I am at a swim meet in Roseville, Uno cards in hand. Around me, my teammates are engaged in card games ranging from Go Fish! to Egyptian Rat Slap to BS. Glancing to my left, I see my teammate shuffling frantically through his large pile of Uno cards.
He is not a threat. I have only two more cards plus my secret weapons, the two color change cards I’ve hidden under my towel.
My only challenger is our third player, who is calm and calculated as he puts down his second-to-last card.
“No way. Are you sitting on cards?” teammate No. 1 asks. I shift onto my own hidden cards.
“I am not!” teammate No.2 asserts. I secretly slide out a +4 and slap it down.
Teammate No. 2 groans as he draws cards, searching for a red.
This game reflects most of my first swim meets. Ever since I joined the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team (TTST) at age 8, I kept a pack of Uno cards and regular cards in my swim bag. At first, they were well used. But slowly I noticed my teammates disappearing from the circle and the card games.
I was the youngest of my group, so all my teammates got their first phone before I did. In a span of two years, I became the only swimmer on my team who brought cards or books to swim meets. That’s not to say that I couldn’t entice older swimmers to play a round of Go Fish!, but everyone seemed more interested in mobile games than talking to each other.
The apocalypse had begun.
2013: The bite
The Western Zone Swim Meet was the highlight of my year as an age-group swimmer. It was a highly selective team travel meet; you had to be picked out of all the applicants to represent your Local Swimming Committee (LSC).
This year it was in Seattle. I was 11, and I insisted that my parents get me a phone. My argument was, “I want to be able to call you from my own phone instead of having to borrow someone else’s!”
Secretly, I wanted an iPhone so I could fit in with all the other 11-year-olds and hop onto the trend of mobile gaming.
My parents reluctantly agreed and got me a phone. A week before the Seattle Zones, my mom carefully handed me a large rectangular box.
“Is this my phone?!” I practically shrieked, excited beyond measure. Tearing open the box, I searched for the familiar sleek black screen I saw my parents always staring at.
Instead, I was met by a skinny flip phone.
“What is this thing?” I asked, flipping it open. A happy little chime played as my mom pressed the power button and programmed in her number. Meanwhile, I was far from happy; of course, I was thankful to have some sort of phone, but I still didn’t fit in with the other swimmers.
It didn’t help that I also had no clue how to call or text on my phone — much less charge it. At Zones, while everyone else was calling their parents, I was struggling to figure out how to turn on my phone. I learned the third day of the meet that none of my attempted texts had gone through when the head chaperone got a panicked phone call from my parents asking why I hadn’t contacted them yet.
Since I was incapable of learning how to operate the flip phone, my parents grudgingly handed me their old iPhones while they upgraded to newer versions.
Thus began my dependence on my iPhone.
Tumbleweeds blow through the swim team tent. Besides the rap music blasting from portable speakers and the occasional harsh exhale of someone not quite laughing at a video or photo, the tent is quiet. Everyone is sucked into their phones, constantly checking Instagram and Snapchat or playing video games. Our coach comes over to tell us something motivational, but nobody looks up.
“Hey, I’m talking to you!” he says, getting annoyed when only a few people glance at him.
“That’s it — everyone put your phones away,” my coach demands. As if we were a wave of zombies, we all start groaning.
“Phones … phones!!!”
“As long as you are competing in the meet, you may not look at your phone. Keep it in your bag,” he says as the grumbling grows louder.
His request makes sense — even Olympians are required to turn off their phones to avoid distraction. Swimmers who spend meets obsessively hunched over their phone, which many of us do nowadays, are usually sluggish and unfocused when it comes time to race.
I’ve experienced this feeling on several occasions at swim meets. Apps are designed to be addictive, so after indulging myself for an hour on the Instagram explore page, it’s hard to be interested in swimming.