Saturday, October 01, 2011

Touch of Zen

If I said "Touch of Zen" to you, you might think of the 1971 movie with Billy Chan, Ying Bai and Ping-Yu Chang, the inspiration for such later gems as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Or you might think of the store in West Islip, NY that sells martial arts equipment. Then there's the health club and massage parlor in Walnut Hills, CA, the floral arrangement with bamboo by Buds, Blooms and Beyond in Tampa FL, or perhaps the salon in Albuquerque, NM. But odds are you wouldn't think of me and my cell phone.

Yet, increasingly, that's where I find myself. In a time when everything is faster, at our fingertips, always connected, I find myself having to practice the ancient of art of meditation when I want to make a call, look up an address or enter something in my calendar. Want me to Google the name of the movie where Harrison Ford gets amnesia after being involved in a robbery? Patience, Grasshopper.

It's not supposed to be like this. Whether your preferred eco-system is Android or Apple, whether you have a shiny device from LG or Motorola, whether you have a 3G phone or a 4G LTE smartphone or a 7Q giga-nano-hyper smarterphone, information in today's world is supposed to be like Chinese food: it's there before you order it. Like just-in-time manufacturing, when you turn and reach for it is supposed to be at your fingertips. If you do it right, you shouldn't even have to break stride as you walk down the street, punching up the closest organic taco place, knowing that your order with the burrito with local jack cheddar will hit the counter as you walk in the door.

And then there's me. Short of being an engineer, I consider myself a fairly well-informed geek. I have a holistic picture of how devices work, how to tweak them to make them work better and how to fix them when they have issues. And so to fix my particular device, which once was as speedy as a rocket ship and now has more in common with a tricycle, the person I would likely turn to for help is someone like me.

Yes, I understand that my phone is two years old, which in smartphone-dog years means it may as well be hand cranked. And I know I have downloaded and installed my fair share of dumb programs that take up space and bandwidth, be it the "Steamy Window" ap that coast my screen with "steam" like it's in the shower, or the "Obama Camera" that inserts the president into any picture you take. But I also know how to kill said stupids and run the thing lean and mean, so that those distractions and others are distant memories, and not memory hogs.

So I'm at a loss as to why my phone is crawling. From the time I wake it up to when I holster it in frustration, every action requires a deliberate press and wait. Let's say I want to check my phone log to see if I missed any important calls while in the subway. I do my secret pattern to unlock the phone: wait 10 seconds. I press the phone icon to get to the next menu: 10 seconds more. I press the log button: yes, 10 seconds. Digital is supposed to be on or off, much like being pregnant: you either are or you aren't, there's no middle ground. I would understand better if the phone didn't work at all. But it's hard to convince me that the bits and bytes are feeling their age, and are taking longer to go from here to there.

And so I wait. I press and I wait. I look around, check the weather, then look down to see if I can take the next step. I press again. I watch the people, check the traffic. I press again. I wonder what my wife is thinking of for dinner. Then I look down, and see the entry of the person I wanted to call. I press the screen, and think whether I need to stop by the bank as it connects. I mean, what other choice do I have? My upgrade doesn't kick in for a month or so. That means unless I want to pay $1825 for a new phone which will shortly cost me less than $200, I have no options. Excuse me, there is one more: throw it against the wall, then dance merrily on the splintered remains while screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs.

Patience, Grasshopper.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is counting the days till his "new-in-two" benefit kicks in. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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