I told anyone who asked that no, I wasn’t caught up in the iPhone frenzy. I simply needed a new phone.

The camera on my “ancient” iPhone 4 was badly scratched, likely from riding in my pants pocket with my car keys (I never use one of those God-awful plastic phone covers that look like orthodontic head gear on an adolescent child). The earphone jack also was all screwed up and slightly dented from the many times the phone slipped out of my hand. And the glass on the back cover was chipped, making for a possible cutting hazard.

Sure, the actual phone part still worked (sort of), but who uses the phone when they have an iPhone? In fact, who talks to people anymore when they can simply text?

Anyway, I needed a new phone. And along comes Apple with a brand new model. I intended this column to be a sort of review of the iPhone 5 and all its sexy new features, but what’s the point? It is, after all, just a frickin’ phone. However, there are a few obvious differences that could be pointed out.

The iPhone 5 is slightly larger than my old phone; slightly lighter and thinner as well. I went with a white one this time instead of masculine black because I felt that much more in touch with my feminine side. White iPhones seem to represent: 1) That you’re a woman, or 2) That you’re one of those “artsy types” who is “really into good design.”

I actually chose the white one because I didn’t like the look of the black aluminum backplate. The white version, with its Stainless matte-finish backplate, better complimented the white frontglass (though the phone’s black screen ruins the overall whiteness effect. When are they going to come up with a white screen to match the rest of the whiteness? GET WITH IT, APPLE!).

The iPhone 5 also comes with a new power chord called a “Lightning connector,” which appears to have no added usable functionality other than to make more money for Apple by forcing people to buy $29 adapters so they can plug their new phones into their old iPhone-compatible clock radios.  

I think it’s my responsibility to point out that my iPhone arrived defective in the mail. The Lightning connector didn’t “connect” with anything. When I plugged it into my iMac a warning message blared: “THIS DEVICE IS DRAINING TOO MUCH POWER FROM YOUR USB PORT. THE PORT WILL NOW BE SHUT DOWN” or something just as alarming. When I plugged it into a power supply, it didn’t do anything at all.

I ended up having to drive all the way out to West Wonderbreadland to the Apple Store and swap the cable. The cheerful, very professional T-shirted “Genius” who helped me said she hadn’t heard about any problems with the Lightning chords, even though Apple’s online forums are rife with complaints. Who’s the ‘genius’ now?

One not so obvious problem with the new iPhone 5 is that it doesn’t look that much different than my old iPhone 4. So unlike with my first iPhone, which was met with gasps and finger pointing whenever it was casually brought out during a meeting, no one even notices this one no matter how big a flourish I make when I drop it on the conference room table. What’s the fun in that?

But the biggest difference between this phone and my old one is the addition of Siri, the ubiquitous “personal assistant” that charmed Martin Scorese, John Malkovitch and Samuel L. Jackson in the recent spate of iPhone commercials.

“Find me a store that sells organic mushrooms for my risotto,” a sweater-wearing Jackson barks into his jet-black phone. “This organic market looks pretty close to you,” chirps the ever-cheerful Siri before a confused Jackson asks it how many ounces are in a cup.

In those commercials, Marty and Co. are either by themselves or are in the back of a limousine talking to Siri. And if you’re alone, Siri can be a fun time waster, asking it all sorts of stupid things like, “Siri, who is your father?” Siri’s reply: “Do I have a family? Well, I have you.” Awww…

I’ve yet to see anyone use Siri in public, and for obvious reasons. There is no way to ask Siri a question without looking like a pretentious prick or a complete loon. Next time you’re at Baker’s, whip out your iPhone and ask Siri something very matter-of-factly like “Siri, are we out of butter?” and watch the eye-rolls from anyone in earshot.

While there’s no suave way to use Siri around people, what’s the point of verbally asking your phone questions in the first place? The best thing about iPhones — or any smart phone for that matter — is that it gives you something to do while waiting in line — any line. Who cares if the “professional shopper” in front of you is going to waste the next 10 minutes of your life flipping through a folder of coupons? Now you can catch up on all that pesky e-mail or look at the latest cute puppy or kitty photo posted by one of your Facebook “friends” who you’ve never actually met in real life.

Maybe the best part of having an iPhone is knowing that you never have to look like you’re alone… or even worse, look lonely. Whether it’s dining at a table for one, sitting alone in a theater waiting for a movie to start or standing by yourself at a rock club, you no longer have to feel as if all eyes are staring at “the loser standing by himself.”

Just whip out your iPhone and start tapping, and suddenly you look like a power broker too busy to deal with such petty human interactions, instead of who you really are — some guy who couldn’t talk his wife or friend into coming along for the evening. Or as Siri would say: “Are you really alone? Well, you have me.”

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

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