A Blind Woman’s Rant About Smartphone Use

Two hands holding an iPhone at a table.Smart phones, yes. Smart people, not always.

I heart technology. My talking computer has been a godsend since the first, crude sounding voice synthesizer was plugged into my IBM PC back in 1987. When the Internet was commercialized and we all started using email I could use it, too. Accessible technology allows me to surf the Web and all that. It’s been my unsighted window on the big world out there, and it’s enabled me to moderate this blog without being able to see.

My iPhone comes with an app called VoiceOver. I use it to text friends, book taxis, and sometimes, get this: I even make phone calls and talk to people with it. But when I sit down with you at dinner, or if I sit next to you at a bar, I don’t have my phone out.

And often, you do. And I think we’re having a conversation based on the fact that we started one, but it abruptly stops. And then I have to guess. In the past, it might be someone looking up at one of the TVs that have become ubiquitous in restaurants and bars: A big play in a game, some sort of cute Animal Planet show, a freakish accident in some other part of the world. I knew the televisions were there, so I came to expect that when someone ooed or cringed or laughed in a way that was inappropriate to what we’d been talking about, they probably had noticed something on the television screen.

I got good at figuring that all out, but I never liked conceding that whatever was on television was more important than the conversation we’d been having. And then the smartphone thing happened. So now, you can be anywhere talking with me, on a walk somewhere, driving in a car, sitting next to me at a ballgame, eating Thanksgiving dinner, at a concert, standing in line at the grocery store, eating a fancy dinner at an expensive restaurant, and I respond to what you are saying to me, and then you disappear. Are you okay? You still there?

Of course you are. You just got a text from someone more important than me. Or someone just posted a funny video on Facebook. Or rather than help me think through who it was who played the lead in “Heaven Can Wait” you took out your phone to look it up.

Okay, I’m second fiddle. I can deal with that. What makes me sad, though, is that without being able to see, I’m lost. You disappear, I can’t know what you’re doing, and I can’t know why. I don’t blame the technology. I just have a problem with that little bit of human behavior.

My husband Mike was slow to adopt a smart phone and swore he’d never get hooked, but I’ve caught him doing exactly the thing I just described, and it resulted in some minor skirmishes. Some major ones, too. These days, when Mike interrupts what we’re doing to look at his phone, he tells me before he takes it out of his pocket, and then he explains. If this happens at a time I don’t feel the situation warrants a Google search on the smartphone, I’ll ask him to put it away. Sometimes, he does. Progress!


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