're in Lincoln Park."

"Well, I'm not. And you were speeding, little brother. You need to slow down."


While the average American deals with "only" about 500 texts per month, in an effort to prove my stamina is still as virile as a 17-year-old's, I am attempting to hit the teen mean (123 per day). It's taking a lot of folly on my part, including emoticons, ROFL and TTYL replies, and, yes, smiley faces. This one's a guy with a mustache and a hard-on: ;{)--^<.

Having a decent camera on hand makes it a lot more likely you'll be taking pictures. Instagram's 100 million users have shared more than five billion photos; at Facebook, 200 million pictures are taken and uploaded every single day. Add Flickr, PhotoBucket, Picasa, SmugMug, and WeHeartIt, and you've got . . . well, too many photos. This week I've shot everything in sight: rusty bicycles, sunsets, sandwiches (what am I, Japanese?), and cats. Lots of cats.

Which brings me to Pinterest. Skewing heavily toward female sensibilities and visual acumen (home decor, fashion, recipes, travel, and Channing Tatum), Pinterest just passed Yahoo as the fourth-biggest traffic driver on the Web. What does that mean? People go there, then buy shit. (The site has grown by 5,000 percent in one year.) Women aren't the only visitors — the most manly man I know pins like a teenager at an American Apparel discount mall: pics of fishing lures, national parks, and Ram trucks. The place is addictive: I just lost three hours of my life pinning on boards for Art Deco, Pickling Jars, Vanity Fair, and Infinity Pools.

Hazel suggests I sign up for a service called Klout that aggregates all your social media and gives you a daily score. "It might give you a better idea of where you can be an influencer," she explains.

Logging onto the site, my initial score is an 8. "We can work with that," Hazel sweetly notes. I took some time to add my "influencers" and hone my profile: Stephen Colbert (89), the Dalai Lama (90), Bill Maher (88), Chelsea Handler (41), Bill Moyers (83).


Life in the clickstream is starting to heat up, and not necessarily in a good way. In an effort to respond to all incoming posts, messages, tweets, texts, and e-mails in a timely manner, I am Pavlov's dog — without the drooling. Here's a real-time snapshot:

I arrive at Freshy's cafe at 3:45 p.m., 15 minutes before my graphic designer. I check in on SCVNGR, a location-based game. If I make a napkin origami here, I can earn points toward a free coffee. Two new e-mails — one from an editor I need to get back to and another from Living Social letting me know that laser nail-fungus removal is now only $299 (previously $1,200). I have received an important message from OkCupid: My profile picture was flagged for being inappropriate. (Isn't that the point?) Turns out it doesn't have me in it. Before being able to edit this glaring error, I must reply to three new texts, a +1 in my Google stream, and four comments on my Facebook page.

"Hello, sir. Do you know what you'd like?" Now I am the idiot in line with my head in my phone, ignoring the human in front of me. "Oh, hi, I'm sorry. I think I have a Groupon . . . " A friend has seen my FourSquare post and is just down the block. Do I wish to join him? My sister has just played "Queer" for 36 points in Words With Friends. Fauzia has fanned me on HuffPo. "Yes, if I could have a macchiato, with a little extra . . . " Jaimey likes your playlist on SongZa! Do you wish to share a playlist? My friend shows up. "Hey, I just texted you. Aren't you supposed to be totally plugged in this week?" I hand my phone to the steaming (not lattes) man at the cash register. "Do you take Square?"

"After only three days, we're probably not going to see any physiological changes," notes my doctor, Terrill Harrington, when I confront him with my experiment. "Those can take a long time to show up. But I already see you've got 'gamer's hunch' from sitting in front of your phone and tablets 18 hours a day."

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Michael A. Stusser