The Kitchen Table #363 – Your Smart Phone Is Not A Poison Counter

Abe Sargent was just about ready to kill his opponent… when his opponent’s phone rang.

I peered at my opponent across a trio of cards in hand that would seal his doom. Each of them was enough on their own to win the game. I had two copies of various Wrath of God effects and a Restock. With my creature and manlands, I had this. He had three poison counters, and I had out a certain Blight Dragon plus two copies of Inkmoth Nexus (one was a Vesuva).

I would win in two turns. Just play Day of Judgment and regenerate. I’ll kill all of his little guys and then make my lands swing for two more counters, and next turn, barring something weird, I win. I like winning the first game of a new deck.

My renovated Counterpunch deck now had infect cards and proliferate in addition to cards with counters. With a nice addition of sweeping removal and more, I was beating this guy down in my office. As I began to tap my mana for a Day of Judgment, it happened. Someone called this guy’s cellphone.

I’m a pretty nice guy most of the time, but I do not like people who spend too much time talking on the phone while I’m waiting. I hate cellphones and what they’ve done to our culture. It used to be that you had to be a criminal to get a tether. If I didn’t have to have one for work, I wouldn’t have one at all. Of course, my job pays for it, so I suppose that I’m okay there. I have this old flip-top prepaid cellphone that I add time to like an old-school calling card. I’m so jank.

I don’t mind smart phones as much. I get that they do a lot of other things for you besides a phone. Look, a calculator! Look, an e-mail! Look, a game! Look, a camera! Look, a browser! Look, porn! I get it. It’s not my thing, but I get it. I carry around a pink (it’s not pink; it salmon) DS with a black nerf protector. Daddy needs his games. Every day, if I don’t hit a game, I’ll start having withdrawal symptoms. It’s Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in reverse.

I love new technology and remember that much of it was meant to bring us closer together. The great march of time is about making the world smaller—boats instead of swimming, horses instead of running, cars instead of horses, ships instead of boats, telegraph instead of mail, telephone instead of telegraph, and now e-mail, texts, Facebook, and more have done everything to make our communication and connection instantaneous. Everything is at the speed of the human heart. This is progress.

And when people take that progress and use it for separation, that’s when I take issue. People who talk on cellphones in order to ignore real people—that’s annoying. People who listen to headphones instead of interacting with the real world—that’s irritating. I grew up in Boone County, WV. We would hit people if they were rude to you. I think we’ve lost the civility of savagery. When you were beaten up for being rude, you were nice to everyone. Now you can sneer without fear of being smeared. You can snub without glub of… yeah, I’ve got no rhyme for that one, sorry. In days of old, we had chivalry and politeness.

I’ve recently found myself miffed by people who use smart phone apps during conversations. Eye contact folks—you’ll never get a date without it. I run a freshman dorm at a large state college—we see lots of issues where people are constantly just saying things online without thinking about them first. Their words are permanently etched into the fabric of the ether. Then someone reads those words, and suddenly fights ensue. They refuse to talk to each other; they yell at each other; and relationships die. What was once said in private as a way to vent is now taken online.

At least those who use smart phone apps in conversations aren’t venting improperly, but just being rude. The first time someone pulled out their cellphone to check prices of Magic cards during a trade, I had no idea what had happened. Imagine a Woolly Mammoth encountering an abortion clinic. It wouldn’t even make sense in a Douglas Adams novel.

The second time it happened I was more prepared. I still was thrown for a minute, but I was able to breathe and concentrate my way out of the panic. Were these people checking the prices of fruits and vegetables at Wal-Mart before making a purchase at the local farmer’s market? I doubt it. Were they checking the price of taxi fare before offering $5 for a ride to the card store? I doubt it. Where did this need to check prices during a trade come from?

Let’s be honest—who really cares if five Go for the Throat are worth nine dollars, ten, or eleven? Just agree, make the trade, and move on. I don’t mind someone price shopping before making a purchase—feel free to check prices all day long. But let’s not hold up social interaction in real life in order to browse the internet. I don’t want to wait while Mr. McScrooge takes five minutes to verify that yes, Inkmoth Nexus is a twelve-dollar card. Annoying. During that time I could have, you know, had a conversation with someone.

The most annoying use for these new-fangled smart phones is the Magic apps. Look, let’s not nerd-out your smart phone too much. Remember, on your first date, when you go to the bathroom, she will look at your cellphone. Having a bunch of Magic apps is the smart phone equivalent of finding embarrassing laundry. It’s not a stop sign per se, but it’s not exactly going to add to the likelihood of breakfast.

(And by the way, this is an excellent time to point out the StarCityGames.com app—which you can find right here.)

Anyway, let’s rewind to the Commander game, already slowed by the conversation currently ongoing between me and an acquaintance. My enemy Magic player was the sort of person to use apps exclusively for things. Everything, actually. Random dice rolls for D&D, odds tables for sports betting, chemistry class apps, catalogues for every little thing he owned (including clothes and music), and more. Forget Magic cards; this guy was a collector of apps.

With his apps, he found something that used his smart phone as counters and tokens. After he made a pair of Elephant tokens from Call of the Herd, he used his smart phone to make 3/3 Elephants, with a count of two. I have no clue what app he used, but it was awful. I killed them with my first Wrath effect (I think it was Austere Command that did the trick). Later, when my Inkmoth Nexus began to deal damage, he typed something in, and his phone appeared exactly like the poison counter card from Scars of Mirrodin block exactly with a count of one in a corner. The idiot dropped some stupid flier against me, and I was unable to hit for a while, and so I copied the Nexus when I drew Vesuva.

Eventually, the board position moved to me, and I had three cards in my hand. Three poison counters, a grip of mass removal and recursion, and his death on the board. Despite my very strong position, the phone rang. Time passed very slowly. Most of the old lines we hear from our childhood are pure crap. Do you really believe that “Too many cooks spoil the batter?” After all, do you want fewer people helping you move across state? Do you want a reduced number of people in your department at work? This is a clearly flawed premise.

A few hold truth. On this day, I learned that one of them was “A watched pot never boils.” In modern-day speak, “An observed person on the cellphone never hangs up.” I don’t know why, but clearly the longer I knifed beams from my eyes to his skull, the longer he spoke on the phone. The half conversation I overheard didn’t have the tenor of an emergency, just a casual conversation.

After three eternities, my opponent hung up. Once again, I had wasted time in my life. Hello, welcome to Conversation World, I’ll be your host. In Conversation World, there are a few rules:

1). Take it in turns to talk

2). Even if you are just waiting your turn to speak, and not listening, pretend you are

3). Don’t do things to interrupt the flow of the conversation

4). Never, under any circumstance, mention that thing you did in Billings, Montana, the night you were drunk.

5). Pretend you don’t have any neuroses.

Speaking on a cellphone with a whole other person is a clear violation of rule #3. That’s the conversation equivalent of a ten-yard penalty and an automatic first down. The last two offenses are reserved for unsportsmanlike conduct and fifteen yards, while the first two are more of the technical five-yard offsides penalty.

(On the other hand, speaking on the phone to a robot, computer, AnthroPC, or imaginary friend is an entirely different column.)

Finally, when my not-so-friendly-not-quite-a-friend-but-not-really-a-stranger-other-person got off the phone, we had our little epiphany. He just looked down at his phone, sheepishly. After an awkward pause of length significant enough to make John Cage’s 4’33” look like a shrug of the shoulders, I inquired as to why he was just looking at his app.

And that’s when he made his confession. He just looked up at me, with the innocent eyes of a cherub, and told me that his app had stopped counting during the phone conversation. He no longer knew how many poison counters he had (or how much life for that matter).

That was when every fiber of my being began to burst. I’m normally annoyed by someone using their technology to keep themselves from conversation and the people around them. With the length of the conversation combined with the pause, and now the revelation, a holy anger began within me.

I felt as the scion of an angry god, while my rage built. My normal irritation was enhanced and multiplied by the situation. When I get angry, I become harshly sarcastic. My words are laced with increasing acidity as I get angrier. With the rising tone of death in my very being, various phrases began to occur to me.

I would give this person a vitriolic comment so acerbic that his ears would wilt. I would inject his soul with so much poison that it would wither. I would become the living embodiment of the very infect mechanic that his actions had countered. My mouth would expose the devastating truth of my foe’s existence and leave only suicide as an alternative to a life of app collecting and social awkwardness. After I had lanced his heart with my acerbic wit, only the roses of scorn would grow there.

My mouth opened to spew forth a massive attack, but too many great ideas conflicted. At that moment, too many comments began to fight for preeminence. The winning taunt of this contest would be dispatched with alacrity, but time was wasting. I wanted to blast my foe with my intelligence, sarcasm, and disdain. I wanted to illuminate how the culmination of these various accoutrements in his life was hurting his development as a human and a member of the global community. I wanted to use my scorn to enlighten.

This would be my greatest work of art. This would be my piece de resistance. This would be my crowning achievement. This would be the greatest burn of all time. Mothers would weep and fathers turn their head.

While trying to find the words best fit for a masterpiece, I realized that time was ebbing. Should I fail to immediately find the right words in the right order, I would be guilty of hypocrisy. I could not stall for time, thinking, if part of my tirade was geared towards the waste of time his life led to.

With haste my goal, I selected the first of the many competing phrases and spoke it. I had no more time for double-elimination tournaments. I needed to speak quickly. I didn’t even have time to judge my comment. Time was my enemy as well.

Thoughts of the unbidden began to emerge, and I began to say it. It came out uncensored, and I was willing to make no apologies for whatever impact it had. “Your smart phone is not a poison counter!”

I missed my mark by a bit.


Until later,
Abe Sargent

P.S.—At least one thing in this article is not true.