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My View: A smartphone ‘pusher’ has some regrets

By Tim Bienkowski

I was 10 years old when I bought my first LP, the self-titled Steppenwolf album. One of the most popular songs on the record was “The Pusher,” a dark, brooding blues song, damning the men that pushed hard drugs such as heroin, creating countless victims.

I would not think about this song much for the next 40 years, as I had never had any taste for drugs of any kind. Then in the last 10 years, I started noticing a new addiction in others, everywhere I went.

People walking down the street, heads faced down ... families eating in restaurants, not looking at each other ... countless strangers with blank stares standing in line, sitting in waiting rooms, not saying a word to each other.

I think you know the problem. Cellphone addiction – hardcore. And I was the pusher, rest my soul.

It started innocently enough. In 1995 I was selling what we called candy bar phones and flip phones, ugly utilitarian pieces of metal and plastic, used solely to call business associates, friends and loved ones. Certainly harmless vehicles just to stay in touch for short calls.

Then in 2007, the Apple company made an announcement about creating a device called the iPhone. Most people laughed it off, saying they surely would fail in a business they had no experience in.

Tim Bienkowski

It turned out I would spend the next seven years “pushing” my drug of choice, the iPhone, to thousands of future addicts – grandmothers, 10-year-olds, teachers, business people. The customer base had no bounds.

I prided myself in showing little old ladies not to be afraid of the touchscreen, setting up email for businessmen, transferring contacts from flip phones, and telling parents how affordable a family plan of iPhones would be.

So I carried on, loving my work. I honestly believed I was improving lives. Now as I walk the streets, I realize what I had unwittingly helped create. A country of Zombies, staring at their phones to avoid conversation… young people updating their hundreds of so-called friends with mundane details of their momentary activities.

Yes, I was a pusher. But should I be damned for a product I couldn’t see the consequences from? Sounds like a line from a Springsteen song: Is a deed a crime if it hurts someone or is it simply fate?

I wrestle with this sometimes. Knowing that by trying to encourage a product intended to help connect people, that product went on to minimize higher-level communication such as face-to-face or at least a telephone call.

We call it a smartphone. We think it makes us smarter, more efficient, able to communicate to a broader social circle, and generally enhance our lives.

I too am often staring at my piece of glass and metal pulled from my pocket. A tool in hand, it provides instant gratification, a quick answer to my questions. But like instant oatmeal or a microwavable dinner, is faster always better?

I now leave my phone in the other room, pick up a pad and pencil to ruminate. Thoughts seem to flow easier. As you read these words, I hope they are not arriving through small 4 to 6 inch sapphire glass, encased in an aluminum body stuffed full of micro-capacitors, tungsten connectors and lithium batteries.

I believe in a forgiving God. Don’t you? Hold on, let me Google that.

Tim Bienkowski, of Orchard Park, is a former seller of smartphones.

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