You Have a New Memory

From Slate:

Lou LouAnn Dagen died in April 2020 in a Grand Rapids, Michigan, hospital, without her family. She had lived in a nursing home for 10 years, and communicated with her sister, and the world, through Alexa. Two days after Lou Ann died of complications from coronavirus, her sister found recordings of Lou Ann’s voice asking Alexa, “How do I get help?”

One Oneday last summer, I woke up and reached for my phone, as I do every morning, as you do every morning. Maybe you are reading this in your bed on your phone wherever you are this morning. I was having what I thought of as a weak stretch in my life, when I didn’t have a regular job, and when just deciding what I would do to avoid writing, or having a single thought about my email, was enough to short-circuit me and I would find myself still in pajamas at 5 p.m., pacing and crying, Googling What’s wrong with me and waiting until it was OK to go to bed again.

In such weak stretches, among the many indulgences I permit myself is the minor suboptimal habit of actually sleeping with my phone. Under the other pillow next to me, where no one sleeps. In other, more robust stretches, my phone spends the night plugged in about a foot away on the nightstand, and I can still reach it if I wake up and want to look at it, but it’s tethered. When I let it sleep freely with me, I can turn over while I look at it. I can look at it while I’m lying on my left side, and then I can turn over and look at it while I’m lying on my right side. I just charge it the next day, because it doesn’t matter if either of us is ready to go in the morning.

On this particular morning I opened my eyes and looked at my phone in the bed next to me, and as I put my hand on it, I said, “I belong to you.”

It didn’t used to be like that. One day 12 years ago, not long after I got my first iPhone, one of my car’s headlights went out. On my phone, I Googled what kind of bulb I needed. With my phone, I routed myself to an auto parts store and bought the light, and then I watched a YouTube installation tutorial. I used the flashlight on my phone to see into the housing as I installed the bulb, and I called my 11-year-old son, who was upstairs in our apartment, and talked to him while I worked on the car. After successfully installing the bulb, I took a picture of the front of my car with the hood up and posted it on Facebook, geeking out about all of it, that I had used my iPhone to do all those things. Information, transit, know-how, light, communication, camera, social media. It was my tool.

But it wasn’t really my phone that was the tool, not beyond the light and the camera. The rest was the internet—even, if I understand modern telecom correctly, probably the actual phone call. Barely more than a decade later, the internet is not the tool. I am the tool. Somehow, I have been instrumentalized by the internet, which operates me through my phone. It often feels like the internet is reading my mind.

But I do, because I’m still human. And I used to think it was ironic when someone posted some hand-wringy article about internet addiction on their Facebook, but now I don’t see it like that. Now I just think about how you’re telling the internet what you care about, and all it knows to do with that is to try to convert your concern into currency. Once it understands that you find something ironic, if you are that sort of person, it will then find a way to push that at you too, trailing ads like seaweed.

. . . .

You got me, internet. I bought those Instagram jogging pants. I am no different from every other playable bundle of synapses holding a phone.

Link to the rest at Slate