CURSE OF THE DEAD CELLPHONE
By Andrew Biggs
It was when I awoke at 5 am that the terrible realization came to the fore.
The previous night, just prior to retiring, I’d performed my usual nightly ablutions. I did a quick clean up of my bedroom, placing dirty clothes in the clothes basket, as well as tossing a mountain of squeezed lemon wedges and empty yellow tonic cans into the trash.
I plugged in my iPhone to charge it overnight then fell asleep.
When I woke up, I reached for my cellphone only to discover the battery was at 3 per cent.
I blame those squeezed lemon wedges. Where did I read lemon before bedtime was bad for your mental faculties? How else could I have plugged in one end of the phone so deftly, then have totally forgotten to plug the other end into a power source? That’s the sort of thing a serial alcoholic does, not me.
The worst part was I had to be out of the house in 15 minutes in order to participate in a fun run at Rama 9 Park. I was a special invited guest, so I had to show up looking prepared and fit and fashionable. There was no time to charge my phone.
For the past five years I have run with an App that keeps track of all my runs. It tells me exactly how far I run and my time down to the split second.
That’s not all. It also tells me my average speed, kilometre by kilometre. These are called Splits, dear reader. Oh yes. I’m up on all the latest terminology though I suspect the etymology of “splits” predates Apps and iPhones. Each kilometre I run, I know exactly my time and speed. I know whether I need to speed up or slow down, the latter of which has yet to happen but that’s not the point. This information is at my fingertips if ever I need it.
It’s not just speed either. There is elevation to consider. My 5 km park run begins at an elevation of a few centimetres below sea level. You may be fascinated to learn, as I was, that my run takes me to 7 metres above sea level! How would I have ever known that without my cellphone?
Then I decided to become a paid member of this App and it was like opening Ali Baba’s cave. I was able to rank my runs according to speed, and even better — I could measure how many steps I was running per minute! This information, known as my Stride Rate, was exciting to pore over.
I could register my emotion after my run. That’s important to know and keep as a record. This App also recorded what songs I listened to during the run – even how fast I was running when each new song began.
It automatically calculated how many kilometres in total I’d run in my current pair of running shoes. Plus the temperature at the time. Plus the chance of rain at the time … and even the wind speed in the park!
I’m telling you; this App was running porn.
I knew how many kilometres I had collectively run over each week. This gave me the impetus to keep up the frequency of runs. I couldn’t retreat. Not while I was in control of this App, or more likely, the App was in control of me.
This morning my life was about to change.
As I got into my car, I plugged my phone into the power bank I keep in my car for such emergencies. Alas, the power bank itself was running on near empty. When I got the park my phone was at 7 per cent. Hardly enough to get me through the 5 km run.
I felt sick. Here I was, an invited guest to this charity Fun Run, and I’d be turning up technologically naked. The worst thing was that most of the other runners were young people, attached to all things mobile and technological. And here I was, the ageing celebrity uncle, without a cellphone strapped to his arm, let alone Bluetooth earphones.
What was the point of running that 5 kilometres? There would be no record of it. The Stride Rate, the Splits, the Elevation, the Steps, the Weather, the Precipitation – all lost to the winds of time (which this App could probably measure as well).
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around, does it make a sound? Similarly, if I run 5 km without my App … did I run it? Should I even run it?
What a waste of time and energy. Plus for the rest of my life I would go running knowing that whatever statistics were being thrown up at me, they were lies, because this 5 km Fun Run that could not be factored in.
I may as well just quit right now.
Such was my mental state at the starting line, surrounded by fit and firm bodies encased in earphones and smart phones. I was the only one looking at the starting line; everybody else had their faces in their cellphone screens punching in their running data or logging into Facebook. Sad old me; a tall farang in a sea of downward-craned necks.
When the starting horn sounded I took off, sullen and resentful. Things started to change around kilometre number two.
For the first time in years I was aware of my surroundings. Without the distractions of statistics and self-enforced playlists I realized Rama 9 Park was a beautiful park. I passed gardens I’d never seen before, trees I never realized were so majestic, and pathways that were so tranquil.
Soon I was encompassed by a freedom — being one with nature, running through the trees and flowers and the breeze, regardless of its speed. I was aware of the sound and feel of my breathing as I settled in to the run.
By the time I crossed the finish line I was enjoying the experience. The exhilaration of my app statistics had been eclipsed by a new exhilaration from being devoid of them.
Was this a defining moment in my life, when I had been forced to step out of the all-consuming technology that binds us all, which turns a simple task like recreational running into a statistical spreadsheet worthy of a NASA computer console?
It should have been … but it wasn’t.
This story would have been great had I deleted my running App and returned to nature the next time I ran. But I didn’t. Two days later I was back in the park with a fully-charged cellphone and my running App back in full control, pulling the strings of my life like all those other Apps do.
After that run, I paused to enjoy the setting sun against the lake in the middle of the park. There were four young couples sitting near me, not that any of them were watching the unfolding spectacle. They all had their heads craned downwards in their cellphones, engaged in Facebook, Line, Instagram and Snapchat, far more interesting to them than an old sun going down behind the lake.
At least I had the decency to wait until I got into my car to shove my head deep into my cell phone screen, checking my Stride Rate, Splits, Elevation, Steps, Weather, Song List, Running Shoe Mileage and Precipitation. Like those lemon wedges, such is the evidence of my addiction.