Anyone with a phone will laugh and tell you they're addicted to it, but this whole addiction thing is beginning to look like it's a lot more serious than we all thought. Earlier this week, in the New York Times, author Martin Lindstrom laid out his case that we might actually feel something like love for our mobile devices. He explains what his research has shown:
"[M]ost striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects' brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. In short, the subjects didn't demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones."
I will admit that this theory sounds a little ridiculous, but I am also going to admit something which proves Lindstrom's point and also proves the point that perhaps my iPhone and I need to seek some sort of relationship counseling. Alright. Deep breath. Here goes: A few weeks ago, I was flying home to visit my family. The flight was on time. I was on vacation. Oh, and weirdly, Joan Jett and about 12 of her band mates were also on the flight! All was right with the world.
Joan Jett and I all crammed ourselves into one of those tiny regional jets. (How many people can say they've been on a jet with Joan Jett??) As I put my bag under the seat in front of me, for some reason, I took my iPhone out and stuck it in the back pocket of my jeans. I promptly forgot about it and began obsessively listening to all the sounds the plane was making as we took off, trying to determine if any of them might be indicating an imminent water landing and/or crash. (They were not.)
About 45 minutes into the flight, I had to pee. So I unwedged myself from the insanely small seat and proceeded to the plane's only restroom. I unbuttoned my jeans, and just as I began to pull them down I heard that flap at the bottom of the toilet bowl make a metallic-sounding clank. You know what comes next…I realized in a flash of horror that my iPhone had been in my back pocket. My heart started doing flips. I frantically felt all of my pockets, hoping, praying…but there was no phone. And in that moment, I knew that my beloved phone had plunked down beyond that flap into a place unknown.
What happened next was more or less beyond my control. It was as though I went into some type of zone. Time slowed down, and I was both present but also watching from the outside. The first thought I had was "What's under there?" I had vague recollections—wasn't there a Six Feet Under episode about this?—of people being killed by falling blocks of the frozen airplane bathroom waste. I think they call it "blue ice"? But I wasn't sure how the blue ice was made. Did they save up all the waste from a whole flight and then chuck it loose into space? Or was each flush sent flying out into the atmosphere like a toxic blue breeze? I figured, in my panic, that there was a good chance, if I stuck my hand beyond that little flap at the bottom of the bowl, that I would be sticking it right out into the open sky. I didn't go much beyond that, in terms of thinking about what the consequences might be for my hand hitting the air at the speed the plane was going, and in fact the outside air was probably a far better alternative than whatever else I imagined might be awaiting my hand.
The second calculation my brain undertook was whether it was worth saving the phone. In those split-seconds, my mind ran through a scenario in which I was phone-less for the entire week—none of my contacts meant it would be hard to plan meet-ups with the friends I was there to visit too. And beyond that, no texting! No ability to Tweet my thoughts at a moments notice; no posting photos to Facebook. This fantasy of being phoneless—more of a nightmare, really—brought on a kind of physical sickness. My lungs felt tight. A pit developed in my stomach.
And, of course, I thought about the chance, even if I could rescue my phone from whatever black hole it had just fallen into, that it might come out too damaged to function. After all, it had plunked down, presumably, into some kind of liquid. (I still could not think specifically about what kind of liquid that might be because EWWWWW!) And we all know that iPhones and liquids are sworn enemies. So was I going to plunge my hand into the unknown to spare myself the agony of living phoneless? And then have it all be for naught? Or should I just leave the phone to rot, go back to my seat, and spend the rest of the flight having a nervous breakdown?
I don't even remember making a concrete decision. All I know is that within a few seconds, I felt my hand reaching down toward the toilet. Before I understood what was happening, my hand had broken the seal of that metal flap and was sloshing around in a pile of textured liquid. It hit the bottom of whatever container gathers the toilet waste, and I remember thinking "OK, at least this thing has a bottom." After a bit of grasping, I had not found the phone. There were softish lumps of things, and some pure liquid, but for the most part it had the consistency of runny oatmeal. I had a psychic distance of some kind and was therefore not gagging with disgust. (That would happen later.) Instead, coupled with my brain screaming "Wait, why do you have your hand in a toilet again?" I had a kind of fierce, detached determination, much like I imagine you would have were you forced to kill someone or to swallow a live insect or any other task that your brain has a real problem with. And so while I felt whatever I was touching, I didn't really feel it.
After thrashing around in there for a while, I discovered that the latrine box (a technical term I just invented) was roughly three feet by two feet. I basically had to cover every inch of it before, in the far right hand corner, I felt the hard metal shape of my phone. I seized it and brought it back out of the toilet triumphantly. I felt like a hero-like one of those parents who finds the superhuman strength to lift a car off of their trapped child! For one brief second… And then I looked at my phone. It had a stray square of toilet paper draped over the screen and it was dripping with blue liquid. Oh sadness!
I wanted to sit down and weep, but I tried to stay calm, like a medic in the field tending to someone with an open head wound. I threw the phone on the tiny little countertop next to the sink. I grabbed as many paper towels out of the dispenser as I could and wiped the toilet paper off of the screen. Then I took off the plastic case I'd had on the phone. I thought about washing it off, but in my mind it was somehow tainted and would never be clean. So I tossed it in the trash. Now my phone lay there naked, the blue liquid drying in streaks all over the formerly pristine black glass. I washed my hands as best I could, but it wasn't easy in that dinky airplane sink which had approximately zero water pressure. Then I took some damp paper towels and wiped off the phone as thoroughly as I could, since it didn't seem wise to put it under running water. I hit the home button and it seemed like it was working, but I figured it was best to just turn it off for now.
I was about to leave the bathroom and return to the safety of my seat, where I could pretend that I was not a horrible person who did disgusting things. But then I remembered that I still had to pee. So, after wiping down the toilet seat and washing my hands again, I finally relieved myself. Then I washed my hands three or four more times (they were getting red at this point) and wiped the phone down once more just to be safe before wrapping the phone up in a paper towel and carrying it out of the bathroom in my hand. When I emerged, the flight attendant was waiting impatiently for the bathroom. I thought about trying to explain to her why I'd taken so long, but then I realized that, no, that was the worst idea I'd had since shoving my hand into the toilet. I could not speak of this incident to anyone ever or I'd be ostracized and left to die alone with my poisoned phone—and I didn't even know if my phone still worked!
I got back to my seat and sat with my eyes closed for a long time, trying to take some cleansing breaths and empty my mind. But every few minutes, flashbacks of my hand fishing around in that muck would come back to me, and I would have to stifle gags and shudders. My hands still felt contaminated, despite having washed them about ten times, and I was determined not to touch my face with my toxic paws. Do you know how hard it is not to touch your face? Ugh. I couldn't get comfortable, and as the remainder of the flight wore on, I got more and more crabby. Finally, we descended into our destination, and I escaped that damn plane—scene of my greatest shame! I ducked into the airport restroom and gave my hands an even more thorough washing, thanks to the better water pressure.
I went down to meet my mother at baggage claim and at first said nothing about what had occurred. We watched Joan Jett and her entourage gather their massive pile of luggage. And then finally I could not contain myself any longer. I told my mom what had happened. After a brief moment of disgust she attempted to reassure me by pointing out that the blue liquid that filled the bin was probably some crazy harsh chemical which neutralized any dangerous substances. In fact, she argued, the blue oatmeal was probably more sterile than the rest of the plane's bathroom. Maybe. Still, I felt NASTY.
When we got back to my mom's house, I excused myself and took the phone into the bathroom. I found the rubbing alcohol and used some cotton balls to give it not one but two alcohol sponge baths. Then I turned the alcohol on myself, pouring generous quantities of it all over my hands. My skin stung but after the coolness of the alcohol had abated, I washed my hands one last time. And then I took a shower—just to be safe.
I played with my phone a bit, and the home button was acting funky. So I turned the phone off and left it alone. The six or so hours that I spent without my phone were filled with the kind of agita I'd imagine a junky feels when denied access to drugs. It was a physical withdrawal. I had to resist the impulse to check my email every five minutes, to have constant access to my Twitter feed, to check my Facebook every hour or so. I felt naked, disconnected; I was simultaneously bored and frantic. And as the people who were around me in those phoneless hours can attest, I was deeply crabby. Finally, I understood why people who were quitting smoking could be so bitchy.
Eventually, my phone righted itself, and now it's back to being totally functional. But as time has worn on, I've been struggling to process my behavior on that fateful day. How can I justify doing something so extreme to save an inanimate object? And what did it say about me that I was so profoundly connected to this little electronic device that I would go into physical withdrawal when forced to spend even a few hours without it? Well, now, thanks to Martin Lindstrom, I know exactly why: because I am in love…with my phone. (Have sadder words ever been typed?) I would plunge my hand into an airplane toilet in a second to save my family or my friends or my dog. So why shouldn't my beloved iPhone provoke the same reaction? You see, I am not disgusting; I am valiant! It was the power of love that drove my hand into the toilet! And now my phone is safe and dry, and we're going to live happily ever after-or at least until the iPhone 5 comes out.