A Look On The Lighter Side: A discussion of things that are usually unseen

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So it’s come to this: my own phone has started to send me threatening messages.

They feel like notes from a hostage-taker, really — except the hostage they have taken is me!

“You are almost out of data,” my phone tells me. “You have 10% remaining with 0 days left.”

I don’t even see what the problem is, here. It sounds like I’ve cut it just about right, with one gallon of gas left in the tank when I pull in to this month’s finish line. So I don’t even understand why it’s complaining.

Worse — any competent hostage-taker’s note will tell you what you’re supposed to do for them. Not so, with these.

“Get unlimited data on America’s best network, Verizon,” it goes on. So I should switch to Verizon? But wait, I’m on Verizon already! It makes no sense! I bow my head, accepting this harassment as one more indignity, a confounding part of life in this new electronic wilderness that there seems to be no way of avoiding.

Then, one day, one of my sons was visiting when one of these messages came in. “See?” I cried, waving the offending thing in his face. “This is the kind of abuse I get!”

“Mom, I get them too! We all do!”

“Why ever would they bother you?” I wanted to know.

“Maybe because we’re all on the same plan?”

I was dumbstruck. “You mean, it might be the result of something you’re doing? Or your brother? And not about me at all?”

Exasperated, he said, “Oh, mom. You’re hopeless.”

But on the contrary — that conversation finally brought me a sliver of hope! Because up until that moment, I had assumed it was just one more baffling aspect of having to live with things invisible.

I have dealt with plenty of invisible things in my life — germs; cooties; zoning regulations. But I prefer when there is some way, eventually, to make visible what you are talking about.

I’m thinking of how the invisible ink on a piece of paper finally shows up when you warm it over a candle… until it catches fire and you have to drop the whole mess into the sink.

Or the way they taught us about magnetism when I was a kid. The teacher hands you a bar magnet, with ends marked North and South, then gives you another, also marked North and South — and the North and South ends glom together, whereas North and North push each other apart.

The teacher says this is because of an invisible force called magnetism. Your entire class insists, “No! It’s just cooties!”

But then… the teacher puts a stiff piece of paper over a magnet and shakes a bunch of small dark particles onto it. They are iron filings, she tells you, and they clump up to show the bands of a magnetic field.

“Cool!” you all say. And this is, ultimately, why you believe in magnetism. At least, it’s why I do.

But there’s no similar such thing for “Data,” whatever that may be.

There isn’t even any way to predict where you’ll have decent phone reception. Most of the time, it is a complete mystery to me why my phone works in some locations, but not others.

The closest I have ever come to understand it was in a hospital, of all places, while visiting a friend.

Hospitals are notoriously un-fond of cell phones. I think they’ve turned most areas into dead zones just because they’re tired of telling us to turn the darned things off.

But when I was walking around the corridors with my friend, keeping her mind off her new knees with my gift of non-stop chatter, we would sometimes turn a corner and come upon a clump of doctors, all hunched desperately over their phones.

“The phones — they’re working here!” my friend yelped. I pulled mine out and sure enough, she was right.

But there was no other way to know where this might happen, except by bumping into one of those clumps.

“I’ve got it!” I shouted to my friend. “These people are the iron filings!”

Of course, everyone looked at me a little funny — including my friend, who really should have known what I was like by then — but I’ll make allowances because she was in pain.
So now I “get” that there is such a thing as cell service, whether it’s visible or not.

But this data thing? It’s an invisible bridge too far. I’ll just have to continue shaking my fist and ignoring the hostage messages until my service clogs up and stops working altogether.

“Damn Data!” I’ll say. “We just never got along.”

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