Longform

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

Page 4 of 9

My desk looks like a combination of John King's "Magic Wall," the stock-market ticker, and the Al Jazeera newsroom. While Brian Williams blathers about "radical Islamic protests in the streets" of Libya, a video feed from the news platform Storyful ("Now Our Turn to Speak") features local Libyans telling a very different story. My own "sources" go far beyond the NBC newsroom: OccupyWallStreet posts their own footage in real time, On the Commons covers breaking news, FAIR fact-checks the networks themselves, and writers like Margaret Atwood shed light on "non-trending" stories like Russia's illegal gillnetting that you won't see in the #lamestreammedia. Even when Williams is reporting a story of interest — say, the Mars Rover — I'm so far ahead of him after following the NASAwatch blog and live Curiosity feeds that I might as well be the guy in his earpiece. As for local news, I like Dan Lewis and all, but the West Seattle Blog has just posted a picture of a guy breaking into my neighbor's house.

Five days in, my life resembles one of those annoying iPhone commercials in which famous actors ask Siri what to do that day. But instead of being the cloyingly sweet and spacey Zooey Deschanel, I'm Samuel L. Jackson: "Damn, I'm hungry, bitch."

Siri's reply: "Now, now. I found 14 restaurants fairly close to you." The only difference between me and the weird John Malkovich ad is that, instead of having Siri play Vivaldi, I ask for a blowjob.

"Ask nice now," she replies.

"Okay, can I please have a blowjob?"

"Michael! Your language!"

Siri's great on specifics ("What movies are playing?" or "Call Susan"), but not so good when it's more complicated ("What do you think I should buy Susan for her birthday?"). Luckily, the main thing cell-phone users ask about is the weather (47 percent), followed by local news (31 percent) and then popular videos (29 percent). Which is what I'm watching as I drive to the Ben Howard concert.

Howard's show at the Neptune is packed, and I'm happy not to be able to hear my phone. Half the crowd is filming the set, I assume to later post on YouTube, which is where I first got turned on to Howard. At one point I hold up SoundHound to see if the song-recognition software works. The app brings up Tom Jones lyrics. As I exit, I notice no one's buying Howard's merchandise or music. I often wonder how young musicians can make a living when so much of their material is available for free.

With the taste of stale Jägermeister on my tongue and a vague memory of singing a Tom Jones tune at Hula Hula, I ask Siri for a hangover remedy. She is completely useless: "Do you want me to search the Web for the cure for a hangover?"

"NO! MY HEAD HURTS!" I yell at her pulsing icon.

"I have found 14 hospitals very near to you," she replies.

Stepping out for some air, a friend Skypes. "Did I catch you at a bad time?" In "always on" mode, there is no bad time. A car door slams and I jump out of my socks; being constantly connected is making me seriously jacked and jittery. The SleepTime Lab results are also ugly: I'm averaging 6 hours and 17 minutes of sleep per night, during which 22 percent of the time I'm sleeping lightly, 22 percent I'm awake, 55 percent is Deep REM, and my efficiency rating is a lousy 78 percent.

There's a reason one out of seven people on the planet visit Facebook each month; it has a relationship component that's key. It also giveth and taketh away: I had a falling out with a friend; not a fight, but a misunderstanding — words unsaid, an uncertain next step. I recently searched for her on my friends list. When her name didn't come up, I realized she'd unfriended me. My heart dropped. It's not all virtual, it's not all bullshit. Some of it matters.

The term "digital tattoo" refers to the behavioral data that can be amassed via a person's online actions. (Yes, your future boss will see the Burning Man photos of you.) Though I've left a digital trail a million miles long this week, Google's data-mining techniques still haven't figured me out. Just because I like looking at Victoria's Secret models doesn't mean I'm buying anything from them. I'm also not picking up a penthouse in Manhattan. My "real self" has offline search habits (Glee and pharmaceuticals) which will not be shared. As for those cheap fares to Vegas — well, that's more like it.

I've scanned and bar-coded anything and everything in my path with a UPC code. My closest grocery is one of those high-end markets with cooking kiosks and fancy cheese celebrations. Without exception, every item I scan with my ShopSavvy app is considerably cheaper a block away at Safeway. The sad part? I don't move my lazy ass an inch to save a dime.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael A. Stusser