God Help Us by Tim Willard

I am sitting at a nice lunch gathering. The people squashed around the table are all friends and acquaintances. We are gathered for a send-off lunch because one of our friends quit her job. Of the eight people sitting at the table, I am one of three who does not have an iPhone. I know this because everyone is looking at their phones feigning busy-ness.

The rolls and cornbread are served and we all dig in. But no one really knows what to say. We all chomp and exchange awkward glances. My butt clinches as I knife through the tension.

So, naturally, I stir up some conversation.

—Well, what are your plans? You have a plan . . . right?
—Oh, yeah. I have guaranteed work for three months at this other firm. After that, we’ll see.

We do the whole “ha ha ha” thing and then dive into our lemon waters and stale cornbread. Small conversations are now starting to spring up. But they are about nothing. I’m on my third glass of water.

—More lemon, please.

I make another attempt at a conversation but this time I am greeted by “the gesture.” You know, the gesture of another person reaching for his iPhone to check something—God knows what—at the same time you are trying to fire off an intelligent question.

But I’m too late. I can’t get my question out before so-and-so starts tapping the glass. I am indignant.

—No! Look. I’m right here. Be here! Who could you possibly be talking to? The whole firm is right here. Look at us. Talk to us. If you want to tap something, tap my shoulder or tap your fourth glass of lemon water.

I say these things and am half serious and half insane. For, as I pan the table almost everyone is checking their phones, again. E-mails. Texts. Weather reports. Wi-fi. Word docs. PDF. All these wonderful digital things are more important than the live human being sitting right there across the table in a chair, sucking on lemon water.

You know, when the iPhone came out I wanted one. But then I told myself to wait.

—There’ll be a second generation. And there was. Great. So glad I waited.

But then I didn’t have the funds.

—There will be another generation, for sure.

And there was. It was even better and was less expensive. Voila! Time to buy. But for some reason, I held back.

—You know, I don’t really need a new phone. This one works just fine . . . and it wasn’t $200. I’ll pass.

Now the iPhone is new again. This one is turbo-charged and can even record video and text it! Excellent. My culturally degenerate BlackBerry Pearl has been able to do that for two years. And yet, through all the iterations of this digital device, I held back. I didn’t make the switch to the inferior network just for some pocket candy that doubles as a phone. I still have the same phone I bought two years ago. It is slow and doesn’t have apps, but who cares?

At least when I’m with real people, I’m not tempted to act like they are not there or that a phone has more to offer than live humans.

Our culture is fast becoming a microwave. We push the shortcut buttons to warm our lives, buy stuff we don’t need, and ignore our friends.

—Ding! Your TV-Dinner-Life is ready. What? You’re not really happy or fulfilled in life? Do you have an iPhone? Well, we’ve got an app for that.

God help us.