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RSVPhillippi | DECember 2019

Dennis Phillippi


I have Skyped exactly once and it was by accident. I thought I was calling my friend Julie when suddenly her face appeared on my phone. Now I like Julie, and she’s a perfectly attractive person, but her unexpectedly being on my phone, and apparently able to see me as well, nearly made me run off the road. Yes, I was calling someone while driving, a terrible habit, but she was answering and looking at me while driving, which is a way more dangerous thing to do. What if I had been doing something else when I called her?  Like, say, not wearing pants?  

Lately I’ve been noticing more and more this whole FaceTime thing, and I have to say, it’s more than a little alarming. It seemingly went overnight from people talking or texting on their phone to people staring at one another while talking. Honestly, I don’t think I’m particularly good about looking people in the face when I’m talking to them in person, I certainly don’t want to have their face in close up, inches from mine. No one would sit with their face that close in a real conversation, they’d be considered a danger to society.

When we were young the idea of video phones was always being tossed around in science fiction and even back then I dismissed it as a part of the future I’d just as soon not be a part of. I’m a pretty odd-looking guy and there are plenty of times I don’t really want to be seen. I rarely even talk on the phone, I’m much more prone to text. But if I am forced to hold a conversation with you on the phone I don’t want to have to worry about what my hair looks like.

That’s another factor in this whole thing. From what I understand, you see the person on the other end of the call large, and yourself in a smaller inset screen. I don’t want that. At this point I’m trying to lose my hair gracefully and the last thing I want is a constant reminder of the state of my hairline.

Look, I’ve been in show business my entire life, so I am as vain as anyone you’re likely to meet. But having to actually look at my own aging mug all the time while talking to someone I don’t want to be talking to in the first place is just a drag of an idea. One of the secrets to remaining vain while aging is to stay steadfastly in denial. If I only look at my reflection under controlled circumstances, like, say, not in direct sunlight, fluorescent light, really bright lights of any kind, and certainly not on my phone’s hi-def screen, I can continue to bask in the false impression that I am still young and relatively wrinkle-free.  When you’re a middle-aged egomaniac this kind of thing is important.   

People do talk to one another on their smart watches and I understand that then you’re only seeing a tiny version of the person on the other end of the call, which wouldn’t be so bad. But then I’d be very aware that people are seeing me talking to my watch, which always looks stupid when other people are doing it. It was cool when Dick Tracy did it, but when it’s some lady in line in front of me at a fast food place, she just looks like a kook. Young people, you can look up Dick Tracy on your smart phone. He was a comic strip detective who, for some reason, always wore a yellow hat and yellow trench coat. I imagine he would’ve been what is now called an “influencer,” although I can’t for the life of me figure out what these people are supposed to be influencing us to do, other than worship ourselves.

And now, and now, some companies have decided that what we need is giant versions of this technology that hang on a wall, or are on your refrigerator. That means seeing them, and me, even bigger than in real life. That is a hard pass. As odd as it sounds coming from someone who is in movies, I do not enjoy seeing giant versions of my strange hollowed-out eyes and enormous overhanging brow. I like other people seeing me in movies. I avoid doing so like I avoid loitering at the DMV or asking about other people’s health.   

Part of this is, of course, a by-product of our new self-obsessed culture. Once people could take a picture of themselves and see it instantly it became an addiction, especially among young people.  When we were young if we felt compelled for, some reason, to take a snapshot of ourselves we would then have to wait until we’d shot out the roll, then send it off to be developed and in a few weeks we could see that we had no business taking a snapshot of ourselves in the first place. Once this new generation of self-worshiping goobers became capable of not only taking their own picture and seeing it immediately, but also able to post it online right away, it was inevitable that they would assume that the rest of the world wanted to see their picture too. Hence, social media. Sometimes I will violate the new social protocol and glance at what some young person is looking at as they scroll on their phone and a disturbing amount of the time they are looking at pictures of themselves. Our parents would have slapped us silly if they caught us just staring at photo after photo of ourselves. The Greatest Generation wouldn’t even talk about their experiences during Depressions and wartime, they sure wouldn’t have stopped walking the Dust Bowl or storming the Dardanelles to take self-portraits to look at later, or share with the world. They would have thought it, at the very least, unseemly.

God help me, I find myself agreeing with my parents about something.