I am not a member of the "me" generation. My friend Joe the Plumber, eulogized in this column, used to say, "I’m not much, but I’m all I think about." I can certainly identify with that. Nevertheless, I belong in a pack with my fellow graying baby boomers. I have, however, of late, become a part of the "i" generation. This happened when I relinquished my tiny Motorola, which would not stay closed any more without the assistance of an elastic band around its middle, gave into peer pressure and got an iPhone.
By and large, it is a miraculous machine. I can connect to Westlaw, my bank account, shop for a house, find coffee, and get directions when I am lost on the way to the deposition, all without breaking a sweat. I have email, which dings at me all day and all of the night, eliciting my vigilant attendance. If, for instance, Prince Harry were attempting to contact me from a different time zone, I would want to respond instantly. Thanks to the iPhone, I stand ready.
There is, however, a problem. The iPhone has just enough chutzpah built into its infinitesimal circuitry to believe that it knows better than I do about certain things. Some days, its behavior reminds me of the famous argument in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Hal, the omniscient computer decides calmly on its own that Dave the astronaut is expendable.
Unlike Hal, the iPhone is small enough to flush down the toilet if it gets out of hand. I will not delegate to it any functions that are life-sustaining, just in case. Nevertheless, it has already attempted to encroach upon matters which are none of its affair. I refer to the impromptu edits it inserts into my texts and electronic mail messages.
The first time this happened, I was amused. I received electronic mail from an opposing counsel advising that he had withdrawn the action filed by his client against my client, all without payment by any party, or the intervention of a higher authority. I received the message while out of the office. In turn, I emailed the client, celebrating the occasion with an unrestrained commentary. "Yahoo," I typed into the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. When I hit send, the word "Yahoo" had been replaced by the word "Quahog."
This required a second e-mail to explain that the keyboard had been invaded by gremlins, and that I really meant to say "Yahoo." Fortunately, the client was grateful for the good news and did not appear to care about the word substitution.
These anomalous occurrences continued. "Frozen" became "fructose" without any help from me. When I tried again, it became "f dozen," making the message even less comprehensible and giving rise to two more attempts. The iPhone did not perceive that I meant "comatose," not "consommé." This occasioned a fit of swearing and a furtive grope through my glove compartment for some relief. Luckily, a friend and fellow attorney had sent me a bar marked "emergency chocolate" in response to an earlier column. I ate the whole thing. It helped, marginally. The iPhone was unaffected.
When I have to enter case names, the iPhone interpolates its own substitute terms more frequently than ever. Recently, I threatened to throw it out of the window of my car, where I was miserably texting away, pulled over in a parking lot. The phone was impervious. It continued to make additions, subtractions and wild guesses about what letters and numerals I was touching on its unquestionably smiling face. I imagined that it thought it was being helpful.
Eventually, I decided to stop fighting, at least in one instance. "Yahoo" is an overused expression, anyway. From now on, I vow to express celebratory enthusiasm, sarcastic or otherwise, with the iPhone’s quirky interpretation: "Quahog!" I await its entry into the Oxford English Dictionary with muted delight. •