The following is my response to a writing prompt from the book 642 Things to Write About: “Describe something you wanted badly and, once you got it, never used.”
I’m not promoting this book at all. I got it for Christmas from my wife, so I figured I would put it to some use. I hope you enjoy!
When I was fifteen years old, all I wanted was a smartphone. I had these grand ideas about handheld technologies, like if I just had a smartphone, then I would be able to accomplish all the things I hadn’t in life, like I would be an unstoppable force of productivity, like I would have the edge I needed to get ahead. I’m not sure where this fallacy came from — maybe from sci-fi fiction, maybe from advertisements — but there it was, and it was powerful.
I remember asking my mom for one of these devices every so often, only when I was feeling particularly desperate, because I was well aware of our financial situation and as strong as my desire was for a handheld device, it didn’t normally outweigh the guilt I felt in asking for one.
Still, I would daydream about these devices, about playing impossibly immersive and impressive games on them — I was a big gamer in my younger days — about getting my life in order with digital calendars and scheduling programs — even though I never used a normal calendar and I never made schedules — about unlocking a whole world of music that I never knew — even though I rarely listened to music, and had little interest in it — and about so many other silly ideas that took hold of my imagination.
So one day, when I felt I simply could not stand to be without a handheld computer for another second, and having no means whatsoever available to me of acquiring one legally, I decided my only reasonable course of action was to steal one (remember, this is coming from the same fifteen-year-old mind that believed a smartphone would change my life). I won’t go into the details of how or from where I stole these devices — I ended up taking two different ones in my over-zealousness — even though it would make for more entertaining reading, because I don’t want to romanticize theft, and because this story is about my unrealistic expectations and not about playing Robin Hood.
So, I stole two devices, a BlackBerry and a Palm-something-or-other, and afterwards I sat down for a victory soda at a nearby breakfast joint and prepared myself for unspeakable happiness.
I opened the BlackBerry first. Boy did it look sleek! I’d never held a phone like that before, it looked like everything I had imagined. I powered it on and was greeted with a colorful, glowing welcome message on the display. I thought to myself, “This is it; this is what you’ve been waiting for; this is a defining moment in your life.” But my joy and wonder were short-lived. After clicking around for a few minutes, I found that many of the programs were quite useless without being connected with a cellular network, which I didn’t have. I didn’t even have an email account. I did find a notepad program and solitaire (or snake, or paddle-ball, or something), which I played for a total of maybe two minutes before moving on. I clicked and searched and hoped, but in the end, the device was as impressive and useful to me as a chalk duster, so I returned it to the bag.
The Palm device was next, an ugly grey thing, nowhere near as handsome as the BlackBerry. But I refused to let my dreams die just yet. I powered it on and started clicking around. Ahah! A calendar where I can schedule all my important events. But I didn’t have any important events. The calendar interface was so small and clunky that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to have any important events, because it would mean having to interact with that horrible program. It seemed like much more of a chore — clicking here, then scrolling there, then clicking here — than using a paper calendar would be. It did have a music player! But I didn’t have any digital music. And even if I managed to get some, I didn’t know what I would get. The Beatles? I returned the device to the bag alongside the BlackBerry.
I sat at my booth for a long time over my Diet Coke, brooding. “I put my freedom on the line for you,” I thought, “and how did you repay me?” And that was that. I left the bag with the devices still inside on the seat of the booth, finished my drink, and walked out. I was disappointed, a little angry, but that much less naive and covetous than I had been.