The Birth of the iPhone (and the Death of People-Watching)

I have an iPhone 5. Clearly, I’m big time.

This is my first smart phone. In many ways, it’s been incredibly helpful. I have my iCal with me at all times, so I no longer double-book myself three or four times a week. Now it’s once or twice a week, but at least I know when I’m double-booking.

I also get to take great pictures and videos of my daughter, who is hilarious these days.

But still, I kind of hate it.

When my wife and I discussed me upgrading, she said, “Just don’t become an iPhone guy.”

It needed no further explanation. I won’t waste your time explaining it to you. We all know that guy.

The next few posts will be about how I’m dangerously close to becoming that guy.


Two days after I got my new iPhone, I was sitting with my wife in the waiting room of her OB, waiting to get a sonogram of our coming-in-January baby (it’s a boy, if you’re wondering). We love our doctor, but when we go to her office where they do their sonos, we always have to wait at least 45 minutes. It kind of sucks, but it provides a perfect opportunity for people-watching. While we were waiting that day, I looked around the room.

Nine other people in the room. Nine people on their phones. Four of those were couples on their cells simultaneously.

Perhaps you are like me and get upset by the very mention of a situation like this. I scoffed internally. What a waste.

What to do with glazed-over eyes staring at screens? They do nothing! They tell no story! They express no personhood! All these gloriously different people become a monotonous redundancy when their phones get involved.

And at the OBGyn, the shame of wasting such prime people-watching is exponentially worse. I mean, it’s the scene of the height of human drama! Life and death, teen pregnancies and barren wives, first-time moms and first-time STD carriers, hopes and fears and dreams and anxieties all sitting in the same room, waiting to see what direction their lives will go. But when you have TMZ’s website at your fingertips, the distraction steals the intensity of the moment.


Of course, my self-righteousness and indignation reached the boiling point. I shook my head. I know, I thought. This would be perfect for a blog post.

So I reached for my phone to type a little reminder to myself. I went to my list of reminders and saw a note about an outdoor event at work the next day.

I better check the weather while I’m at it…30 seconds later….ooh look, new MLB Power Rankings on!

And that was it. I was one of them.

I was that guy.

If you’re wondering, yes, my wife was also on her phone texting her mom that we were still waiting. So not only was I that guy, but we were that couple, if only for a second.

The temptation is almost impossible to resist. We can check anything we want anytime we want. And there is so much to look at. So much we can learn. So much we can see. It’s limitless.

But we lose so much. We lose each other. We lose ourselves, at least a little bit. Those people in the waiting room missed what should have been the look of anticipation and curiosity of an expectant father. Instead, they got the pinch-faced squint of a guy checking his fantasy team.

And I missed out on them. I missed out on the chance to wonder what they were going through. Why isn’t the dad here with that mom? Why are that lady’s eyes red? Why isn’t that couple talking to each other? Why does the nurse look so tired?

So. Much. Humanity. in one little room. Such richness. Such complexity.

It’s practically limitless.

I know I might become just as bad as the next guy when it comes to reaching for my smart phone every time there’s a lull in the day. That tendency is definitely there in me.

But I’m making an effort to avoid that pitiable fate. What a tragedy it would be! To ignore all these unrepeatable souls, these gods and goddesses, these immortals, the envy of angels and the victims of demons. To have them walk right past me and not even look at them! It is a terrifying numbness, an ignorance of the fabric of reality that threatens us, that threatens me, more than I care to admit.

This is why the saints stress detachment. It’s not that earthly things aren’t good. It’s that they are so good that we can think them more than they were ever meant to be.

We must not go scrounging around for scraps when the banquet is all around us. Let’s feast on what C.S. Lewis calls “the weight of glory” that surrounds us.

This entry was posted in Culture, Detachment, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Birth of the iPhone (and the Death of People-Watching)

  1. Kaitlin S. says:

    YES. Working towards this detachment is one of the hardest things for me. What you say at the end of this post is so, so true.

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