How the iPhone has changed the way we communicate

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in the New York Women in Communications Aloud blog.

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Since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone back on Jan. 9, 2007, one billion devices have been sold worldwide, revolutionizing the entire mobile phone industry. It’s not a stretch to say that the iPhone — which Jobs defined at its introduction as three devices in one, “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device” with its many iterations over the years — has changed the world and fundamentally altered the way we communicate.

The iPhone has made employees more connected than ever. Email and calendars are easily accessed on-the-go, and push notifications ensure we never miss a message or an appointment. We’re hyper connected 24/7, responding faster than we ever have. Many people I know use their personal iPhone for business rather than have a separate work phone: The iPhone has blurred the line between work and personal life.

And then there’s texting. I’ve been texting since my preteen years but not texting in paragraph-long spurts the way I do now. Remember those QWERTY keyboards? And word limits? They made texting more of a novelty than a primary form of communication. In the fall of 2008, just one year after the iPhone hit the markets, Nielsen reported that texting increased by 450% from the same period in 2006. With the iPhone’s touchscreen and easy-to-use interface, texting has now become as natural as speaking.

The iPhone changed how we browse the Internet: We’re connected 24/7, either through WiFi or a cellular network. This means we are constantly consuming information and value being connected to the virtual world around us — but not necessarily the people around us. We’re scrolling through our phones at bars, at dinner, while walking or while riding the bus. Moments of down time are filled by looking at our phones, allowing for fewer personal interactions on the go.

The iPhone also fueled the rise of social media. Snapchat, of course, is mobile-only, Instagram is mobile-first and more than 90% of Facebook’s daily active users access the platform via mobile. We broadcast vacations and nights out by taking photos on our phones and instantly sharing them through an app. We check and post news in real time through Twitter. We share live video and funny moments we eventually want to disappear. The iPhone is an active participant in our lives and the catalyst behind most of our social interactions, real and digital.

I was a latecomer to the iPhone revolution. I bought my first iPhone in 2012, five years after its release, when I realized my Samsung “smart” phone was completely obsolete. But now I can’t imagine life without it. My iPhone is my calendar, my alarm clock, my camera, my calculator, my travel companion and my GPS system. It’s how I communicate with friends and family, find out the weather, jot down notes for stories, post to social media and pay for my coffee. My iPhone is where I get my news, my bus tickets, my restaurant recommendations and my music.

And sometimes — but rarely — my iPhone is just my phone.

What happened to dreaming small?

What happened to dreaming small?

Ireland is just over there my grandfather said to me as we stood on the shores of the Atlantic, when I was about six years old. I strained my eyes but hard as I tried I could not see Ireland, just an expanse of water and thin blue line where ocean met sky.

As a child, the “end of summer” always seemed just as far away. If June was the shore, September was land on the other side – and an ocean of time and space lay between now and then.

To fill this mass of time I took on what I call “small challenges”.

One of my favorites, and in retrospect most ridiculous, was the Pogo Stick Challenge of 1999. I’d gotten one for Christmas and enlisted my good friend and neighbor Annabeth to join me in the challenge of reaching 1500 consecutive hops. In the heat of August, using a toy that had rusted over the winter months, this took some perseverance. But all summer long we worked on our goal, stopping only to refuel on cookies and lemonade.

Bounce. Creak. Bounce. Creak. At the end of August I finally hit the magic number – 1500 HOPS! We shrieked and clapped and moved on to a much quieter hobby – making jewelry. I’m sure the neighbors were thankful.

Two summers later, when I was 11, my challenge was writing a book of poems. Looking back, I’m amazed at my productivity before self-criticism got in the way. I’d wake up in the morning and write a poem in my notebook, then type it up on the old Dell after lunch. At the end of the summer I printed out all my poems, brought them to school to be bound and considered myself “published”.

I always dreaded running in gym class, so the summer I turned 13 my challenge was to build endurance. It started as two laps around the block that became three, four and five. I liked the way running toned my body and decided to pair exercise with a diet. At our Labor Day barbecue I refused to eat dessert, and my “small challenge” turned into an obsession that grew cancerously through fall and winter and spring.

That summer I realized it’s possible to take challenges too seriously, self-improvement too far.

Wonderful as they were – summer has always been my favorite season – they’d never again be vast as an ocean. Future summers were filled with reading lists, sports practices and college applications. Read 10 books! Learn to code! Write five short stories! Small challenges got bigger and I started feeling guilt for everything I hadn’t accomplished, rather than pride in what I had.

Now, as a young professional in New York City, summer months aren’t technically different from any other part of the year. I am working five days a week and time is limited. But I still associate the period from June to August with self-reflection and goal-setting. The thing is, because there’s so little time, every challenge feels like it should have some greater purpose. If your friend is going back to school for a Masters degree, you don’t want to be working towards the mid-20s equivalent of pogo sticking. In this city, there are no isolated goals, only goals that help you become a more successful version of yourself.

What happened to small challenges, of taking on random endeavors simply for one’s own enjoyment? Is it possible to do something entirely for you and not for your Instagram?

I’ll always be ambitious. But in a city that constantly shouts think big! dream big! I want to go back to dreaming small, just for one summer.


Image of Atlantic Ocean by jfleischmann

The Uber Positive Uber Driver

The Uber Positive Uber Driver

It was about 5pm one of the first sunny Saturdays of spring. I stood outside Brooklyn Bridge Park waiting for an Uber over to a party in Williamsburg after a long, mimosa-filled picnic brunch.

“Miss Sara! Hello! How are you? It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Shamraiz, my driver, exclaimed as I slid into the back seat. “Days like this, everyone’s mood changes, everyone walks with their heads held high!”

In just a few minutes I learned Shamraiz has five kids, one named Sara like me but she spells it with an “h”.  He loves his wife more than anything – she’s the reason he left Pakistan for America. I learned he’d driven a yellow cab for 14 years and switched over to Uber last year. He likes the newfound flexibility.

“If you work hard, and stay positive, good things will come to you,” Shamraiz said as we snaked our way through Brooklyn. “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed. “You should really write a book with all these sayings.”

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,” he promptly spouted, proud of himself for recalling such a relevant quote. “That one’s Benjamin Franklin.”

I laughed. I realized in New York, I don’t blink an eye at extreme negativity. But extreme positivity is intriguing, makes me question whether the person has a motive or simply looks at the world in a different way. With Shamraiz, it was clearly the latter. But why in New York is positivity suspicious, while negativity’s the norm?

“Well, here you are,” Shamraiz said when we reached my destination. I thanked him and got out, but moments later he rolled down the window.

“Learn from the past, live for today, dream for tomorrow!” he shouted over the bar music, before speeding away.

Growing up with the Daily Treat

Growing up with the Daily Treat

I don’t remember the first time I stepped foot in the Daily Treat.

I was young enough, actually, that my parents probably carried me into the restaurant, young enough that I didn’t eat but slept quietly at their side. I’m guessing I was about two weeks old.

My parents have loved the Daily Treat since before I was born.

Back in 1987, over sandwiches and salads with the real estate broker, they discussed their future in this quaint commuter town right outside of Manhattan. I think the charm of the restaurant drew my mom to Ridgewood, a place where she knew no one and would be alone most nights while my dad worked long hours at a nearby hospital. She was 24.

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Photo: dailytreatrestaurant.com

Looking through the Daily Treat’s large windows facing Ridgewood Avenue, my mom watched young mothers with strollers walking by. Even though the rest of her family lived on Long Island, where she grew up, she began to picture a new life in New Jersey. In a way, my history with the restaurant began right then.

The Daily Treat has been around for more than 50 years and is a constant in a village that’s constantly changing. As newer, hipper restaurants and shops have moved to town, the Daily Treat has stayed put. For me, it’s a place of comfort. I always order the same thing: eggs and toast or chicken fingers with thick-cut fries. I know when I walk in I’ll see one of the Greek owners, Gus or John, standing behind the checkout desk, greeting customers at the door.

It’s funny how places, just like people, can be there for every milestone of your life.

The Daily Treat was where we’d go with both sets of grandparents after concerts, dance recitals and graduations. It’s where my brother and I complained about ordering off the kids menu and then insisted on ordering off the kids menu, as soon as we were too old.

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Photo: Foursquare

In the sixth grade, the Daily Treat was the first place my friend Jolene and I went “alone”. We dressed up in our best Abercrombie & Fitch outfits, packed our faux leather purses and smeared on lip gloss before walking the half mile to town. I remember the sense of independence we felt going to a restaurant without parents. To us, this was the first step to being grown up.

In high school, the Daily Treat was a respite from the stress of exams and too many extracurriculars. I’d go with large groups, either during an extended lunch or straight after school. I remember seeing groups of middle schoolers and thinking about how young they looked. Do these kids even know how to split a bill? How are they here alone? At some point it occurred to me that we used to be just like them, a giggling gang of sixth grade girls sharing a couple orders of fries. Looking back, I’m surprised the owners tolerated us.

I spent my college years in Indiana and a summer out in Toledo, Ohio, where I was a reporter for a local paper. My job took me across cornfields and through downtrodden Midwest towns where the sense of decay was palpable. I was lonely – most of my friends were interning in New York City that summer – but while on assignment I found comfort at diners that reminded me of Daily Treat, diners that reminded me of home.

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Photo: Dave D., Yelp.com

I still go back to the restaurant a few times a year – it’s where my childhood friend Laura and I catch up when we’re both in town. The place hasn’t changed much, though they now have al fresco dining and fancier-sounding menu items like Grilled Portobello Salad and Prosciutto Caprese Wrap. Over refill after refill of coffee we talk about our jobs, relationships and families. Sometimes we stay for three hours but no one ever rushes us, interrupting only to pour more coffee into the small white mugs.

It’s strange to think I’m already a year older than my mom was when she and Dad settled down in Ridgewood, yet I’m nowhere near as settled. Sometimes, when I’m at the Daily Treat I can almost see my parents sitting at the booth by the window, leaning into their drinks and one another other, exhilarated by the thought of starting their life together in this pretty village outside of New York City. Wondering how long it takes to thread yourself into the fabric of a community, how long it takes to call a place home.


Read more about the Daily Treat and its history here. 

Calling Yaya

Calling Yaya

This essay was awarded honorable mention in Notre Dame Magazine’s 2015 Young Alumni Essay Contest. It was originally published at magazine.nd.edu.  

Everyone on Dallas Avenue knew Yaya’s high-pitched cackle.

My grandfather would walk home from the train station each night and hear her laugh from a block away. That’s Dorothy, he’d think to himself. She was usually on the phone. She was usually telling a story.

The phone connected Yaya to everyone she wanted to talk to and everywhere she needed to be. Even before coffee, the first thing she’d do each morning was roll over and check her stocks by punching in numbers. She wore out three keypads in just a few years of checking and trading those stocks. And she made my grandfather buy 25-foot-long cords for all phones in the house so she could chat away from absolutely anywhere.

From an early age I loved talking on the phone with Yaya and begged her to tell me the stories I knew and loved. Like the time in high school the nuns caught her smoking in the bathroom, so she filled her mouth with powdered soap to mask the smell but ended up with foam bubbling out of her mouth as she explained herself to the principal. Those stories reached a level of pure absurdity it seemed only Yaya could concoct.

We had serious conversations, too, she lying on her bed in Long Island, me on mine in New Jersey. One summer when I was around 13, a girl my age died in a tragic jet-skiing accident. A few of my friends knew her, and her death deeply affected me. I spent the night writing a poem for the girl and read it to Yaya, and then we talked about death and dying until our conversation slowed to a standstill. She was always straightforward about the topic, saying “when I die” or “will you do this for me when I’m gone, baby?” as if it were inevitable. I always hushed her and changed the subject.

***

I was 17 when Yaya passed. It was obvious her health was deteriorating. Months earlier she’d stopped dyeing her hair that signature red, a sign of defeat too painful for me to admit. Her weight had dropped below 100 pounds, her bones were brittle and her spine was collapsing inch by inch. Despite all this, her death felt sudden because I never got to say good-bye.

She died in February, the coldest part of winter. My younger sisters cried in my bed, not understanding how a person goes from being here to being gone. I thought I was old enough, mature enough, to understand her death and help my siblings properly mourn. But 17 wasn’t old at all, and since emerging on the other side of college and moving to New York City I’ve started missing her in a new way.

Yaya was a city girl, a trait that skipped a generation and landed on me. Papa often tells the story of their 1970s summer house in Greenport, Long Island, where Yaya stayed inside all day, depressed. The town was too quiet and the nearest phone was a quarter mile away. Papa says she’d press her face to the window, longingly watching car lights pass on the main road — the closest sign to civilization. All night she’d gaze at those lights, smoking her cigarettes in silence.
My grandmother needed to be around people. The house had been her idea, but within a decade they sold it.

Yaya grew up in the 1930s and ’40s in the South Bronx Irish tenements, the daughter of first-generation Irish immigrants. When she was 14 her father died suddenly of appendicitis. So her mother took a job as a housemaid at the Waldorf Astoria and moved the family out to Pelham Bay.

Yaya’s father, who’d been a carpet salesman at the flagship Macy’s store in Midtown, instilled in her a strong work ethic and sense of pride in being busy. In her 20s, she was the secretary to a high-powered lawyer at General Motors. Yaya loved showing up to the big building on Broadway, working for the big shots and going out to lunch with the other girls for special occasions. They’d pick a fancy spot like the Russian Tea Room, Tavern on the Green or an Italian place called Patsy’s that Frank Sinatra used to frequent. Birthdays and engagements never went uncelebrated.

Yaya was just around my age when she worked for GM. Even though she never told me about her 20s in Manhattan — maybe she thought I was too young — little things around the city remind me of her. My favorite photograph was taken at the Copacabana nightclub, shortly after Papa proposed to Yaya in 1959. Every time I pass the Copacabana in Times Square I think of the original Upper East Side club and my grandparents at a table inside, looking so glamorous and in love. I have the photograph saved in my phone so I can pull it up and imagine how she’d tell me the story.

My phone can tell me all about the Copacabana’s history, play videos from the nightclub’s heyday, even show me my very last email from Dorothy Coyne. But for all it’s capable of, it can’t connect me to her.

Seven years since Yaya died, I still can’t get past the urge to call her. Sometimes I feel like the helpless 5-year-old who would erupt into tears when my grandparents left after a weekend visit. I’d sit sullenly on our stoop, eyes watering as their car backed out of the driveway and escaped at 60 miles per hour down the highway.

Then I’d go back inside and wait for the phone to ring.

Growing up with Chrismukkah

Growing up with Chrismukkah

We do both.

Yes, Christmas and Hanukkah. Trees and Menorahs. Candy canes and latkes. Come to my house in mid-December and we’ll have it all.

My mom is Catholic, my dad is Jewish and they raised my three siblings and I in both religions. Growing up, we sometimes resented the five hours each week of Hebrew School and Catholic education (CCD), but had no problem embracing our dual faith when the holidays rolled around.

Classmates over for playdates would notice the Star of David ornament hanging on our Christmas tree. What do you mean you celebrate both holidays? Does that mean you get double the gifts?

A few times I said “yes” to make them jealous. But the truth is, my parents realized double gifting was absurd after about a year. Christmas became our primary gift-giving holiday – an explosion of presents beneath the tree – while Hanukkah was about coming together as a family to honor the Jewish tradition.

Gifts aside, being a mixed faith family during the holidays meant celebrations start earlier and last longer. Occasionally, the two holidays overlapped and we’d light Hanukkah candles after Christmas dinner. Over time, unique Chrismukkah traditions emerged.

One Hanukkah when I was in high school we gathered in the kitchen to light the candles. Scrambling to find a yarmulke, the traditional head covering Jewish men wear during prayer, my dad grabbed the nearest Santa Claus hat that was sitting on the counter. We all looked at him skeptically.

“I mean, it covers my head, right?” he said, and started with the Hebrew prayers. My Dad has worn that Santa hat to light the menorah almost every year since.

Celebrating both holidays was trickier when I went away to Notre Dame, where 90% of the student body is Christian. From masses to parties to decorations in every corner of campus, Christmas at Notre Dame is wonderfully festive, so it would have been easy to embrace my Christian identity and toss away Hanukkah for a few years. But I didn’t want to give up on the Chrismukkah traditions I’d grown up with.

Freshman year, my good friend and I took a bus around South Bend, Indiana until we found the one party store that sold Hanukkah decorations. We picked up frozen hash browns from Walmart for latkes and coffee filters for makeshift yarmulkes. Finally, we persuaded an upperclassman to buy us four bottles of Manischewitz – a too-sweet kosher wine I will never drink again – and our Chrismukkah party was in business.

Manischewitz flowed freely in the dorm room adorned with “Happy Hanukkah and “Merry Christmas” banners. For a couple of students at Notre Dame, I was the first Jewish or partially Jewish person they had ever met. They were eager to learn about the Festival of Lights, the “other holiday” always mentioned around Christmas. I remember a classmate asking me in earnest, “Is it sacrilegious for me to play dreidel?”

The party was so successful we repeated it throughout college, and by senior year, everyone knew how to play dreidel.

Growing up with two faiths was at times confusing –  I questioned my religious identity and wondered if I would ever “decide”. But I’m thankful for how my parents raised us, particularly around the holidays. Watching how they embraced the other’s traditions: my mom lighting the Hanukkah candles, my dad writing Santa’s note in the wee hours of Christmas – taught me about respect and acceptance in a fundamental way.

To me, there is nothing conflicting about celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. The holidays even share similarities – both revolve around a miracle of light, whether from the guiding Star of Bethlehem or the oil in the Jerusalem Temple that burned for eight nights.

And of course, both are about spending time with loved ones.

Instead of relying on generic holiday greetings that are careful not to “offend,” I believe everyone should make an effort to learn about and celebrate their neighbors’ customs. Because as my parents taught me, joining in others’ traditions doesn’t mean abandoning your own.

“The more the merrier” – isn’t that what the holidays are about?