Updated: July 7, 2012 8:02AM
‘Can I turn Neil on?” she asked. I contemplated her — blond, expectant — while weighing my response.
Sometimes your whole career can teeter on a knife edge. The person to whom she was posing the question — a technician standing by me — said nothing. I gazed at an imaginary spot floating in the air about a foot above my head and to the left, and simply waited.
“I’m going to let that one smack into the mitt,” I said, taking refuge in sports metaphor. They both looked at me blankly.
“Sometimes you have to just leave the bat on your shoulder,” I elaborated. Another long pause.
“Ohhh...” she sad, getting it, or pretending to. “Turn on” — an antiquated phrase that old people use. Shades of “Tune in. Turn on. Drop out.” An inappropriate 1960s drug/sexual reference. All three of us busily turned our attention to the device that she had called by my given name. Its actual name is a Samsung Galaxy S II or, to use the vernacular, a phone.
Smart phone week at the Sun-Times, and we all trooped up to the 10th floor to meet our new devices — our second selves, apparently. I don’t want to make too big of a deal about this woman calling my phone by my name. Lots of products have been anthropomorphized over the years. Hats, for instance. Freud wrote an essay arguing that hats are symbols for men, a common sentiment a century ago. “Your hat is YOU!” one company advertised.
We aren’t that direct about our phones, but their impact on the murky nether worlds of the id and the ego are the same. Some of my colleagues received Apple iPhone 4s, the rest of us got Galaxies, and, vain as newspaper columnists tend to be, I instantly focused in on the pecking order aspect — was this an indication of status? Am I “out”? Have I been slighted? Apple of course is the platinum, ne plus ultra electronic device. I could see a sleek white iPhone 4 box with Rick Telander’s name written on it. Of course. The best for the best. The Samsung box, meanwhile, is half yellow with rainbow discs. It looks like something made to contain a cat toy. Was I not Apple-worthy? If my phone is going to be me, shouldn’t it — shouldn’t I — be the best possible? I raised a weak protest — could I not just take Rick’s iPhone instead? He doesn’t care. He doesn’t need status from his phone. I do.
No, no, the tech folk said, obviously used to such pleading. These decisions have been made high above. The Apples are for people ... well ... who need Apples. The Samsungs....
“Yours is bigger!” the tech guy said brightly, subtly returning to the object-as-a-man motif. Indeed it was but .... well, let’s move on.
I was booted over to a third tech person, an earnest man in his 20s who had the tech guy outfit right out of Central Casting: blue jeans, plaid shirt, unshaven, newsboy cap. He pointed out the button used to turn the phone on, instructed me how to press that button, then became lost in trying to link to the network.
I watched. An odd moment — the phone wasn’t even mine yet, but already on the fritz.
“For the record, I haven’t done anything to it yet!” I announced to the room.
“Play with it!” he enthused, continuing the metaphor, shooing me out the door. “Try new apps!”
A few pokes and the apps popped up. Books. Lewis Carroll. “Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next.”
You and me both, Alice, you and me both.
An hour later, back in my office, the new phone surprised me by ringing. I took the Galaxy out of my pocket, fumbled to the phone screen, and tapped the green button. And tapped. Yet it didn’t answer. Later, my 14-year-old son — who has had this phone for a year— explained, “You have to SLIDE it.” Oh, of course. Why didn’t anyone tell me that? Seriously. At least tell us how to answer the phone. At lunch, I met my brother.
“Got a new phone!” I bragged, then told him about the Apple v. Samsung crisis.
“This is better,” he said, and gestured down to his phone — a Galaxy S. Now, I don’t know much about phones, but I know that the S II is better than the plain old S. His has a tiny keyboard that slides out — obviously a technological dead end.
“The S3 is coming out,” my brother said. “I’m not sure when, but I might get it.” Until then, I have the best, most up-to-datest. I immediately checked to see how long I’ll enjoy the Alpha Dog Samsung. Until June 21. That’s when the new S3 arrives. Two weeks. This technological king of the hill is a losing game.