Meet Susan Orlean's Best Friend (It's Her Phone)

“I spend a lot of time on Twitter,” Susan Orlean wrote today in the New Yorker, in her story on Horse_ebooks. But how? Recently, I asked her quite a bit about her relationship with her phone.

Has there been some kind of astonishing addition to your home screen recently?

Oh, I wish. Nothing astonishing.

I saw you recently took Settings off your homepage and replaced it with Messages.

Well, with the new software, you can flip up from the bottom for the most typical settings stuff. It’s almost like, you know, with a car you’re more interested in having the radio close by than the engine.

I saw that you have three mail apps on your home screen. Do you use Mailbox? I found I got irritated by it pretty quickly.

I have mixed feelings about it, but I do love rescheduling emails. I reschedule the boring stuff that I will otherwise forget. But I’m promiscuous when it comes to apps! I’m always flirting with new ones. Like calendar apps. I have millions of calendar apps. So I’m always looking at new ones and threatening to discard ones I’ve been using.

What’s the current calendar app you’re using?

I use Tempo. It still could be improved, but I actually do like it.

Where do you charge your phone at night?

It’s within striking distance—on my nightstand. It couldn’t be closer without threatening my marriage.

Do you use it as your alarm clock?

I use it as my alarm when I use an alarm. I’m one of those people who tends to wake up on my own, but I do use it when I’m traveling. And if I just happen to need one. I’m not even sure I have an alarm anymore.

Is the phone the first thing you reach for in the morning?

It is. I will give you an excuse for my sad dependence on it, which is now that I’m living in California, by the time I wake up many of the people I work with and know have been up for several hours. So there is actually often stuff that I do want to see. And a lot of times if I wake up early, I read the paper on my phone. It’s my best friend. We’re very close.

Do you keep your best friend in a case?

Well as further evidence of how much I use my phone, I ended up getting one of those cases that gives it a whole extra day of charge—which I began to feel I really needed because I was charging my phone during the day. And it was starting to become a problem where, mid-afternoon I’d be eyeballing outlets wherever I was. The problem is, now it’s no longer this sleek, slim little thing because of this bigger case.

Do you keep your phone on vibrate most of the day or do you use the tones?

Well I don’t keep it on silent. I almost never do—which is probably a bad habit. I leave it on. I actually realized the other day that I’ve got to change my ringtone because it’s too common, and the trouble is that you’re used to yours. It really is Pavlovian, and it takes a long time to retrain yourself.

Did you switch tones after the new ones were released with iOS 7?

Some of the new ones I thought were kind of nice. I’m not really into having a weird ringtone, or some song. I just want a ring that I can identify as mine. But I have one that is very popular. Marimba? I’m very often in a store, hear a phone ring, then I’m scrambling to find my phone and see someone next to me is actually answering the call. So. I’ve got to switch, but I’m not somebody who’s gonna go to the point of having a different ringtone for different people. You know, if I can’t look at my phone to see who’s calling, then something’s very sad in my life. No one calls anyone anymore, so tones have become far less meaningful.

Are you one of those people who, when you go somewhere—whether it’s dinner or work—you set your phone on the table in front of you?

I do it when I’m here or at the office. I put it on my desk because I want to be able to see if someone’s calling. Who it is. If I’m out to dinner, I definitely don’t do that. If I’m out to lunch in the middle of the day and things are still happening, maybe I do. But I think it’s slightly cheesy. If I can’t take 45 minutes to have lunch with a friend and not have a phone sitting out, there’s something very wrong.

I did just make the change where I have my messages come to my computer.

Is that working for you? It’s been a little wonky for me.

It’s sort of a weird thing! They come up on my computer faster than on my phone. There’s something weird about the way it syncs up, but I find it much more convenient to have it pop up on the screen so I can just quickly answer them rather than having to get my phone. Also, I work at a treadmill desk, so I don’t want to be reaching around a whole lot. I’m less likely to fall off the treadmill while I’m reaching for my phone.

Where do you keep it in your car?

I put it in the cup holder usually. My new car doesn’t have GPS, so there are a lot of times when I’m using my phone for guidance. And I have it hooked up on my Bluetooth so if someone’s calling me I can see who it is by looking at the stereo system. I keep it out because I don’t want to be reaching back to get my handbag to get my phone and then drive into a telephone pole.

Do you use it for music in the car, or do you still use the radio?

In one of my cars I can stream directly via Bluetooth from the phone to the stereo and use stuff like Spotify, but the car I drive the most—first of all, I have Sirius XM, so it’s easier to let that do its magic—but to play the music from my phone I have to physically plug it into the connector. And sometimes I don’t feel like bothering with that, so actually what I did was I put an old iPod that I’ve had for 1,000 years in the car, put all my old music on it, and now I can play all my music without needing the phone. But normal day to day, driving to the grocery store, frankly I just listen to the radio.

Do you play any games on it?

Not really! I have one game that is, what is it called? I haven’t played it in a while and it’s totally mindless, but it was the one game that I would occasionally play. Bejeweled! Which I would do sometimes when I was bored. It’s fun and kind of addictive and silly. But I have six or seven other games that my son plays. So when I’m somewhere and he’s bored and giving me grief, I say, “Honey! Want to play on my phone a little bit?” So I have these emergency games.

Do you do much reading on your phone? Not just books, but newspapers and magazines?

Not magazines, but I have a number of news apps. And I have a Kindle app—I’ve definitely read books on it. I have the Barnes and Noble app. Zola books, which is a new ebook company. I’ve read far more on my iPad, but before iPads existed I was reading a bunch on my phone. I remember the first ebook I read, I read on my phone. Madame Bovary. I thought, “This is a trip!” And I don’t mind reading on my phone. You have to flip more, but it didn’t bother me. And I certainly read all the time on my iPad mini, which is not that much different from a phone. I mean, the fact is you can make the font as comfortable as you need or want it to be, then it’s sort of all the same.

Thanks for chatting with me.

Oh my god! I just opened my new favorite app, which is the panda cam at the Washington Zoo. And the panda is out eating bamboo. And he’s super cute. Oh my god!

Well now I have to download that.

You’ll die. It’s really cool.

Bobby Finger loves a phone too.