Apart from the crack in the ceiling above my bed, the eyes of my beloved, and my own sorry reflection, there’s probably nothing in the universe I spend more time looking at than my phone. It’s first thing I see in the morning, and the last thing I glimpse at night. It lives in my pocket and appears, like a phantom, in my hand, at least 100 times a day. Which is why I was so damned happy the other day when I remembered I could change my phone’s wallpaper.
Obviously, yes, I was dimly aware this was a function of iOS, but for some reason Apple has stopped talking about it at official events. The epiphany hit me when I saw a tweet from marine life research organization Ocearch. They’ve been tracking a 25-foot-long whale shark named Rocky, and when I saw Rocky’s goofy, remora-spotted face pop up in my Twitter feed I instantly thought: “Now there’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing every day.”
A minute later, I had a new background on my phone, and my life was instantly improved. Instead of the default Apple wallpaper (a purple-tinged night sky in my case), I had something I actively enjoyed looking at. That cheered me up at unexpected moments in the day, and that made me think: “Damn, Rocky, you’re really doing it.” And here’s the kicker: when I got bored of this, I just changed my wallpaper again. Revolutionary, I know.
From Rocky’s lovable, goofy mug, I switched to something else dumb and cheering — a picture of that weird taxidermy cat meme (an image which also happens to haunt Verge Slack). Then, I went for my favorite painting by Whistler. Then a picture of seriously good sandwich I’d eaten a couple of months ago. Then a bat going “blep.” Hit after hit after hit.
The weird thing is, though, I can’t remember exactly when I forgot I could do this. Certainly in my late teens, when I was using early Android devices and dumb-but-not-exactly-stupid phones, I used to fiddle with backgrounds, themes, and ringtones constantly. Partly, I guess, because the technology was new, and back then you’d explore every single menu in your Nokia N-series just because it was there. But also because it meant something. What exactly, I couldn’t say. Were you expressing a sense of ownership? The idea that you could make this cool, exciting thing yours? Was it just because there was not much else to do with it?
Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I’m not sure what changed. All I can say is that I think I forgot about changing wallpapers around the time I stopped saying “brb.” When phones became mandatory, rather than optional. And what confuses me even more, is that I spent several years unthinkingly looking at whatever immaculate — but ultimately forgettable — wallpaper, the maker’s of my phones decided to serve me. I’m glad I’ve changed that.