Footloose and hands-free

By Kris Ferrazza | Oct 11, 2019

Mama always said, “Watch what you wish for.” In this case, she couldn’t have been more right.

I cheered the news that Maine was banning the use of handheld devices when I first heard it. I felt it was long overdue.

Early on, I got into the habit of putting my cellphone in my bag in the back seat when I commuted to and from work. Since I live just 10 minutes from my job, my thinking was that anybody who needed to reach me could wait 10 minutes.

On longer drives, I normally have my daughter in the car. My 13-year-old likes to be in charge of all mobile communication. She answers calls, returns text messages, chooses music and finds directions better than Siri ever could.

In preparation for the hands-free law to go into effect, I read articles about how to avoid breaking the rules. They recommended mounting the phone somewhere on the dash or console. So I bought something that clips to the air vent and holds my iPhone perfectly.

My SUV does not have fancy built-in Bluetooth technology, so I figured in case of an emergency, I should have the phone at eye level. Almost immediately, something strange happened. The minute the phone was in my line of sight, I felt compelled to interact with it.

So I decided to practice using the phone legally (hands-free) in the weeks leading up to the law's going into effect, I stopped listening to the radio in the morning, and instead tried to get the hang of using Siri to do everything I couldn’t. She would play my favorite music, read text messages and place calls (on speaker). She read voicemail messages to me and gave me directions.

All the while I was doing these new things, I was driving. And I wasn’t really used to multitasking. I wondered how many people like me were interacting with their phones more than ever as a result of the new law.

These test runs revealed a few glitches. It was aggravating. And distracting. I railed against the new hands-free law for making me look away from the road and yell at my beloved iPhone X. I missed the days of a quiet commute with my phone in the back seat. But could I go back to that simple life, now that I’d had a taste of what I’d been missing?

As the date for the new law loomed, I still hadn’t perfected the hands-free world. I felt pressure to practice until I could handle any scenario. I called people I never used to call. I asked them to text me, leave voicemails and send me emails while I was driving. People tired of these requests, and complained they couldn’t hear me well on speakerphone. Siri seemed sick of me too, and answered only half the time. I needed a better solution, and I needed it fast.

Then it hit me: an Apple Watch. That was exactly what I needed. I had always loved “Get Smart,” with his shoe phone, as well as “Dick Tracy.” Maybe I would just take a look and see what an Apple Watch could do. After all, nothing says hands-free like having a miniature cellphone practically strapped to your hand.

I ventured into Verizon, and I’m sure you know how this story ends. I bought the watch. (And Air Pods, which allow me to answer my Dick Tracy watch with just the tap of one earpiece.) Now my calls sound perfect. Maybe too perfect. People didn’t want to talk long when I had an iPhone clipped to a noisy air vent. But the Apple Watch makes it feel like I am inches away because, well, I am.

My teen writhed in pain when she saw my awesome new watch. (And Air Pods.) I knew what she was thinking: I wasn’t cool enough to have them. But, who was the cool one now?

Apparently not I. I quickly realized I could not read the watch without my glasses, which I don’t wear all the time. Nor could I extend my arm far enough to be able to read the tiny messages flashing on my wrist. So I fumbled for my glasses a billion times a day.

I also started to notice that I use the back of my wrist far more often than I thought. I’m in the habit of opening germy bathroom doors with it, instead of using my hands. That means my expensive watch is constantly getting banged against the ladies’ restroom doors at Target and at school. I quickly broke that habit.

The watch has a super-cool rose-colored mesh band. It is comfortable, completely adjustable and the clasp is a powerful magnet. I immediately fell in love with it. Then I was putting groceries away and the magnetic watch band grasped the tin breadbox in my kitchen and lifted the lid. Interesting, I thought.

The next day I was doing math when the band stuck itself to the magnetic whiteboard at school, mid-algebra problem. I yanked my arm back and the watch nearly flew off my wrist. Fortunately my students are not surprised by anything I do these days.

My watch counts my steps for me. It tells me when to breathe and stand up, what my heart rate is, and how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed. Sometimes when I take my dog out one last time at 11 p.m., it will vibrate and tell me I’m “only a brisk 35-minute walk away from setting a new step record.” Nice try. A few times I’ve carried shopping bags into the house on both wrists, only to have the phone vibrate. Once I had nearly called 911, and another time I was about to process an Apple Pay transaction.

Despite all this, I felt ready for the new law to go into effect. But on the very first morning, it was unseasonably hot. I was sweltering in my car, wondering why my air conditioning wasn’t working, when I realized the vent was blocked by my phone mount. I removed the phone and moved the vent clip. Then I gasped, realizing I’d touched the phone while driving. Checking the rear view mirror for law enforcement, I mopped my brow and went to roll down my window. Just as I reached for the button, I yanked my hand back like I’d touched a hot stove.

“Wait, am I allowed to put the window down without using Siri?” I thought. My mind raced. I was losing it.

Last week my daughter was riding in the back seat with a friend when she handed me her phone.

“Can you put this on the charger, please?” she asked.

I did as she asked, as we’ve done a hundred times, then realized I’d broken the law.

“Are you trying to get me arrested?” I shouted.

She and her friend exchanged looks that said I’d clearly gone around the bend.

After a couple of weeks, I’ve come full circle. I’m back to not using the phone while in the car. As for my fancy new Apple Watch, I use it mainly for two things: to check the time (what a concept) and to find my phone. I can push an icon that pings my phone, which is quite handy.

This is what happens when advanced technology falls into the wrong hands. (I think I’ll give my unused Air Pods to my daughter, who is still green with envy.)

And the beat goes on.

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