We’re in a state of permanent exhaustion from the barrage of social media

An Irishwoman’s Diary: Are smartphones the new cigarette or are they really the new heroin?

‘Smartphones are the new cigarette,” somebody joked the other day, watching my sister and me hunch over our devices, lose our signals, and then lose our phones.

(Where do they go? Did they just scuttle to the Land of Missing Things? Come to that, where did my memory go? Oh yeah, I had that brain operation.)

Then the phone rings or both lines do, and suddenly you’re telling the wrong things to all the wrong people in rotation, disastrously.

Yesterday my buddy Zue left her phone at my place accidentally, and cycled off downhill. I spent 10 minutes texting her to tell her where I was going to leave it for picking up because I was heading out.


Then I finally recalled she didn’t have her phone – because I did! Look, I don’t want to scare the pants off ya’ll, but this whole brave new world is changing too fast, and in a mad and bad way.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak famously came right out and said he hated the latest iPhone X because it had too many bells and whistles and would stick with the iPhone 8: “Coz I like things to be simple and understandable and direct.” Me too, and no, I don’t mean that movement. Turned out he hated the power button.

Because nothing is more joy-suckingly distracting than racking your so-called brain for former passwords. Or, come to that, the juggling and jiggling of all your devices – WhatsApp, texts, email, Facebook – to keep up with an increasingly overstuffed and overbooked electronic social life, together with clashing beeps, squeaks and burps.

And we’re all in a state of permanent exhaustion and PTSD from the beeping, squeaking, burping overwhelming barrage of social media on our devices. Current news is on constant high-hyped alert and it’s always bad, from the separated families along the border (unbearable) to massive wildfires (also unbearable) and worse.

When emergency responders didn’t know whether to tell locals to get out now by Whatsapp or by text or mobile or landline, inevitably victims were using the wrong media. Tears will come to your eyes when you see who died trying to find their phones or their phone signals. Wildfires are spread by the eternal multi-communication app dilemma – is this evacuee a texter, a phoner, or neither? Many are still homeless refugees, recovering from last October’s wildfires, when thousands lost their homes and 43 died – because increasingly no-one checks their emails any more except at work, and most of us loathe phone calls. Intrusive!

The governor of California is holding a climate change conference here in September: “because this is the new normal”.

* * *

So are smartphones the new cigarette or are they really new heroin or new crack?

You can rebel against them by tossing your smartphone into the bay and just digging out an innocent vintage Nokia instead.

I have a box-load of vintage Nokias from Dublin visits, where young phone shop assistants are very compassionate when I stand before them saying, “Lookah, I’m an idiot. Just sell me your easiest antique from 10 years ago. Frankly I’m just looking for one power button and an alphabet pad.”

So screw technology and don’t you dare make me Twitter! And you know where you can stick your passwords.

* * *

With five or six different conflicting communication threads, who isn’t going to blow a fuse when suddenly they’re asked for a password? I have files of them.

Yes, thumbprints and facial access will replace them all, so there.

But since my brain tumour scare I’ve lost an entire week of memories. Ever since I complained about memory lapses to my lovely doctors at Kaiser hospital – Remedios, Yurgionas, Chao, Patel, and Thomas – (a rigorous Finnish beauty who believes in giving everything up, starting with eating and drinking) my memory has been tested daily.

All of them think up creative ways to see if it’s grown better or worse. Dr Chao seemed to love left-handedness when I told him about the many left-handed tall presidents. When I passed this along to my latest doctor, one of two Patels – he fell about and guffawed: “Those neurosurgeons! Just don’t get me started!” (When I asked Doctor Patel if he was from Gujurat, his nurse Dionne joked, “Yeah! Gujurat Western Ohio, you mean!”

Dr Yurgionas asked me to repeat nine-figure or 10-figure numbers, and then tossed out “San Francisco is foggy today!” “Well, tell me something I don’t know!” I replied rudely, and he laughed too. He’d only meant me to repeat it.

Next he asked me to name as many animals as I could inside a minute. Strangely challenging. After ponderous brooding, I came up with “emu”. Longer pause: “pterodactyl !” Finally: “a cat or a dog?”

But it’s getting better all the time and ain’t what it used to be. It’s all treatable.

I’m not writing my will or joining the Neptune Society yet (cut-price $200 cremations and scatterings into San Francisco Bay).

It’s a six-month sabbatical and a career interrupter instead, and maybe I needed that.

I’ve starting my radiation course this week and am still having problems setting up the transport – no driving – and my sick leave and unemployment pay is a whole other can of worms. As Doctor Patel would say: don’t get me started!

The silver lining is that I’ve lost 20 pounds and been offered a senior discount on a hair removal sponge.

So always look on the bright side and for the silver lining.