More than an addictive device
I was leaving the office the other day and already staring down at my phone. The usual addictions – a quick email check, as if the elevator ride since the last one had been more than 30 seconds. Then Google Maps to see when the next train was coming, as if I could do anything but get on. Given my neck-bent focus I didn’t notice the woman at the LinkNYC kiosk until I was a few feet in front of her. She was hunched over even more than I was, talking into the kiosk’s screen.
“Yeah, I’m calling you from the kiosk,” the woman was saying, “because I lost my iPhone.” The man on the other end sounded confused. You could hear his voice because the woman didn’t have headphones, so her call wasn’t private.
She was wearing just a white T-shirt even though it was cold and drizzling. She was carrying some belongings in plastic bags. She sounded distressed but not acutely distressed, more like losing a cell phone was one more in a line of things to be distressed about.
Maybe I got that impression because of the other people standing on the corner near the kiosk. Someone charging their phone, two guys doing the lean-stagger that tends to mean you’re high on something. An infamous midtown McDonald’s is a block away, where people go to buy Klonopin or sleep through their Methadone.
Maybe I got that impression due to assumptions about the people who often use the shiny kiosks, which were basically meant to replace payphones. Now the kiosk advertisement screens tell us to buy cars or perfume or go vote. Then there’s the little tablet embedded on the side that was the subject of horror and glee a couple years ago when homeless people (or a homeless person or two) figured out how to watch pornography out there on the streets.
Intersection, the company provider for the kiosks, has moved beyond the porn problem but added other tools for people who might not have a phone or laptop or an unlimited data plan – a problem in stark contrast to the phone addiction of all those zombies you see walking with their heads on emails or Instagram.
The company says it sees 9,000 tablet searches per month on the social service directory Aunt Bertha.
Of the 600,000 monthly calls facilitated by the kiosks, Intersection says the state EBT line is the most dialed, where callers can get questions answered about food stamps and similar services.
Maybe the woman in the white T-shirt who’d lost her phone was someone who might use the kiosks for urgent reasons. Maybe a phone meant something more to her than an addictive device. Maybe she had a story to tell. This occurred to me just after I swiped into the subway station for my ride home and saw that the train whose arrival I’d been checking had just left. My eyes had been on the phone almost the whole time. I put my phone and its screen back in my pocket and reality returned.
I went back through the turnstile and jogged up the stairs into the drizzle, rounded the corner past the lean-stagger men to the kiosk to see whether the woman would talk to me.
But by the time I got there, she was gone.