A Day Without

Mike Ekunno

© Copyright 2021 by Mike Ekunno

Photo of hand holding cell phone.

Leaving the office without my phone at close of work on Friday was initially forgetfulness. It was either the economics of a long retrieval sortie or lassitude that transformed inadvertence to deliberateness. So began a 24-hour phone fast.

I had been without the services of my phone before. But that was a loss. Or a theft-loss. Because the geezer who ended up with it would not let go even when I had successfully indicated that it wasn’t a gifting and if it was, that the owner needed it back.

My day-long phone fast was of a different hue than a loss. It was self-imposed. That took away the emotional and mental agony of a loss. It was rather the faux tensions of make belief that assailed me; a placebo pain. The more reason why I could put this together unlike the disorientation that came with my earlier loss.

My first withdrawal symptom was hearing calls in my head.

Who would that be now?

Prescience for received calls is limited to your regulars – friends and family and work colleagues. Being home on a weekend, you’d expect that the boss wouldn’t be part of the mix. In this case, the chief executive is my direct boss and how I have coveted the French “Right to Disconnect” legislation barring after-hours emails to employees. One commentator says employees “remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog” by such after-work contacts. It couldn’t have been more aptly put. In my case, guessing who it could be among the regulars wasn’t the big deal. It was guessing who could be the dark horse:

The editing prospect who’d said I’d hear from him.

The old friend whose contact I’d lost.

These were the odds-on prospects. There were those with an outside chance of calling but who, in the suspense of the situation, assumed odds-on possibilities, even probabilities. Didn’t absence make the heart grow fonder; and beyond fonder, even Pollyannaish? And so grew the list:

The crush with whom I’d exchanged numbers but wouldn’t be upfront with.

E-mail winning notification on one of the prizes I’d entered.

Reality check that came with recovery of the phone proved a different thing altogether. The missed calls by diversity showed how over-rated received calls were. Of course there was the couple scratched elpees who bombarded with redials. Which brings me to the question of the psychology of the desperate redial as well as knocking on the locked door.

Across from my bedroom window, I’ve often espied the neighbor’s visitor who’d rap on the door continually. I wonder if this is not persistence taken too far. By the third knock on a shut door, the inmate is either ignoring you or absent. None of the two possibilities can be reversed with the host applauding the visitor. It is much the same with unanswered phone calls. If the full ringing has not attracted the attention of the prospective receiver after two rounds, chances are the same fate awaited the next rounds. I could decipher from my couple multiple redial callers that these were on to a “receive” mode not “give”. Which is something common with most desperations – self. Also, in the bid to be answered, they gloss over the SMS alternative which is always an option – a silent one. None of my desperate callers registered on the text message folder. Makes you wonder if the demons of desperate redials are allergic to text.

I had binged on Wi-Fi in the downtime of Christmas holiday period and had not renewed my data subscription in the new year in compensation. This made phone data my only gateway to the Internet at home; the archetypal electronic leash to modern civilization. The day without my phone was therefore significant not just for the loss of voice and text but for lack of Internet service and social media – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, WhatsApp – the whole works. Much has been written on how social media has been ex-communicating us. It has made physical proximity so virtual yet so far apart, it’s alleged. But I found that Android trumps physical conversation.

Writers are given to silent companionship and Android happens to be just right for that. Without any device to hunch over, smiling at the subliminal messages of social media and laughing out loud over its jokes and memes, my Saturday felt awkward. While your companion could be a jerk at times to get back at you, there’s no dull moment with Android. It’s never grumpy and its reticence never goes beyond the glum icon. Such profuse communication in silent mode – companionship doesn’t get better than that. The Igbo lay much store by human companionship for the warmth of a chat. That must be before Android came along.

And so it dawned on me that digital life has to be one of man’s basic needs. What is food and shelter without a digital life? Saturday without my phone was a digital death or coma, at least. Modern man has to be also homo digitalus. Man as homo digitalus makes me wonder at the re-introduction of the Nokia 3310 some years’ back. Except one is suffering from retrophilia or desirous of a regime of digital detox, I don’t see anyone who has experienced Android going back to that museum piece. This is what hindsight does: having tasted the Android variety, it does appear like masochism to go back to the monotony of the Nokia 3310.

Given the number of features and apps residing in your hand-held device, even the human brain should be jealous. The Android phone packs dozens of features whose utilities could be raised to the power ‘n’ by downloaded applications. Some of these features and apps have rendered their manual and analogue equivalents obsolete. But I was yet to realize this until the Saturday of my phone fast.

First to force this teachable moment on me was the time piece. I have not used a wrist watch in years and never missed it. Who needs a watch with the phone around, and it doesn’t even have to be Android. A wrist watch must now be increasingly an ornamental fashion piece like the bangle or necklace. It is portability that gives the watch its Unique Selling Point. If not, every sedentary space now boasts a clock and that includes the home, office lounges and the car in so far as it is both sedentary and mobile. My ‘day without’ being a weekend had me looking up the wall for chronological education. That was something I did out of habit on awakening and before cutting over to the phone for chronological guidance for the rest of the day.

The online banking app on my phone also called me out that Saturday. I had need to wire some funds that day and had to wait out the return of my phone. Even if it was not a work-free day, whoever visits the banking hall nowadays to send money? One could use the ATM but nothing beats the comfort and privacy of the online banking app. Which brings me to the risks inherent in allowing such a portable device like the phone summon so much capacity for sabotage and blackmail once in the wrong hands. The modern man is a vault of numerous passwords. It comes with life as homo digitalus. These shibboleths give us access to a labyrinth of virtual spaces. But the password to my online banking portal and account must be the scariest set of four numbers I’ve had to deal with. No four-letter word comes close for furtive indulgence. And for such hefty secret to be comprised only in four digits makes it all the scarier. I don’t know in how many digits the US nuclear codes come, but at least they are well-guarded and have been in more sober repository until Trump. My phone does not enjoy the same unlikelihood for theft as do the nuclear codes. But the effect of a loss and abuse are grave for both as far as I am concerned.

The dictionary is another app I have always found handy on my phone. If you thought one didn’t have to look up the meaning of so many words within a 24-hour stretch, then you don’t know all the ancillary uses for the digital dictionary. Words are the currency of my trade. Let the most appropriate word escape my memory while writing and you come and witness how a mental snarl-up happens until that word is conjured. But not knowing a better word for an idea is the easier part; the maddening aspect is knowing but forgetting the word. There can be no greater torture. Not even a forgotten dream. This is where the digital dictionary betters its print counterpart. My phone dictionary stores my previous word searches under its “History” folder. I intentionally search out words whose meanings I know already just to have them stacked under History for that eureka moment. There’s also the invaluable help with word suggestions on the dictionary app. You start keying in the initial letters of a word and the app floods your screen with suggestions of like words. But this is only useful where your memory loss is not total. My need for the dictionary is not restricted to when I am writing. I could see a face that looks calm on the surface on TV and my thin slicing instincts whisper: “There goes fire.” I then start the cogitation as to the one word that captures that demeanor. And “sultry” just happens to be one of those words that exerts a more vivid pictorial haunt as you try to recall it. But if its opening notes would show up in my memory, chances are that my digital dictionary can suggest the full word.

My digital dictionary is also enabled to pronounce the word which is more than can be said for any printed version. Without the facility for aural guidance, I would never venture reading aloud a word like “hors d’oeuvre”.

It was not every feature and app in my phone that needed to be called up for duty in the twenty-four hours of my fast. Given the smorgasbord of capabilities, that would be unrealistic. Google Maps makes navigating your city idiot-proof. And when you’re away from familiar spaces, it is an app more valuable than a dozen friends in helping you get around.

The smartphone is a complete lifestyle center; a veritable handheld bouquet. It packs so many other utilities which I did not necessarily miss within the short eternity of my digital fast. Thinking back now, it would appear that the only thing the smartphone cannot do is give you a cup of water if you are choking or treat heart attack. But a cup of water from human company while you are choking is also becoming a pipe dream because your companion is busy on her own phone or hilariously recording your choking for a social media post. As for heart attack, I’m not sure some app is not on the way to manage it with the smartphone.

Among the phone’s other utility features is the torch light. This may be an innocuous feature for users in other places but not in an energy-challenged society like Nigeria. Though power cuts in Nigeria are as regular and frequent as your breathing, they still manage to inflict a temporary shock and disruption whenever they happen. The immediate need at night is usually how to light up and see your way to switch off all appliances not powered through a stabilizer. The urgency of a switch off is recommended by the swiftness with which power could return at high voltage and damage air conditioners and TV sets. You’d normally have a mental picture of where your smartphone is in the dark. It often becomes your go-to alternative source of light to lead you to the rechargeable lamp which then continues the relay race to the stand-by generator behind the house.

You may also be in the middle of something that needs visibility when a power cut happens. It may be measuring out 5ml of a baby’s cough linctus or reading a non-ebook or decanting your night cap. Whatever you are in the middle of when the indoor eclipse strikes, the smartphone torchlight or screen glow comes handy to navigate your way back to illumination. While walking village paths at night returning from a kindred gathering lulled into late closure by endless streams of palm wine, the phone torchlight is an improvised and personalised moonlight. It is a “kindly light” that leads when “the night is dark and I am far from home.”

The alert tone feature may be found on non-smartphone types but it is on the smartphone it attains its greatest utility. If your bank account is not linked to your phone in today’s world, you are way behind. Not just because you cannot do mobile banking but you’d miss out on the joy of the deposit alert tone on your phone. All incoming text messages may chime the same way but nothing beats the feeling upon confirmation that the latest alert tone is from money that just hit your account. It is the nature of a kiss of life, a steroid jab or cool water to parched throat. The downside to the bank account-linked phone is the suspense generated by false alert tones when you are hard up and expecting some money into your account. Such times are when worthless messages from telcos come to tease and assail your expectant ears. However, such un-gainful times are more than compensated for by the resurrection effect of the bank alert when it finally comes. Even what you thought was malaria fever could be healed by the bank deposit alert.

Social media and by extension, the smartphone is a cure for ADHD. A school of thought believes it is addictive and responsible for the ailment itself. It may be so for teenage users who have no higher purpose for social media than entertainment. But think of how boring your downtimes would be without the companionship of data on your smartphone. Those are the times spent waiting at lounges – offices, airports, - or listening to yawn-inducing talks at seminars, conferences and wedding. Event planners and speakers at these events who do not factor in the presence of a competitor in the smartphone are living in a fool’s paradise. Now you can’t hold anyone to ransom because they are seated in the physical space of your boring talk. They may remain seated there while their attention is roaming between their Twitter handle and Instagram page. Your rambling only disturbs the public address system.

Talking about events, it was a wedding that marked the return of my phone and ended my fast. I retrieved the phone and my digital life from where they lay on my office table and proceeded to a wedding reception where the still camera and video camera came in handy. Here comes the sun …it’s all right!

In the year that the Lockdown entered global lexicon, Mike’s prose and poetry were accepted in Mysterion, The Blue Nib, Oddball Magazine, Written Tales, Essential Anthology of Underground Writers Association of Portland, Maine, Omens Anthology of Antimony and Elder Lace Press, Dear Leader Tales anthology of Feral Cat Publishers, GoodCop/Bad Cop Anthology of FlowerSong Press, Superstition Review and Pensive Journal.

Mike is a freelance book editor and has been a lover of moonlights before recently learning of the English word for the pastime. He is the author of Cowboy Lamido, a children’s book.

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