The Invasion of the iThings

by Joe Dator
Joe Dator

Blame it on the warped, sci-fried, and only slightly sadistic sector of my brain, but I think we’re being invaded.

Before you slap down your cuckoo claims on alien conspiracies or little green men who worship the moon or whatever hoodoo-voodoo, spacey-raciness crosses your mind, cool your jets. This isn’t War of the Worlds or Body Snatchers; I’m not about to hoist myself onto a pedestal and scrub your brains with the (very true) tale of how the pyramids came to be or the (also very true) gossip on Area 51 shenanigans.

No, I lament on an invasion initiated by the human-breed. On ourselves.

Bear with me; this is for the children.

I too was once a hopeful homo sapiens, wrapped up in the metallic sheen of imminent computerdom, internal epidermis calculators, and infinite virtual viability. My flip phone was the single most extraordinary device in the galaxy; it could take pictures and everything. In the seventh grade, I was a tech mogul, and my only regret was that I was unfamiliar with the glorious gleam of the inter-webs, which had this magical ability at transforming my peers into worldly individuals.

Pray patience; the point is pending.

Around the time that I mastered the art of phone-flipping, I received my first mission objective: watch TV and make sure that the mini-folk don’t kill themselves; a.k.a., babysit the neighbors. Thirteen years old and ready to whip out my patented ‘mom’ voice, I agreed to watch the little buggers from five till nine on Friday night. Just to prove that I was the stuff of babysitting legends, I packed a bag of artsy-fartsy things and a few choice narratives.

One short boy, one tall girl, and one grande boy (skinny, of course) greeted me at my neighbor’s door. They were all of the smallish species, ranging in age from four to nine. I plastered on my milk-and-cookies smile and hailed them in their native tongue of toddler. They chirped back their hellos, and then turning on their heels, sprinted up the stairs. Mother and father beamed; oh, those darling kids! They’re too shy! I’m sure they’ll warm up to you soon enough.

Soon enough, in two minutes, within the decade…I didn’t quite care, so long as I got paid. I waited for mom and pop to split in their Ford Fusion, and then bounded up the stairs.

“[Redacted]? [Redacted], where are you?” I peeked down the empty hallway. “I’ve got a build-your-own bouncy ball kit! We can throw them at the cat! Or we could read a story? Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Or maybe something more cheerful? Charlotte’s Web? Actually, come to think of it, that one’s a bit depressing as well… Or we could just go outside?”

I was met with cold, deliberate silence, and the faint squawk of a dying bird.

Wait…what?

I catapulted through the nearest door to find the short child lying across his bed, with an iPad in hand and possessed look in his eyes. That was my first inkling of the invasion.

The floor was strewn with untouched toys; there were legos still locked in their cases, cars shiny as the day they were forged, books unbent and unloved, and Nerf guns loaded but never fired. A glass terrarium sat on the table by his unkempt bed, containing a perky, plastic palm tree and out-of-order hermit crab.

He bit his lip as another bird was flung to its death, and grumbled his frustrated, four-year old garble when it failed to strike the swine. At first my voice abandoned me, and I watched as his chubby fingers smudged the screen and his eyes whirled white with a hundred thousand pixels. That thing in his hands- it commanded him! It was even more powerful than I!

Swallowing my horror, I enquired after his pursuits, and again offered to release him into the wilds of suburbia. He oinked a non-reply, and motioned for me to close the door.

Exiled into the hallway, I extracted my flip phone from my pocket, and suddenly it didn’t seem so fanciful. A quick search of the menu revealed that I didn’t have any bird-smashing games, but I could play solitaire for three easy payments of $9.99. I wondered what it was that really rattled me- the invasion of the green-eyed monster, or the invasion of the iThings?

I was just beginning to contemplate whether or not I should call SETI (I had them on speed dial) when I heard another peculiar noise. I tentatively entered the second room, and found the tall child tucked into her bean bag chair with an iPhone pressed to her nose.

“Watcha doing?” I asked. A pink, polka-dotted iPad cozied up to a pillow pet on her bed.

She wagged her hand at me. “Come see.”

I hesitated. Seeing that the phone was firmly latched to her face, I could only assume that it was sucking all of humanity’s secrets out of her brain. But after a few suspended seconds of muted music and obscure sound effects, I crossed over to look at the screen. I was bestowed with an exciting scene of penguins creaming each other with snowballs.

“Hey, how about we go outside? There’s no snow, but we can make mud balls and mud forts…”

She rolled her eyes.

Hold up…this little tall girl was radiating sass like a flippant cosmic ray. I could handle a good serving of sauce, but something told me that this wasn’t the organic kind. I yanked the phone from her fingers and was about to chuck it out the window when a noise escaped her lips that sounded somewhere between a cat’s painful death and a hen laying an egg twice its size. It’s assumed her mind, I thought in horror. There’s no going back now. I tossed the phone into her lap amidst weepy wails of “It’s a matter of life and death!” and “I need to beat the guy!”

Suffice to say, I removed myself from the room.

Back in the hallway, I thought over what I knew about the family. To their name: an acre of clean, green grass, a basement boasting a bar and toy room, three snazzy rides, and ample devices to dazzle their kids’ minds. They were well off, but good people. How the aliens could’ve slipped past their line of sight was mind-boggling to me.

I wolfed down my apprehension, and knocked on the third door. The grande boy opened it a crack, and squinted out at me.

“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re on your phone playing Fruit Ninja, and much too busy to be bothered.”

He pulled the door all the way open, and I saw that his hands were empty. “No. I’m doing homework.” He pointed to his desk, where a sleek Mac was booted up on a math website.

There were other gadgets in the room as well: an iPhone charging by the bed, an iPad on the top bookshelf, an Infinity Stone beside the goldfish bowl, and a set of speakers atop the chest.   I looked into his eyes, and saw that they weren’t sewn by cobwebs. They were clear, coherent, and untainted by feathery explosions or virtual snowball crusades. And the darling dear is doing his homework! I backed out of the room, smiling sideways, and said, “I’ll let you get back to work.”

I stood in the center of the hallway, penned in by the three doors, and once again pulled out my sad flip phone. For all my purported cellular savviness, I sure was scraping the bottom of the barrel with this scrap of metal. If the iThings were parasitic aliens that sucked the attention out of children, then ol’ Flippie here was a prehistoric beetle, and the only thing it sucked out of life was fun and battery juice.

When I was younger, I didn’t even have a notion of what a computer was. Coloring books, broken dolls, and funny-looking leaves were my distractions, and lanky-limbed trees growing alongside muddy streams served as my playground. I was dependent on the weather more than anything; no rain meant free reign, and shady skies did I despise. There was no risk of an invasion when the closest thing to technology I possessed was the clunky TV in the living room.

But Short, Tall, and Grande- they would mature alongside the aliens, taking them by the hand through elementary school and becoming life long friends as college rolled around. They would know each other, inside and out, until they weren’t merely ‘possessed’ by the iThings, but one with them. Would they ever know the kind of childhood I led, where creativity was consummated in hands-on learning? Where every day was one of elbow bruises and grass stains, and games were played not with pixelated penguins, but with imaginary friends? Where instead of throwing irritable fowl at pigs, you could just go out to the farm and butcher one? Well, ok, maybe not that…

In the seventh grade, I considered myself a tech mogul. I thought I knew it all, and I prayed for the day when computers would be interpolated into brains and psionic manipulation would be a skill possessed by the masses. What I was unaware of, though, was just how distinctly the road to bionic bliss would affect people, especially those of the child-sort. Most of modern technology is necessary and resourceful and glistening with promise, and we need it; it’s a tool for studying, learning, growing, molding minds and promoting knowing…plus a little entertainment never hurt anyone.

The invasion is not in the appeal or the perception; it’s in the obsession.

And perhaps that’s why I both loved and hated my flip phone. It was stark enough that I could go for days without touching it, therefore eliminating the chance of addiction, but it also lacked the glimmer of boundless ability. We crave to contain our lives in something, so that it won’t seem as complicated. And children, above all else, crave to control something- a virtual character, a game’s outcome, a high score.

I was tossed from my thoughts when an explosion sounded from Grande’s room. “Mayday! Mayday! Gun him down, you -” What followed was a string of cusses so colorful that I could practically see the rainbow seep under his door.

Then I realized…what kind of kid does his homework on a Friday night?

© 2014 Stellular Scribe

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