Saturday, January 5, 2019

Just Type Your Number Here

My four-year-old great niece came into the kitchen late one morning carrying her iPhone.

"Just type your number here," she told me, holding it out and pointing to the screen showing the video chat app open and ready to accept my input. Typing numbers isn’t her strong suit and she can't spell anything except her first name, 
and then only if using a jumbo crayon and lined paper. Therefore, she could not add me to her contact list. Had she known my number and been able to write, she would have added me without asking my permission first.

“I want to video chat you from in there,” she said pointing toward the living room, “so I can practice talking on my phone.”
It was important to her, more important than changing out of her Sophia pajamas, more important than combing through her bedhead, more important than getting those all-important strawberry mini donuts and the chocolate milk she loves so much for breakfast. This was high-priority high-tech on a Monday morning.

I noticed that the phone she carried was larger than both of her little hands together, if held fingertip to fingertip. It is too big to fit inside the pockets of her coat, and too large to slide out of sight in the largest purse she owns, even if she removed all the miniature character figures. These issues frustrate her. I have heard her utter words of disgust as she encountered situations like these, unable to overcome them. Like the grown-ups in her life, my niece wants to take her phone everywhere, but it’s just too bulky to carry in her tiny hands all the time. Her fingers get tired.
She is also frustrated by the fact that her phone doesn’t have internet access once we pull out of the driveway of her home. I tried explaining why this was the other day when her YouTube video suddenly quit playing and she didn’t get to see how the cartoon episode she was watching ended. She wasn’t happy and would not accept the truth.
“We can’t be more than three hundred feet from the router inside.” I pointed at the window of the home office. She grumbled something about daddy needing to fix that, and I’m sure she put him to work on that issue as soon as he got home that evening. I will probably show up next week and find a tower in the front yard with a range extender taking the place of the tree and the tire swing.  
“We can restart it when we get back from our errand,” I explained. “You can finish watching it then.” She tossed the phone over onto the other side of the bench seat in the van, folded her arms, and frowned all the way down the block.
Her iPhone is loaded with apps, games, and music, all of which she knows how to use better than I know how to use the apps on my phone. Growing her contacts list is her new obsession, however. At present, the list contains four people: her mother, her father, her paternal grandmother, and her nine-year-old-brother. Her brother is the most-called contact, even though he occupies a bedroom a few feet from her own. She video chats with him because it's apparently too much trouble to walk into the next room to torment him in person. He has an older smartphone with a camouflage case covering the original pink plastic backing it came with. It used to be his little sister’s. She upgraded from the old phone she had when her mother received her new iPhone.
Her brother’s contact list is longer by three names, and I happen to know he ignores most of his sister's video chat requests.
“The battery is dead,” he told her the other day. I’m almost sure he allows it to discharge on purpose. Unhappy with his response, she marched into his room and plugged his phone into its wall charger and then returned to her own room to call him. Whatever happened to kids playing with those little wheeled multi-colored plastic phones with the rolling eyeballs and the rotary dial that jingled when you dialed a number? Whatever happened to kids playing with a couple of soup cans attached with a span of twine?

I watched my niece fumble with her iPhone before she handed it to me and I thought how amazing it is that the four-year-old possesses her own iPhone, even if it is a hand-me-down, and that she can use it so competently.
"But I don't have a ​​phone like yours," I tried to explain, looking down at the impressive device she compelled me to take. "I have an android phone and it doesn’t use that app for video chatting." She insisted I try to make it work anyway.

"I'm going to call you. I really am," my niece reassured me. 
If she had added, "We'll do lunch," I would have put her in timeout. I made an attempt to add my number, knowing that it wouldn't be accepted, and then I handed the phone back to her and explained the incompatibility issue again. She just rolled her eyes.

"You'll have to have your mother put the number in so you can text me," I told her, all the while thinking, just as soon as you learn how to spell.

My four-year-old niece sighed heavily, staring down at the screen, her little index finger pressing the “x” to close the app, and then swiping quickly right to left to scroll through the pages of apps, searching for the YouTube icon. I can only imagine the level of annoyance she felt as she turned and wandered back to her room. Her fifty-one-year-old great aunt failed the technology challenge . . . again.

Susan Cronk is the author of multiple fiction and nonfiction books, and the author of several personal essays. You will find more information about writing projects at her website, on Facebook and on Google+. She occasionally contributes personal essays, such as this one, to publications willing to print them and bring a little humor into their readers' lives.

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