I have a new “smartphone.” It’s a Droid from Verizon. Pretty cool. I like what it can do, though it tends to enable me tendency to chronically check my email. I like the features, between ease of texting, voice dialing, etc. But it’s big, compared to me dear departed flipphone, whose corpse lies in state in my pickup truck.
But I noticed one day, as I reached around my side, that the large phone now on my hip felt remarkably like my revolver. Odd feeling that. I was in public and I remember panicking, wondering if I had forgotten to conceal my concealed weapon for some reason.
And as I pondered this, I realized that both represent fundamental differences in the way we view individuality. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I’m a writer so I’m supposed to stretch.
The phone represents connection. Especially a smartphone, since it connects me not only to those I love, but in essence to the entire world in a way unfathomable a few short decades ago. I can tap the World Wide Web from the comfort of my car or anywhere else, simply by pulling out my phone. The phone represents the collective knowledge of humanity and our interdependency. The phone excuses me from remembering numbers, and by using Epocrates, it excuses me from remembering a great many medication doses and algorithms.
In terms of danger or difficulty, the phone promises help. It allows me, assuming I have a signal, to call others to my rescue, to ask others’ opinions, to check the collective opinion on millions of potential websites.
What about my little Smith and Wesson model 640? Well, it isn’t about collective communication; though the sound of it being discharged will probably bring interested parties to investigate. It has no communication device located anywhere on the frame. It has three functions, as I see it. It reassures me. It may discourage those who would harm me or my family. It is capable of causing harm.
Philosophically, it is light years from the phone. Because it requires that I be master of my own fate. It says, “no one will help you, but you, when the chips are down.” The help summoned by a phone may not arrive for a very long time, as I live in “the sticks.” The revolver says, “you must be accountable for this decision; you must carry and use me safely and you must use my capacity for injury with a profound awareness of morality, ethics and of the value of life.” The revolver is about individuality.
Americans, Westerners in general, are slowly abdicating responsibility for self and embracing the collective. The question is always, “who will help me? Who will pay for me? Who will give me? Who will come to me? Who will allow me to do nothing while they do something? Who can I blame? Who will excuse me?”
This is a travesty. This will be one of the deepest wounds to our nation, to our way of life. Not the phone itself, which is merely a tool, but the abdication of accountability that communication can falsely represent.
If the law were just, I would gladly carry my revolver everywhere. I like the phone, and I find it useful. But I am old school. I am old Southern. I am descended from patriots. I have been responsible for others and continue to be for myself. I believe in the individual.
Furthermore, I am a physician in an emergency department. I know what humans are capable of doing. I love people. Some of my favorite patients have been in handcuffs. I joke with them, I like them. But humans are dangerous. If you doubt it, read the newspaper.
So in the end, based on my life, my experiences and my philosophy, I can only say that when I reach around my side, I love the feel of that handle far more than the feel of that phone. And I love what it represents far more than any capacity for communication.
*This blog post was originally published at edwinleap.com*