With smartphone apps, there's no looking back

In the back of Karen Heller's scarlet Filofax - a gift from her father in 1997 - is a photo of Karen and her mother, Barbara.
In the back of Karen Heller's scarlet Filofax - a gift from her father in 1997 - is a photo of Karen and her mother, Barbara. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 27, 2014

Right before Christmas, the phone died. Though many of us lived without cellphones for decades, it's amazing how anxious we become without one, myself included, as if a body part has gone missing.

That's because the smartphone has become a body part. It's our thin, shiny, rectangular brain.

I upgraded to an iPhone 5. It's lighter, faster, prettier, all the things we crave in almost everything. It stinks as a phone, though. As a friend notes, he likes everything about his phone - except the phone. "I Love My Landline" could be the title of my first alt-country hit.

Plenty of users have made a fuss about the iPhone's faulty map app. We're all about fuss, proving the maxim that the more you have, the more you complain. But folks are carping about the wrong issue. The real problem with the smartphone is the calendar. It's slow, cumbersome, limited, and user-hostile, the opposite of iStuff.

The calendar sets appointments to the minute, which is overly specific. Do you schedule meetings for 9:47? The prickly roll bar transforms fingertips into maladroit Mickey Mouse paws forever hitting the wrong date or month or minute. (And don't get me started about the AM/PM function. It defies function.) The calendar app takes hours to enter a coffee date, something that consumes seconds to record in pen. And I love pens, the satisfying, scratching sound they make when applied to paper.

An appointment is reduced to a dot. The dot could be a blessing or a curse, dinner with friends or a tooth extraction. But the worst part of the calendar is how it erases the past like an Etch A Sketch. The phone is consumed with the insistent now and near future. November has become a mysterious bygone place that has vanished in the mist, like Brigadoon, and I was fond of November. Or I would be if I could recall what I did.

The calendar app is the inverse of the aging brain: It values short-term data while eradicating long-term memory, as in last year. I realize the data are stored on the Cloud, and lurk somewhere on my desktop, but that's information not readily available to my Mickey Mouse paws. Which is the purpose of a personal organizer. Not that I always used it well. Many is the time that, in haste, I merely scribbled "Lunch" and the location, without any specifics of whom I was meeting. The meal became a little surprise party.

I like consulting the recent past and remembering all the things I did, coffee dates and movies and dinners, personal histories of quotidian life. I kept my old datebook from 1990, which includes the entry, jotted in ink, of the best first date I ever had. I kept the one from the following year as well, when I married that date.

The iPhone couldn't care less. Birthed seven years ago, the device doesn't even know the '90s.

So, in a contrarian move, I dusted off my scarlet Filofax. The calendar dates from three years ago, with notes about interviews, birthdays, prom, a cancer benefit for a friend who has since died, the blissful and bittersweet moments of a year etched on facing pages.

The pocket Filofax is hefty, a bit beaten yet indestructible, the opposite of the phone. It never texts me for money. The organizer was a gift from my father in 1997 - this I remember - and has lasted longer than anything else that gets daily use. Sadly, it outlasted my father.

Tucked inside is a photo of my late mother reading to a fat-cheeked baby, which would be me, a photo my great-uncle carried in his wallet until his death. The Filofax is all about attachment and memory.

One lunch break - I had no 12:52 appointment I was aware of - I went looking for a calendar refill. Miraculously, the city is still home to several stationery stores stocked with fetching overpriced cards for every possible occasion, but not one sold calendar inserts to plan the everyday. When I inquired, the young staff regarded me as if I were a lost, slow dog.

With technology, time had become Cloudy. The future is filled with dots while the past has been vaporized. I ordered the calendar refill online from a place, I'm happy to report, called Irv's Luggage in Mount Prospect, Ill.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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