I used to make fun of them.
The people who walk through grocery stores, animatedly chatting with invisible friends. The folks at movie theaters with winking blue lights behind their ears. The self-important ones who cannot disconnect from their Bluetooth devices while dining out, visiting the library or exercising at the gym.
And then I became one of them.
When Washington made it illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving, I was forced to join the hands-free generation and buy a Bluetooth device. You see, I do a lot of driving and I make a lot of phone calls. With the amount of kid-hauling I do, I’d never be able to schedule interviews, make appointments or catch up with friends if I confined my talk time to my scarce stationary moments.
I recently discovered, however, just how talk-technology dependent I’d become when I lost my hands-free device. I was wearing it on Friday as I drove home from Spokane Valley, and somehow over the weekend it disappeared.
I tore the house apart, searched my car, and called the nail salon where I’d had a Sunday pedicure. No luck. Then I realized it most likely had slipped out of the pocket of my purse at my son’s Saturday soccer game. Even if I could find it by scouring the huge field, my earpiece would’ve been ruined by the sprinkler system.
That’s when I noticed how often I touched my left ear. A phone would ring somewhere, and like Pavlov’s dog, my fingers would immediately brush my ear.
Next, I noticed how boring my daily commutes were without a friendly voice, or any voice, to keep me company. The radio annoyed me, my CDs bored me, but the quiet of my car unnerved me.
And then came the biggest stressor. My ringtone would sound (“We’ve Got the Beat” by the Go-Go’s – don’t judge) and I’d be faced with a dilemma: either ignore the call, or pull over to answer it.
It’s not that I answer every call when I’m driving – that’s why I have voicemail. But now if it was a call I’d been waiting for (and reporters are endlessly waiting for calls) or a friend I wanted to chat with, I had to find a place to stop safely.
After three days, I couldn’t take the disconnection anymore. I was forced to visit one of my least favorite places in the world. A place where eerie electronic gadgets beep and whistle. A place where digital screens blink and blind me at every corner. The retail refuge my sons love above all places. I call it the Technology Store.
Usually, I go to this digital Disneyland only once a year – shortly before Christmas. That’s when I take the kids’ list to the nearest associate, let him fill my basket with gifts that cost too much, and beat a hasty retreat. But this was different. I had to actually buy something technological for myself – by myself. Bravely, I ventured forth, armed with only my ignorance and a couple recommendations from my geeks-in-the-know friends.
I think sales associates in technology stores should wear whistles and carry ring buoys like life guards, because the minute I walked through the door, I needed rescuing.
Luckily, Bill found me before I drowned in the digital sea. He led me to the Bluetooth display and slowly and clearly explained my options.
Things went well until I selected a device. “That one won’t work for you,” explained Bill. “You need a smartphone to use it.”
“Bill,” I replied. “My phone is smart. I can Facebook on it and read the newspaper and use Twitter.”
Slowly, Bill shook his head and attempted to educate me about smartphones. I didn’t understand a word he said, but this became clear: According to Bill my phone is downright dumb.
I love my phone. It’s pink and I know how to use it. Mostly.
I went with Bill’s recommendation, and he sat down and paired my new earpiece to my phone. He didn’t even laugh when I put it in my ear backward. In fact, he patiently reached across the table and fit it properly. I felt like I was in first grade again and the big kid had to tie my shoes so I wouldn’t trip over my laces at recess.
I sailed out of the store, securely connected to the world once again. And I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson: Don’t mock what you don’t understand.
My husband certainly hopes I’ve learned this, because lately I’ve been making fun of middle-aged women with large tattoos.