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COMMENTARY

Sean Kirst: On iPhone anniversary, so much gained – and something lost

The iPhone was introduced 10 years ago today. I often think about the way it's influenced my life, so much changed for the better and in a certain subtle fashion for the worse, although I'd love to hear your thoughts on the way the iPhone has affected you.

As for me, I would use a deer as my example.

I'm driving home from Wegmans late the other night, along a city street. A couple of deer come out of a little woods, near a crossroads. They start picking through the tall weeds beneath a streetlight. I had been lost in thought. They surprised me. No other human beings were in sight.

I pulled over, onto a little gravel patch, to watch the deer.

When I was a kid in Dunkirk, living a block from the barbed wire fence around the steel plant, seeing a deer in the wild almost never happened. When it did, it was a kind of miracle, a feeling that has never worn off, even if there are far more deer than there used to be.

So it's maybe 1 in the morning and these deer suddenly emerge out. I park. I turn off the car lights. I roll down a window. Total silence.

One of the deer looks up. I am so close I can see its ears trembling. It is as aware of me as I am of the deer. For a moment, I look directly into those black marble eyes. Thirty seconds earlier, I had been worrying about some mundane worry – problems with the car, which bills to pay and when. Then out of nowhere, for that instant, all of that no longer matters.

On a city street, it is an unexpected moment of communion, of the impossibly unpredictable.

After an instant of awe, what do I think?

I've got to take a picture.

I have an iPhone. I slip my hand toward my pocket, and in doing so, I disrupt the moment. The deer, so close, senses the movement and draws back, cautious and alarmed. I manage to get the phone out, manage to get an image, but the act itself changes something fundamental about what's happening.

The moment had been mine alone. I wanted to make it communal. There is something good in that, and – at least sometimes – something unfortunate.

Which is how I essentially relate to the iPhone.

This is me.  I would not venture to speak for you, because I think technology is intensely unique to each personality. Still, on my part, this happens all the time. When I see moments of staggering beauty – a sunset or a full moon or even a blossom in the garden – I process them for an instant as what they are, and almost at once I think:

Instagram.

My wife will say: "Just enjoy it. Why do you need a picture?" And she's right. Almost always, I know she's right.

But man, every now and then, when you capture the moment …

Evening in Taunton.

A post shared by Sean Kirst (@seankirstcuse) on

I held out for a long time. I did not get an iPhone until five years ago, which in digital thinking might as well be centuries. I was happy – or thought I was – with my flip phone. Yet my last job required me, at one point, to acquire an iPhone. I told myself I'd only use it as necessary. But my kids knew me and knew the iPhone and knew exactly what would happen.

"Dad, you'll fall in love with this," they said.

So I admit it. I did more than fall in love. In many ways, it became a need, a compulsion, a preoccupation. I have three different email providers on my iPhone. I use it all the time for Facebook and Twitter messages. I feel a temptation, always, to check it when I shouldn't, like when I'm out to dinner or at a baseball game or walking down the street. Sometimes – in a bizarre experience I know many people share – I believe it's buzzing in my pocket, when it's not.

It's also become a way for people I don't want to hear from at that particular moment to reach me at times when I'd rather not be reached.

In the old days – the old days being five years ago – none of that was an issue. And I know I could go back to those days, easily enough. I could give up the iPhone and go back to a flip. Or I could throw the iPhone in a drawer when I go out.

But I don't because, well, in so many ways I love it. I love having a phone that can offer me directions. On a flip phone, texting was a grueling chore. On the iPhone, it's easy, graceful, conversational.

There are countless ways that it's indispensable. As admission at Bills games. For reading, watching or hearing just about anything I want - wherever and whenever I wanted to do it.

And it is the iPhone whose beeping now wakes me in the morning, a familiar routine that means an entire generation is growing up no more connected to an alarm clock than to, well ....

The ringing of a phone.

As for carrying around my email, while sometimes a curse, it can also be a blessing – such as when one of those incoming messages really matters, such as when someone who really needs to reach me manages to do it.

My iPhone, I suppose, is the equivalent of coffee: I drink a ton of it, I probably shouldn't, I pay a certain price – but overall it's still a pleasure.

How amazing is it  to run into a relative I haven't seen for years - and to be able to send an image, in that instant, of that relative to a brother in the Carolinas? How useful is it when someone I've been trying to interview for weeks responds at an odd moment – and I get that interview, only because of the iPhone?

How incredible is it – if a doctor's office needs an image on short notice of your insurance card – to be able to capture that image and then send it, from a blanket on the beach?

And how preposterous is it, while sitting in a Thruway rest stop in Clarence, to exchange Facebook messages with a nephew I love, in the Peace Corps in Thailand?

It was an iPhone that allowed Buffalo student Zuri Honeycutt to capture the moment an American kestrel visited her school, Alternative School at Academy School 131, in December. (John Hickey/News file photo)

Indeed, compared to what I used to know, compared to a world where my father kept an unfolded road map on his lap, compared to a world where the way we kept in touch with an older brother in the Navy was through letters that sometimes took weeks to arrive, the iPhone remains for me, like the deer I saw on my drive home, a thing of wonder – something impossible that I would never have imagined as a child.

The problem is – from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep at night – I can't really imagine myself anymore, without that phone.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News, who wants to hear your reflections on life with an iPhone. Leave a comment below, email him at skirst@buffnews.com or write to him in care of The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, Buffalo, 14240.  

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