WHEN I took my iPhone out of the box on Friday to prove to my children that we were the first family on the block with one, I had a glimpse of what life will be like after I’m dead and they’re fighting over my jewelry.
“Can I have it?” asked Ella, 16.
“I’m the oldest,” said Zoe, 18.
“I’m the only one who doesn’t already have a cellphone,” said Clementine, 9.
“You shouldn’t keep it for yourself, because you hate cellphones and don’t even answer the one you have,” Ella said. “You will neglect it and won’t use all the features. Give it to someone who will appreciate it. Me.”
“Me,” Zoe said.
“Me,” Clem said.
I looked at my offspring — so eager, so easily manipulated by the hype surrounding a shiny new gadget that could perform some but not all of the same functions as the gadgets they already owned — and wondered if the situation presented an opportunity to do far more than simply lord it over the neighbors.
Was it too much to hope an iPhone could improve my life? After all, a nation of early adopters already had said this slim $599 lozenge with a pretty touch screen was indispensable; maybe I would, too. I imagined organizing my car pool schedule with a touch of the iPhone’s calendar button. Then I pictured myself effortlessly e-mailing my husband from the lacrosse field, to remind him to buy beer. And I imagined him texting back as he eyed the refrigerator case: “Corona or Pacifico?” How happy we might be.
And why not? Although I had yet to actually activate the thing, it already had granted me new powers over my children.
“Would someone please empty the dishwasher?” I asked.
As all three leapt for the cutlery basket, I sauntered out of the kitchen.
Ella called, “Need help configuring it?”
“Maybe later,” I said. “After you walk the dogs.”
With things going so well, I decided to tackle setup on my own. Thinking that it should be a cinch, I determined in less than 15 minutes which gadget to unplug from my computer to make room to plug in a new gadget, and instructed my computer to update the iTunes software necessary to configure the phone.
Then I clicked on the iTunes icon. An onscreen window delivered an ominous message: “Unable to mount disk. Broken pipe.”
Broken pipe? I won’t say I panicked, but when Zoe wandered in a half hour later to ask if she could touch the iPhone, I was feverishly trolling for advice at Macfixitforums.com.
I was about to erase my hard drive when she grabbed my wrist and called to her sisters, “Get Mom out of here while I set up her phone.”
Five minutes later, everything was done except for one tiny step: activation. The AT&T system was overwhelmed, but my children already had phoned the carrier and learned that within six hours I should receive e-mail confirmation that the iPhone was working.
Day 2, Saturday: By the time I came downstairs for breakfast, the neighbors had gathered in the kitchen, rocking the iPhone and cooing, “Isn’t it cute?”
My friend Tina started snapping photos with it, prompting her 7-year-old son to strike a pose like the rapper Bow Wow, hunched over and making peace signs pointed toward the floor.
“Is there any coffee left?” I asked.
No one answered; they were trying to use the Google Maps feature on the iPhone to look up directions from our house to a restaurant called Toast, which is one block away and to which they walk almost every weekend.
By the time the neighbors had departed, my iPhone was receiving e-mail. “Subject: Feel Comfortable With Your Body Due To Penis Enlarge Patch,” I read with my English muffin. I decided to take the iPhone to my tennis league playoff match to intimidate my opponents by casually pulling it out during warm-up. Unfortunately, the harsh midday sun rendered the screen unreadable and reflective, giving them the impression I was the sort of tennis player who checks lipstick in a compact mirror. They won in three sets.
Day 3, Sunday: The iPhone revealed some truths about my family that I would have preferred not knowing. After my children showed me how to copy the audio files from my computer to the phone, a window popped onscreen to announce that a file called “South Park — Cartman Farts on Kitty” would not be copied because “it cannot be played on this iPhone.”
Who put this on my computer? I asked.
“Zoe,” Ella said.
“Ella,” Zoe said.
“Dad,” Clementine said.
Later, I also learned an unpleasant truth about my chin. I realized while browsing through the photos my children copied to the iPhone that, depending on the angle, I appeared to have quite a few chins. After frantic attempts to delete the Jabba-the-Hutt shots failed, I phoned Apple customer service and learned that the only way to cleanse my iPhone was to first delete the chin shots from my computer’s photo folder and then re-sync the folder’s contents to the iPhone.
Day 4, Monday: More neighbors phoned and asked us over to play Scrabble — and to bring the iPhone if we felt like it.
I snapped a few photos of my friends gathered around the game board, prompting my friend Bruce’s 10-year-old son to cock the bill of his baseball cap and pose like Notorious B.I.G. As Bruce agonized over his letter tiles during the third game, I pulled out the iPhone and asked, “Anybody want to hear some Neil Young?”
Distracted by a tinny rendition of “Helpless,” Bruce failed to notice the need to protect a triple-letter-score box from my “q.” I scored 31 points.
Later, however, the iPhone let me down. As my husband was driving home from our favorite Mexican restaurant, I wondered if Bruce would retaliate for “qi” by parking in the last empty space near our house. After using the iPhone’s maps feature to zoom in on a satellite image of the street, I’d reported “All clear,” only to remember belatedly, as we rounded the corner and saw Bruce’s Saab, that Google’s satellite images typically aren’t updated more than once a year.
Day 5, Tuesday: I started to feel the cold chill of backlash. Tina called to say she had heard you have to send away the iPhone to replace its battery. The children left dirty dishes in the sink despite my attempts to play them off against one another by offering access to the iPhone.
Ignoring the naysayers, I decided to use the iPhone to free me from the drudgery of the grocery store, or at least from the drudgery of forgetting to buy something essential. I touched the Notes button to make a shopping list, but found it difficult to use the tiny keyboard buttons to accurately type “avocado” (“scocafo”) or, of all words, “apples” (“sooles”). After “2 doz eggs” came out “DOA efgs,” I decided to e-mail the list to myself instead. This only took a few minutes longer than jotting it down on a scrap of paper.
Day 6, Wednesday: Despite the thrill of being able to browse the Web from the produce aisle to confirm that the vacuum-packed imported butter I’d found needed no refrigeration, I have started thinking seriously about returning the $599 phone, despite a 10 percent restocking fee. It hasn’t really changed my life in the ways I’d hoped.
The return policy specifies that I have eight more days to decide whether to keep it. In the meantime, maybe I can figure out how to delete the South Park file from my computer without erasing my entire hard drive or breaking a pipe. None of my children has offered to help.