steven ivory (2014)

Steven Ivory

*There’s a reason Russia is behaving like the Death Row Records of countries lately.  That same reason explains the recent spate of global earthquakes and why there might very well have been a cold front blowing through hell.

I got a new cell phone.

Yes.  I finally took my cellular carrier’s  bait and inched further into the 21st century by switching to a co-called Smart Phone,  specifically, an iPhone.

George Jetson,  look out.

This is only my fourth cell phone, ever.  Over the years,   friends have impressed upon me all the reasons I needed to upgrade, but I’m one of those antiqued souls who still views a cell phone as a…phone. I can’t grasp the  necessity of being able to watch a movie while walking down Wilshire or having the power to video myself  on impulse.

I harbor no aversion to progress.  I’m not  “stuck.”  However, I’m not one of those people who rids himself of one thing simply because the New Thing comes along.  Listen,  my car was brand new–20 years ago.  The computer on which I currently  work is only my third.  People ask why I keep  things so long.  My answer is because they still work.

You have to feel for those who measure their personal worth by  new Stuff.   On any given day in Los Angeles, outside retail buildings, you’ll see lines of  eager, anxious human beings that extend down streets and around corners.   Citizens camped out  for the latest phone, computer, sneakers.  Cupcakes. The day I weigh my value  in  this life against  the latest,  hip amalgamation of butter,  sugar,  eggs and flour  is the day I want somebody to take me out  and shoot me.

There are advantages to  owning “time honored” things.  Nobody wants to steal a 20 year old car.  Until a week ago,  I couldn’t be killed for my phone, either.

I suppose I did need a new one, though.  Not  need it,  but I admit  time had caught up with my little brand X phone.  It did stuff,  but it was too slow.  At least  when I traded in this one,  the clerk didn’t respond the way they  did  when I turned in my  phone a few years ago.

Back then, I presented it to the young man behind the counter and he looked at the phone and then me; at the phone again  and then politely excused himself.  I could see him and his young co-workers nearby, examining the phone, stealing  discreet,  sympathetic  glances in my direction.  They got a kick out of the flip and antenna.  I fully expected someone to call the Smithsonian.

In 2014, with this newest  phone, the most remarkable thing was not  the phone itself, but the reactions of friends to my  bold,  brazen leap into 2008.   “This is the kinda shit my pastor was talking about last Sunday,”  said a buddy.   “Now I  know  the end is near.”

The “Phone People”—my term for those  really into their phones—revealed to me their true selves.  Days into my new ownership, in a  mellow,  almost creepy lilt, they were still asking me, “So, how do you like your new phone?” as if I’d acquired  a  puppy, moved into a new  house, or birthed a child.  The  sentiment:  You’re one of US now….

The most startling response  was from a dear friend who,  over  the phone,  initially responded with the usual, good-natured, “Wow, I can’t believe it,“ etc., before going silent and then softly weeping.

“You’re crying.   What’s wrong?”

Sniffling,  she explained that  I was the only person she knew who seemed completely unfazed by trends and fads.  She’d gleaned a measure of inspiration, she said, from the idea that I appeared to resist the assorted cultural fetishes and mania of society.  “And now you have…an iPhone,”  she said,  breaking into full sob.  “It just feels  like the end of an era.”   Gee.  What  if the phone had been a new car?

Truth is,  it doesn’t hurt to be able to check my email or surf the Net, which I now can do with my new phone.   It’s nice having GPS.  And, if I   am stuck somewhere with time on my hands,  it won’t kill me to have access to TV programming.  You know, for the news.

It’s one thing, I conceded,  to thumb my nose to passing  whim,  and  another thing entirely to allow  myself  to miss the Forward Thinking Express because of  my superciliousness.  I don’t have to become a smart phone zombie to benefit from technology.  The best part,  I figured,  is that  considering how seldom I use any of this stuff,  in this phone I’ve all the science I’ll ever need for a long, long time.

Indeed, I was cruising  down La Brea Avenue,  feeling all modern and up-to-date,  when in the distance I noticed a  billboard.  On it was a gigantic, surreal image of a yellow rectangular device, accompanied by the words,  iPHONE 5.  Five??  Forget the phone itself; in an instant,  I’d been rendered  passé  by an  ad.

And then it came to me:  remember that huge, obnoxious late 2013 novelty hit,  “What  Does The Fox Say?”  Well, that day on La Brea, I had a revelation.  The fox says,  “FUCK YOU, APPLE. ”  That’s what the fox says.

The devil lives in Silicon Valley.  I swear it does.

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]