The Rockwood Files: Simon Says

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Do you remember that old game kids played in elementary school? It’s called “Simon Says.” One person (who plays the role of Simon) stands in front of a row of kids and calls out commands like “Touch your ear” or “Take three steps forward.”

The only rule was that you absolutely could not do any of those commands if they weren’t preceded by the phrase “Simon says,” as in “Simon says quack like a duck.” If Simon didn’t say “Simon says” and you started quacking like a duck anyway, then you’d be out of the game. Simon’s job was to try to make you move even when the command didn’t include that critical phrase. The last person still standing and following Simon’s commands would automatically become the new Simon, and then the game would begin again.

I started thinking about that game last week when I realized an unsettling yet undeniable truth: My smartphone is Simon.

When the phone pings or sounds an alarm, I spring into action. The myriad of electronic reminders, appointment alerts and alarms I’ve programmed into my phone help me function like a responsible grown-up. Simon says it’s time to pick up the kids from school. Simon says the orthodontist appointment is at 4 p.m. Simon says pick up eggs from the store. Simon says text your cousin on her birthday.

The other day a friend mentioned an event that’s coming up in the next two weeks, and I scrambled to my smartphone to load the information into the calendar app. Then I set up several reminder alerts leading up to the date. “Sorry,” I said as I quickly typed the details into my phone. “If the phone doesn’t tell me to do something, it doesn’t get done.” She nodded her head knowingly. “I get it,” she said. “My reminder alarms are the only way I get through the day.”

That’s when it hit me: We do what the phone tells us to do. It’s just like being back on the playground in second grade, lined up next to a mob of other kids all waiting for our “Simon” to tell us what to do next. Only instead of touching my ear or taking three steps forward, Simon says to pay the property taxes on time, go to a business lunch at 11:30 and sign the kid’s permission slip for his field trip.

This explains why people will turn the car around and drive back home to fetch the smartphone they accidentally left on the kitchen counter. It’s not because they desperately need to make a phone call. (Who uses these things for actual phone calls anymore?) It’s because the smartphone is our personal “rememberer.” It guides us through our days, giving us a digital nudge or a screaming alarm when we need one.

But it makes me wonder. Is this phone dependence an example of how I’m making use of the modern-day tools available to me? Or have I outsourced my brain to a digital dictator? Why do I get the feeling I’m on an electronic leash? Perhaps the phone is running me instead of the other way around.

Even more frightening, what would happen if the Russians hack our phones and take control of all these electronic leashes? We’ll miss appointments! Our cousins won’t get birthday text messages! The kids won’t get picked up from school on time! No one will be home to meet the cable guy between three and five o’clock! It’ll be anarchy!

Those sneaky Russians might just have us all quacking like ducks in no time.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.