The Apps on My Cellphone, or Why I Would Be A Terrible ESL Instructor

Like most of you who own a smartphone, I have a variety of apps installed and I read an article recently on my NPR app about cellphone usage and boredom that I found rather interesting.

According to a recent study by a group called Flurry, the average mobile phone user now spends almost three hours per day on their phone. This led Manoush Zomorodi, who hosts a podcast called New Tech City, to wonder about the implications of so much phone use.

In the article, Zomorodi is quoted saying, “I kind of realized that I have not been bored since I got a smartphone seven years ago.”

Many of us, certainly, welcome the opportunity to avoid boredom, but Zomorodi began to wonder what we might be missing when we are so deeply engaged with our phones. As the article goes on to note, “studies suggest that we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored.”

So Zomorodi goes on in the article to explain how she (and others) is attempting to bring boredom back into our lives by reducing our time on our cellphones.

While I acknowledge that this goal has merit (even though I believe that disengaging people from their phones is generally futile), what about people like me who pick up their phone in order to distract their brain from ceaseless ridiculous thoughts (at least in my case), rather than halt the onset of ennui?

My phone is primarily used for business and communicating with my family through voice or text, but I do have an assortment of apps that I have installed. In addition to practical apps like Sports Center,, Weather Channel, two shopping apps, and the aforementioned NPR, I have a few games I play at various times throughout the day.

One game, called Punch Quest, involves navigating through a dungeon environment while punching skeletons, zombies, etc. Despite playing this game for a long time I have yet to discern any particular objective other than ceaselessly punching creatures until you lose all your allotted lives.

Another game, called Best Fiends, involves using a team of insects, which you can grow/evolve, to accomplish assorted tasks including the slaying of mutant slugs. As you have probably ascertained from these two descriptions, neither of these games involves any appreciable thought processes – I just tap or swipe my phone’s screen for as long as I feel the need.

If you read this column with any regularity, you may have at least an inkling of the stuff that can get stuck in my head. But if you are a new reader, or you are simply uncertain what sort of thoughts I am referring to, allow me to relate the following train of thought that has beset me during the past few weeks.

The impetus for these thoughts (as best as I can calculate) began with the New Year and the endless discussion of New Year’s resolutions, which I find annoying and just another construct to monetarily benefit corporate America, in this case health clubs and weight loss programs. Somewhere along the line, thoughts about the strangeness of the English language crept (as they often do) into my brain and the result was the following, ongoing daydream, which evolves and is added to with each ensuing day.

For some reason in this daydream I am teaching an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. I would note that I have never taught such a class, nor have I ever entertained any notion of doing so. Nonetheless I am standing in front of a classroom of undefined students. Behind me is a chalkboard (very old school – pardon the pun – I know), a portion of which is hidden behind a roll down map of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In a previous class I apparently gave the students a short pop quiz and I am currently informing them that they all failed. On the quiz, which related to place names in Wisconsin and the U.P., I asked them to phonetically spell out Shawano and Sault Ste. Marie. Needless to say, no student was able to correctly write out “Shah No” (or is it “Shah Know?”), nor were they able to correctly write “Soo Saint Muh Rie.”

I also asked them for the etymology of Sheboygan and Beloit. Again, no one in the class was able to correctly state that there is none. Both are simply made up. (NOTE: there is a line of thought that says “Sheboygan” is an old Native American word meaning water passage between the lakes. However, there is no old Native American that can confirm this, just as the name Chicago is supposedly an old Native American word meaning stinky onion, as an homage to an odiferous plant that was once widespread in the swamp on which the city is built).

With the pop quiz failures out of the way, I gaze out over my still undefined, though disconsolate class, and move on to my next lesson (as you can probably tell, my daydream self is thoroughly enjoying this process). I roll the map back up to reveal the following sentence that I have carefully lettered on the chalkboard:

“Herman was resolute in his resolve to keep his New Year’s resolution this year, despite his failures in the previous 31 years.”

“All right class, who can tell me which two words in this sentence are redundant and why they are redundant?” I ask, with a bemused grin.

There is more to this daydream, as you probably guessed (possibly with considerable alarm), but I think it’s best to stop before one of you feels compelled to file committal papers.

All I ask is this: if you happen to run across me playing one of those inane games on my cellphone that I mentioned earlier, understand that I am simply trying to quiet my brain and I am not nearly as detached as you might otherwise assume.