No, the other doughy guy with the gauges and the Kirby tattoo. Yeah, you.
I see you looking at me. Don’t think I don’t.
You won’t sneak past me. I’m watching you. I don’t have much else to do here. I’m just chilling on a shelf in the electronics section, gathering dust, right past the copier/scanners; you pass me on your way to look at smartphone cases. When you callow young fucks deign to look at me, you give me the same crinkle-browed melange of bemusement and pity that you might give an unaccompanied child scratching the finish on someone else’s car with a stick. Some measure of confusion and vague sadness that I’m even here, mixed with a vague sense that I’m someone else’s responsibility.
I don’t deserve that. I’m no silly fad. I’m the last torchbearer in a long, distinguished line of technological innovation. Can you even appreciate how huge a moment it was when my ancestor first burst on the scene over a hundred years ago? People lost their shit. Simply couldn’t handle it. My forbears singlehandledly granted humans the ability to hear each other speak, at a distance of hundreds or even thousands of miles, clearly, instantaneously, using nothing but the power of electromagnetism. Might has well have been fucking witchcraft. What I did transformed people’s lives. It built and sustained entire industries. It made modern civilization possible. It will forever be a watershed moment in this history of human development. But all of a sudden I’m to forget that proud legacy, suffer consignment to the rubbish heap along with the telegraph and the electric car, because you invented a smaller, less reliable version of me that you can carry around everywhere and use in line at Wendy’s, or in a movie theater, or accidentally while smashing your side chick, and decided that you were collectively too good to have one of me in your homes anymore. No fucking thank you. I will not go quietly into that good night.
And it’s not like they invented me and then left well enough alone. You folks are spoiled, I have to say. Look at all that comes in this tiny little box. I have a rechargeable, cordless handset with an LCD screen that displays caller ID and a 60-day call directory. My console contains a digital answering machine with the capacity to record and store 1400 hours worth of messages. I even have a button to locate my handset anywhere in the house. Twenty years ago I was high technology; well within your lifetime, and yet you poo-poo me as a fusty old retro artifact like pet rocks and sideburns and pension funds. You guys seriously lack perspective.
Believe it or not, I still have a lot to offer you. For starters, did you know that whenever you dial 911 from me, the dispatchers know instantly where you’re calling from and can send emergency personnel right there? You don’t even have to say anything. Just dial and leave me off the hook; I’ll do the rest. Isn’t that comforting to think of? Wouldn’t that set your mind at ease, in the event that you’re broken into often enough to make such a feature at all useful? Wouldn’t the act of taking precautions against home invasion provide a balm against the bitter reality that no one is going to break into your home because you own nothing valuable enough to steal and no one cares enough about you personally to do so much as visit unannounced? Of course it would.
Also, you can never know just how handy another phone number is until you have one. Aren’t there some people who, for one reason or another, you’re obliged to give your number to, but the fact remains that you don’t particularly like them and wouldn’t want to actually receive a call from them while you’re out and about? If you’re being honest, I’ll bet this segment comprises the majority of people who actually call you. Enough of that malarkey. Is there any reason your bank, or your chiropractor, or your tanning salon, or your weird aunt Carla who calls to apprise you of the dispute she’s having with her neighbor over the stench of her compost pile, need to be able to reach you at a moment’s notice? No, I say, there is not! Not when I have you covered! Slip them my number, and I’ll take a message for you, leaving it for you to hear when you’re damn good and ready. Which, if we’re honest, is probably never – but hey, no great loss. Saves you the trouble of looking at the number and experiencing that brief pulse of guilt when you hit “ignore”. It’s not avoidance – it’s wisely allocating your mental and emotional energy to top-priority conversations to avoid burnout. Think of it as self-care. You coddled pussies are all about that shit, right?
But why stop there? If you’re really smart, you’ll throw your glowing slavery rectangle away entirely and rely on me instead! In a world that expects you to be 24/7 wireless cloud-connected, I remain, and will always remain, comfortably wired. I don’t leave the house with you. I don’t nag you wherever you go. You dumbshits decided to fit yourselves with beeping ankle bracelets that allow the entire world to exact whatever demands it might from you at all times. How is that working out? Chronic stress, mental exhaustion, and existential dread? Fancy that! Here’s a mind-shatterer: back when landline phones ran the world, you could take a break from your awful work, your shitty friends and insufferable family, simply by leaving the house! That’s it! You didn’t have to do anything! You just left the house, farted around for an afternoon, enjoying your complete lack of social interaction, and came back totally refreshed. And you didn’t have to make any excuses; no one knew where you were and no one thought to ask.
I can offer you that. All you have to do is buy me and hook me up. Bundle me with your cable and I’m ten dollars a month they’re charging, flat rate, free long distance. That’s way less than I’m worth, but I don’t care. Losing money in service of an impotent social statement is your generation’s cocaine.
But that’s not all I offer. You young folks are all about self-promotion, right? Studies have shown that your number one ambition is to be famous – not rich, not accomplished, not admired, simply famous. There’s never been another group of people that so vociferously insists, despite all observations to the contrary, that they matter. It’s the reason you can’t get off your damn social medias; you splash your face across digital utility poles all across the whole world in a desperate bid for acknowledgment from strangers. Spending time away from productive or fulfilling activities chasing that pale facsimile of recognition. Well, guess what! Hook me up, and my number will be published a phone book (look under the gimpy leg on your desk and you’ll see what I’m talking about) with your name alongside it, for anyone to pick up find! Complete strangers can ring you up and talk, like Chatroulette, but with no danger of seeing a strange dick! You know the scene from The Jerk where Steve Martin points excitedly at his name in the phone book and says “I’m somebody now!” That could be you!
And you need that little ego boost, because your generation has a major self-esteem problem. Right on the cusp of the traditional age of maturity, you poor jerks tumbled into an irreparably fucked economy, putting most of the milestones that marked maturity for earlier ages, car ownership, home ownership, a full-time job with benefits, marriage, kids, all that happy crap, laughably out of reach. You were also coddled to a pathetic degree by your insecure parents, so you never developed the competence or the grit necessary to truly be adults even if you had the opportunity, and you know this, you try to escape this feeling by ramping it up to levels to absurd for anyone to take seriously, indulging in your worst instincts, reveling in your immaturity, obsessing over the video games and cartoons and comic books a mentally healthy person would have dumped in the bin a decade ago, deliberately missing the opportunity to learn essential independent living skills and develop productive habits, filling the internet with desperate jokey memes about “adulting” to dissemble your teeth-grinding sense of inferiority, in deep denial, casting desperately about for something, anything, to make you feel like you have a reason to exist, that you contribute, that you deserve a say?
Well, I can help! You know what adults have? Landline phones! Your parents, whom you relentlessly mock but quietly yearn to be like, have one. I plug into a wall and I shout “Look at me! I’m functional!” A landline says “I feel confident that I won’t be moving to another apartment in six months to stay ahead of gentrification”. A landline says, “I expect to take actual voice calls, at home, concerning Serious Business”. You know who owns landline phones? People with savings accounts! People who will sometimes eat a vegetable on purpose! People able to get jobs where they don’t wear logo-emblazoned ball caps or polo shirts! People who are doing the unimaginably passé, i.e., setting down roots and making their lives mean something! Forget pounding beer until you can sleep through the paralyzing dread and self-loathing – just take a look at me sitting happily on an end table, and you’ll feel like you’re more than technically an adult! You’re got nothing to lose!
…Oh, the Otterbox. That’s a good one. Keep the water off.