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The Second Self

June 1, 2016 • Laurie Newbound

broken cell phone screenLast week, while loading cartons into my car during my office move, my cell phone fell out of my pocket and hit the pavement with a worrying sound.  I have occasionally dropped my phone before, but it usually makes a thud, while this made a crack. 

Sure enough, the display screen was, if not quite shattered, definitely altered.  Images were fractured, as if you were looking through a fun house mirror.  The phone still worked, but along with the broken glass, there was a jagged edge on the side which now irritated my thumb pretty much every time I held it.  And I hold it A LOT.

I made an appointment at the Genius Bar and five days later, Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, I took it in to my local behemoth Apple Store.  I gotta say, while these stores are beautifully designed, I find visiting one similar to walking into a club in the 80’s. Okay, maybe it’s not that loud, but it is LOUD.  It’s like they are sending a conflicting and confusing message….see all these beautiful products?  Play with them, stay awhile.  On the other hand, not too long. There are very few places to sit and with the hard surfaces and the high ceilings….did I mention they are loud?

I get there, it is packed, I agree that I was an idiot to do this on a holiday weekend.  I wait twenty minutes past my appointment, I browse the new products, some of which, I am not kidding, I do not understand.  As in, what is this, what does it do?   A “Genius” calls my name.  The young, understandably harried woman explains that they can fix the display, that there is a chance they could lose my data (I have backed it up but this still makes me nervous), and to come back in two hours. Ok, I can live with that, I think.  I write a last minute text to my husband, something to the affect of, no phone for the next two hours.  He is so unreliable in terms of checking his texts that I feel as if I have tossed a pigeon with a message in its claw up into the air.  I hand in my phone and leave.

I could have driven home or perhaps done an errand or two, but I had a good parking spot in a structure that was now filled and I didn’t think I would easily find another when I came back, so I resigned myself to wandering for the allotted time.

My local Apple store is located in an outdoor mall in Santa Monica that I first started going to with my mom when I was eight years old.   At that time it seemed kind of like the main street of a small town, full of classic American stores like J.C. Penny and Woolworth’s.  In its recent incarnation, it is a touristy magnet of  high end chain stores, casual food, and gastropubs and is connected to a new indoor/outdoor luxury shopping center that is quite popular.  Street musicians, jugglers, and dancers entertain outside.  On this Sunday, it was hopping.  It was nice to see people, some with babies on their backs or dogs on leashes, out and about, enjoying the beautiful afternoon on a holiday weekend.

But pretty soon I got twitchy.  Oh, look at that! I should take a picture!  But then, I couldn’t.  I have two hours of alone time…I should catch up on those emails (no), return phone calls (obviously no), read those articles I have been meaning to get to (no), check out what yelp says about which restaurant to go for the lunch I forgot to eat earlier (still no).  I spent a few moments admonishing myself for not bringing my laptop, because then I could have at least gone to one of the coffee places and taken care of some things on my to do list.

But then I think, whoa. You can’t spend two hours without your cell or laptop? Come on.  But I realize that maybe I am addicted to my personal tech devices in a way I hadn’t quite acknowledged to myself before.  I certainly show the signs of classic withdrawal.  But I also recognize a related but slightly different feeling, similar to the way I felt the first few times I left my small children at pre-school, as if a piece of myself were missing, and I wouldn’t feel quite right again until we were reunited.

I recently watched a Ted Talk ( given by a woman named Amber Case who is a CYBORG ANTHROPOLOGIST.  Yes, that is a job now.  Her point is that with the growth of personal technology, we are now a new species of Homosapiens, that we are pretty much already cyborgs, that our tech devices  are, in a way, attached to us.  A different species.  Think about that for a moment.  Her thesis is that, while we have for thousands of years created tools that worked as extensions of our physical selves, we now have, for the very first time, created tools that are extensions of our mental selves.  Most of us are carrying around easily 1,000 pounds of material (if we were to print out everything we look at and use on our devices) and if we lose that material (as I did for two measly hours) we feel the loss.  That material has become, in a way, our second self.  (And then there is the additional, but not unimportant, maintenance of our online “self,” the virtual person on Instagram and Twitter and other social media platforms.)  While she ends up coming to the conclusion that this technology ultimately makes us more connected to each other, she recognizes the trade off in terms of the changes in our brains from all this new outside stimulation.  She talks about how many of us no longer engage in self reflection, which is the opportunity to grow your self, to do long term planning, to figure out who you are.

There is no question that meditation is having a moment, and it is recognized as a direct answer to the distracting lifestyle we now, at least a majority of us in Western countries, live.  In the past year,  I have incorporated daily meditation into my life, using the app Headspace. ( The app helps you learn, but once you get the hang of it, meditation is always there for you, with or without your phone.  That, in a nutshell, is kind of the point of it, that you have this place, within, which you can always access.  Meditation has helped remind me of who I am, and has gotten me back in touch with not only myself but my self.  And last month, incidentally,  it helped get me through a long session in the dentist chair.meditating by water

HOWEVER, I have to admit I found those two hours without my phone challenging.  Although I will check Facebook or Instagram when I am in line for almost anything, my biggest use of time on my phone is reading endless articles.  I have always been an avid magazine and newspaper reader, and now it has become more than a bit obsessive.  I read many, many articles online, to an absurd degree.  I am reading fewer real books, whether they are old style hard or paperbacks (which I still love) or dowloaded on my kindle.

Which brings me to where this day ended. I walked the length of the mall to get to what I believe is one of the few large bookstores left in my part of town, a Barnes and Noble.  I was pleased to find it as crowded as the rest of the mall, people browsing, children in the reading section with their parents, people of all ages and sizes, tattoo covered, bearded guys next to freshly scrubbed middle schoolers.  I bought a couple of novels I had been meaning to read, got myself a snack and a cup of tea and sat down at a table.  I was one of the few people in there reading a book.

Hands over laptop smartphone and tablet with coffee on the table in trendy cafe

I lasted about fifteen minutes. The novel started well, I was absorbed in the story, but my ability to read fiction in a noisy, busy place is, officially, clearly not what it was.  This was something I used to do all  the time. Amber Case makes the point that we are changing as a species, but can this happen in one lifetime?  Am I a different SPECIES than I was when I was twenty?  Am I already a cyborg?

I put my two books in my backpack, walked for about twenty minutes straight, felt better, clearer, and ended up at a clothing store I like.  There were lines for the changing rooms, so I made a mental note (because I didn’t have my NOTE app which I use constantly to jot down ideas or things I may forget) to come back to this store.  I wanted to take pictures of dresses that might work for an upcoming wedding but, of course, no camera….I just thought to myself, ok, I will check the store’s website when I get home and hopefully those images will remind me.  Because I now seem to depend on devices to do my thinking for me.

I was done.  Illogically exhausted, I went back early to the Apple store and just sat at the genius bar and starred ahead. I felt like the cyborgs (or maybe just my unique cyborg, the one behind the door where they did the repairs?) had won. I had been separated from my “second self,” as Amber Case calls it, I had the exact same kind of separation anxiety I used to have at certain moments when I was separated from my children when they were small and unprotected.  But now I was the one who felt small and unprotected. Nobody knows where I am.  Twenty, no, six years ago that thought wouldn’t have even formed in my mind.  I felt, sitting amongst this huge crowd at the Apple store, strangely so alone.

When the technician recognized me, she promised me my phone was ready and it would be brought out shortly. It took another torturous fifteen minutes. When she walked out with my baby, um, I mean my cell phone, I could have hugged her. There it was, all shiny and new, my personal wallpaper intact, my apps there where I had left them, no data lost.  Such relief.

This is kind of a pathetic confessional, but I doubt I am alone here.  It can be challenging, being separated from our (second)selves.  And absurdly (and worryingly) joyful being reunited.

4 thoughts on “The Second Self

  1. Terry says:

    I have read that as we age our brain is not always able to process as well as our pre-40 something was able to do when there is extraneous noise. One can accept this and carve out that “quiet time” needed to focus on one activity such as reading; one can fight by recognizing what’s happening and try to “tune out” extraneous stimuli; or—gee, I don’t know. I’m accepting of choice one. It works for me.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      I didn’t know about that, Terry, I just thought it was because my hearing is going…Yes, I find at this age that the biggest luxury sometimes is just finding a quiet place to read or think!

  2. Cindy Lynn says:

    I have to agree with you on many things. And this is how I have felt. So I have really tried to make my phone, just that……a phone. With photos. I don’t want to become a cyborg and forget my social skills. And I am seen as old in my way of thinking.

    But I am happier this way. Too much stresses me. And I have also turned off my TV. Many years ago. Even the news stresses me.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Yes, Cindy, me too. But sometimes I find I just have to separate from it. I put it in my purse in the backseat when I am driving and when I am home I try and leave it in another room. I can’t seem to have a part-way relationship, it’s kind of all or nothing for me. Thanks for so much for your thoughts.

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