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Head In The Cloud

My laziness and distractibility? There should be an app for that.
a man snoozing

Illustration by Ryan Snook

I was visiting a friend who had an app on his smartphone to identify the stars and planets. My friend is a research biologist at Indiana University, so I wasn’t surprised he had such a thing. It illustrates the wide gap in our intellects. His favorite app enables him to better understand the universe, while my favorite app, YouTube, permits me to watch reruns of Gunsmoke. Then again, knowledge comes in many forms, so who’s to say Marshal Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc, and Chester don’t have something to teach us.

When I purchased my smartphone, I didn’t anticipate using it for anything but phone calls, even though it came with maps, something called a wallet, a flashlight, a news feed, a handy-dandy compass, and a dozen other things I’ve never used and don’t know how to. I’ve since added Uber (used once in Birmingham, Alabama), eBay (great for tracking down parts for my 1971 BMW motorcycle), a bank app called Acorns (whose balance stands at $7.52), Zillow (to track the value of our home minus the mortgage we still owe), and a nifty little app called GarageBand, because I thought I would learn to play the guitar during the pandemic, but didn’t. I watched Gunsmoke instead.

Twenty years ago, I inherited all the picture slides from both sides of my family. I put them on a shelf in the basement where they’ve remained ever since. Then I heard about an app called SlideScan that converts physical slides to a digital format to store on your computer. I downloaded it for free, scanned a sample slide to see if it worked, and it did. I have about 2,000 more slides to convert, which I will then send to my four siblings one at a time. This will take every spare moment for the next five years, but now that I’ve watched every Gunsmoke episode four times, my calendar is wide open.

The lady who sold me the phone at the AT&T store encouraged me to insure it in the event it was lost or damaged. I’m careful with my things, so I didn’t spend the extra money. I told her if something happened to my smartphone, I’d just go to Walmart and buy a cheap flip phone. But she said once I got used to my smartphone, I’d never go back to the other variety, and she was right. It’s like driving cars all your life, then going back to horses. It’s not going to happen. If something became of my smartphone, life would be pointless and I’d have to jump headfirst into a wood chipper.

People complain how everyone’s addicted to their smartphones, but I don’t see anyone giving theirs up. It has become the new thing to blame our social ills on. Whenever anyone is murdered, someone is sure to say, “It’s the phones. Everyone’s on social media getting all worked up.” I’m on social media and I love it. If a politician is doing something stupid, I go to their Facebook page and tear them a new one, in a Christian sort of way. If there were an app I could use to insult numerous politicians simultaneously, I’d pay good money for it.

Speaking of money, we’ve now reached the point where our money isn’t a linen-cotton bill we tuck in our wallets, but rather bytes in a computer registered in our names. Future counterfeiters won’t mess around duplicating bills; they’ll make an app that will trick computers into assigning monetary bytes to our virtual wallets. Another app could be created that would erase any evidence of fraud and we could spend the rest of our lives spending money we don’t have, like the federal government.

I want an app that will make my wife forget what she has asked me to do so I don’t get in trouble for not doing it. There are reminder apps, prompting us to do certain things, so this would be the opposite—an unreminder app, compelling us to forget. Just the other morning, my wife asked me to wash the dishes before she got home. I got busy doing other things, and when she got home and saw the dirty dishes in the sink, I was in trouble. An unreminder app would make my wife forget that she had ever asked, so I would have even more time to learn the guitar and figure out why Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty never married. 

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. "Back Home Again" chronicles his views on life in Indiana.

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