Here is the opening paragraph of a news story from my morning paper:
“Travellers checking into local hotels may be doing so without so much as a ‘hello’ to a human being next year, according to hoteliers.”
The story goes on to explain that hotels are dumping desk clerks and turning that job over to customers’ smart phones for check-in, room keys, room service — even to having a room set up exactly the way the customer wants it.
Like… this is a good thing?
Call me a Cro-Magnon but I actually look forward to a smile and a ‘Can I help you?’ from a fellow human when I struggle up to the counter with my reservation in my teeth and my suitcases in tow.
I’m in a strange building in a strange town where a strange bed and unfamiliar appurtenances in a strange room await me. I could use some human help.
Plus… I don’t have a smartphone anyway.
I used to be the second-last person in the world to not own a smartphone. Now I guess I’m last, because Tim Fite finally got one.
“I had resisted for years, but then a friend gave me one” Fite told New Yorker magazine.
“He told me I was stupid for not having one.” Pretty soon Fite was tweeting and texting and playing Angry Birds, just like everyone around him.
Then things got scary. You’ve heard of Phantom Limb Syndrome — where amputees imagine they feel sensations, even pain, from limbs they no longer have?
Tim Fite developed Phantom Phone Syndrome. “I started getting a buzzing in my leg,” he said.
“It was like the feeling of a call coming in but my phone wasn’t even in my pocket… Technology wasn’t just messing with my time or my productivity. It was messing with my body.”
That would never have happened to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. One day, as the author was going out the front door his wife asked him where he was going. Vonnegut said that he was off to buy an envelope.
“‘Oh,’ she said, ‘well, you’re not a poor man. Why don’t you go and buy 100 envelopes and put them in the closet?’
“And I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I know that I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying an envelope.”
“I meet a lot of people. And see some great-looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, we’re here on Earth to fart around. And of course computers will do us out of that. And what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around.”
And Tim Fite? The smartphone addict who suffered from Phantom Phone Syndrome?
He’s learning to dance again. He’s manufactured a rectangular, pocket-friendly cellphone-like device of fused glass that he sells for forty dollars a pop.
It looks just like a cellphone except it contains no electronics, features no buttons, does not connect to the Internet or to anything else. He calls it the Phoney.
“You can’t make a call with the Phoney,” explained Fite, “but you can make a point.”
— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.