I can't stop thinking about my next cell phone / by Dan Mayer

I have a cell phone problem. It's real, and I don't know what to do about it. My contract with Verizon is up at the end of next month. I have been looking at phones to replace my venerable but now more or less terminally fucked up Note 4. I loved my old Razor Maxx, even though it's name sounds like a torture porn mash-up. It had (pretend?) Kevlar on the back. Super butch. Too bad about how the delights of Android turned into a charmless morass of unused apps and irremovable bloatware.

Please don't tell me I should reinstall the factory presets. I did that. Multiple times. Also, any suggestion of executing a hard reset will be considered an act of psychological warfare against me, and will earn you an Oath of Bloody Vengeance. More on that later.

The issue here is that with my contract renewal just around the corner, I can't think about anything but the new phone. My relationship to this problem is slipping over into weird obsessive behavior. Checking the phone nerd blogs for news on new phones has become ritualistic, like checking email. Except that I do it with greater frequency. I sit up in bed during the night and prowl my way through the deepest reaches of the review site comment pages, and those are some absurdly deep reaches. I could be reading books with that time. I could be sleeping.

By the way, if any phone geek review site trolls are reading this, I just wanted you all to know... I think we can do better. As humans. Let's start with spelling.

I think about my prospective new phone instead of working on constructive things like developing ideas or working on a plan for my future. No. I can't do any of that until I have chosen a phone path. If I choose the wrong path I will spend the next two years roasting in the hellfire of regret and missed opportunities. Also, because this is a rapidly developing technology with a built-in-obsolescence cycle of about eight minutes, every choice is the wrong choice. You can understand my dilemma.

What I can't understand is why I care. I am not an app developer. I use my phone for about five really common functions that almost any smartphone on Earth can reliably perform. The specs I'm combing over are almost entirely meaningless in terms of how they will influence my use of the device. Battery life is a real concern, but the rest of it is just so much techno-babble effluvia. The chip speed is not going to affect my inability to remember to add people to my contacts.

When people want something as badly as I want my next cell phone, it generally indicates that they feel like the object of desire will provide something like... let's call it happiness. So how exactly am I imagining my cell phone aiding in this endeavor?

It starts with the fact that the object is loaded with all the promise of a new piece of technology. My new phone will do for me what all tech seems designed to do: assist me in overcoming my own limitations. It will remember what I always forget. It will increase my efficiency and allow me to streamline my work flow. The new phone will empower my creativity by giving me the tools to record ideas and effortlessly transport words and images to any nearby device. By God, my next cell phone will unlock my stymied potential! It will grant me freedom!

A seductive theory. You know where my new smartphone will invariably let me down? It won't make me any more disciplined. It won't sit my ass down in front of the computer and make me write anything. And if I happen to be in front of the computer already, the smartphone will not shut down The Elder Scrolls Part VII (or related distractions) and force me to work on anything important. I doubt that the introduction of a new piece of tech into my little universe will do anything to clear the fog from my thoughts, grant me useful insight into anything, or otherwise stimulate any form of creativity. The smartphone is certainly not going to make me any fucking smarter.

Do I ask too much of the poor, struggling gizmo? I can't expect to become a better person by coughing up $800 to Verizon. The smartphone is really just designed to make the things I do easier for me to do, at the cost of underdeveloped resourcefulness and a lot of dependence on a small, delicate object that may or may not be irradiating my balls while it sits in my pocket.

Maybe it does achieve those goals. I just wish that the Movie-In-My-Head would stop featuring the new smartphone as though it was going to alter my circumstances in some profound way. That movie is the result of expert marketing that I'd like to think I'm able to outwit. I'm not. When you read the comments pages for a lot of smartphone blogs, you'll encounter dozens of poor souls like me who are enraptured by the same fantasy. Their brand affiliation has become part of a process of self-definition, which is exactly what the smartphone industry wants.

You'd think that after a realization like that I might just let my contract expire and consider the path of non-participation. I could just retire from the universe of gadgets, renounce the constant thirst for the next big thing, and march monk-like into a future where a smartphone has no place.

You'd think.