In the human-machine relationship, you, fellow Homo sapiens, are commonly designated as the owner, operator, or otherwise dictator of the subservient device in your possession.
Consider, however, the reality of your relationship with your phone. First of all, it knows everything about you. It reads all your emails, sees all your pictures, learns your favorite websites, and even remembers the unsent texts you draft in the middle of the night. It tracks where you’ve been and when, who you’ve talked to and for how long — and if you have a particularly smart new phone, it also knows your resting heart rate and level of physical activity. The jobs that NSA and KGB spies would train for decades to master are now being handled by the little computer in your pocket. In its spare time. As a sideline entertainment. And what do you know about your phone, other than the megapixels of its camera or the gigabytes of its storage?
More often than not, you’ll be the one responding to your phone’s demands, rather than vice versa, and it has a full arsenal of annoyances to pester you with: it’ll blink, vibrate, and shout should you refuse to attend to it. Pick me up or I’ll scream, plug me into a charger or I’ll die, don’t carry me in your rear pocket or I’ll bend. At its most indulgent, your phone will request that you dress it up in protective garb or accessorize it with an external battery pack.
Congratulations on becoming your phone’s bitch.
You either react to notifications immediately, no matter how trifling, or you start to feel irritated when they have to be repeated. On the other hand, how many times has your phone jumped to attention when you called out to it in a hurry? If you’re really lucky, it might recognize an "OK, Google" or "Hey, Siri" command and accidentally reveal its location. Has your phone ever gone to the effort of working overtime when you really needed it? You’re doing all these things to keep it warm and cozy and comforted, and it responds with a cold, digital indifference. What you have is an asymmetric relationship.
It’s one thing for phones to be prissy about how you treat them, but they also succeed in controlling how you live as well. Your phone tells you which apps you can have and which ones you can’t. It dictates when you can be connected to the internet and when you can’t. Your phone will only take the photo you want if it gets the light that it wants. Sometimes you’ll even grab your phone to do something, get diverted into an endless loop of micro-distractions from Twitter, Facebook, and email, and find yourself hours later wondering what prompted you to pick it up in the first place.
So, exactly who is being owned in this relationship?