Her And You
January 31, 2014
I swear, I was on my way to this column when I got unavoidably sidetracked. Seriously, I was ready to sit down and bloviate about... er, pontificate on... can we call it "wax poetic?" Whatever it is that I do here, I was about to do it when I got a call from my wife and I couldn't hear her. She could hear me, but I couldn't hear her. Tests with different lines and calls and a quick WebMD-style Google disease search sealed it: My phone was busted, and out of warranty, and I was trying to hold out and not use my upgrade until the next model comes out in the Fall and... sigh. I made a Genius Bar appointment, got in the car, and made the long slog in rush hour traffic up to Manhattan Beach, where I got to the mall, pulled out the phone, tried a call home out of curiosity, and...
...And it worked. Of course it did. But I had the appointment and I was already there, so I took it in, and the Genius at the Apple Store did some diagnostics and noted that the battery was bad, really bad, which I had noticed was a problem for several months. No problem, he said, we'll take care of it -- hard reboot/wipe, battery replacement, easy, you have backup, right? Yes, I did, so he told me to come back in a half-hour and it'd be done. And I left the store, walked through the mostly empty mall, and after a few minutes, I realized that I had forgotten to check the time that I'd left the store so I'd know when to return. And that led to what amounts to a panic attack.
I don't have a phone.
I DON'T HAVE A PHONE.
I don't know what time it is. I don't know what time to go back. I can't check my mail. I can't call my wife and tell her when I'll be home. I can't watch a video, I can't look anything up, I CAN'T TWEET ABOUT IT.
And it reminded me about the movie "Her," in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a guy who falls in love with his phone's operating system. (Good thing Spike Jonze made this movie; imagine what someone like Adam Sandler would have done with the premise.) I'm not that far gone -- my wife is, by all accounts, human -- but the loss I experienced by not being connected, even for a half hour, even in civilization (as much as a quiet, mostly patron-free shopping mall in Manhattan Beach can stand in for civilization), even though nobody was looking for me or in particular need of my services, even though amusement for a half hour shouldn't require an Internet-connected electronic device (and let's just leave it at that, okay?), was a surprise to me. I know I'm kind of tethered to the Internet at all times. Two Internet-based jobs will do that to you. But I often fantasize about being able to turn off the computer, turn off the phone, turn off the iPad and the Rokus and just walk away for a while to decompress. This time, I realized that this is not going to happen, and that I am, irreversibly, That Guy, the guy who's always glancing at his smartphone, checking his email and Twitter, unable to put it away for very long.
I'm not alone. Most of you are in the same boat, even those of you who will INSIST that you NEVER check your phone and have no problem disconnecting. It's how people are, and where they're heading. You hear about the connected car, but that's only an extension of the connected person. Why do you think "wearables" were so hot at CES this year? We've known for a while that we'll ultimately have whatever-you-want, whenever-you-want, wherever-you-want entertainment and information. Most people just didn't expect technology to deliver it this fast.
So, where does radio fit in when we are increasingly wanting, and getting, unlimited choice, unlimited EVERYTHING on demand? This is where people who own radio stations would say they need FM chips in smartphones, because that's what people are using for everything, but I gotta say, it wouldn't occur to me to use a phone for that. I didn't miss radio, I missed the connection, the ability to read anything I wanted and check the clock and find my appointments and listen to music that I choose and... and, okay, talk radio, but I wouldn't find that on FM here, anyway, other than public radio. And I get my public radio fix through podcasts. Radio's trying to get itself shoehorned into phones (hey, look, BlackBerry, just in time for NOBODY to have a BlackBerry!), but people aren't using phones that way. The goal of radio shouldn't be to add its technology to the technology to which people are increasingly addicted, but to adapt its content to the technology they actually use. Streaming's nice, but we are rapidly moving to an on-demand, custom world in which we're all going to be asking our phones and our glasses and our, I don't know, connected shoes for instant shows about whatever interests us. It's unlikely that we'll say, oh, just give me whatever talk radio happens to be on right now, joined in progress. The power is in the consumer's hands, now more than ever, and the options are way more than whatever the local signals serve up.
That is, if their devices are working. Maybe radio licensees should be investing in repair shops. But the point is still that in a connected world in which people are more personally invested in their phone OS than in what radio is offering, the radio industry really needs to get its content to the level where we'd all miss it as intensely as we miss our phones when they break. How long can people go without radio as opposed to being without their smartphones? After last night, I know how I'd answer that.
The temporary technical setback did not, however, stop me from continuing to bring the weird at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where we offer hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. iI's all here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and visit the other site I edit, Nerdist.com. And pmsimon.com, too, when I get a chance to write about something other than radio or nerd culture.
Say, are you going to Talk Show Boot Camp in Dallas next Friday and Saturday? I'm going to be there, assuming no further distractions, and you can be there, too. Click here for registration info and all that. The lineup is a who's who of talk radio, plus me -- I think I'm comic relief, actually. See you there.