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Exile in Phonelessville

It all escalated rather quickly. I wasn't even in a bad mood, just trying to wrangle the family to make a rare appearance at synagogue services after a packed season of Saturday soccer games.

We had exactly seven minutes to drive downtown and park, which sounds dangerous and impossible from midtown but is totally doable if you catch the light at Victory.

But my phone kept dinging with texts and the dog started yapping and then my son was stalking around the front yard in his underwear muttering that he couldn't find his pants and — the dam just broke.

Suddenly I was screaming "I'm pretty sure your pants are NOT in the goddamn azaleas" loud enough for the people on the next block to hear and performing a dramatic interpretive anger dance that culminated in the throwing of what I call my little church purse at the car with a rather impressive thunk.

Lipstick and a driver's license do not make a sound like that. A clonk of that particular heft is reserved only for a flat rectangular object of a certain weight. An object just upgraded a few weeks ago for which I had not yet bought a protective case.

When I picked up the little church purse off the yellowing fall grass, I unzipped it to reveal the screen of my new iPhone 5c as dark and shattered as the dreams of a graceless rhinoceros hoping to join the roller derby.

My rage instantly dissipated into tail-tucked shame. I apologized to all who had witnessed my hysterical diva act. I guess I hadn't noticed the stress levels ratcheting up, what with hosting the holiday feast and the whole work/life balance wobbly plate-spinning act, not to mention the introduction of an alien-developed "new math" in my fourth grader's class that appears to have done away with actual numbers in favor of conceptual essays.

At least I could find comfort in the fact that my marbles had exploded on my own lawn and that no one appears to have posted it on YouTube.

It was only after I got glass shards in my finger pathetically begging an impassive SIRI to text my husband that we would not be seeing each other in the pews that I realized I had done more than embarrassed myself: I had effectively cut myself off from the rest of the world.

A trusted friend advised that I not air the dirty laundry of my adult-sized temper tantrum here in this column, but for the sake of exploring the foibles of humanity, I am always willing to sacrifice my own dignity.

Surveys conducted on and offline reveal that I'm not the only person who has ever lost their shit and turned their smartphone into a projectile. And when it comes to dependence on our little rectangular boxes, I know I'm in fine company.

Our phones are so much more than pocket-sized computers that allow us instant email access and flattering filters for our profile pictures. They're our security blankets and loyal BFFs, providing us an escape when we feel uncomfortable at a party and fostering the illusion that we are working when we are actually shopping for sweaters on ModCloth.

They are emblems of style, a carefully chosen accessory to reflect our allegiance to one operating system or another. We use them to watch the stock market or videos of dogs wearing liederhosen at the breakfast table. We instantly settle the argument that it was 1985, not 1987, when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as Van Halen's lead singer.

Texting has taken the inconvenience out of simple communiqués, and there's no denying that the maps app is what columnist Jane Fishman calls a "marriage saver." The problem is that we've gotten so needy that we can barely find our way out of a paper bag without plugging in an address.

They seem so shiny and innocuous at first, a perfect tool when we need a little extra speed in our everyday dealings. It doesn't take long for us to become intoxicated with the power, accomplishing in minutes what used to take hours.

Before you know it, you're just another sallow-faced junkie at its mercy, fumbling with it in the bathroom and fretting over it like Tolkien's Gollum and his precious ring.

Our obsession with our phones can classify as a real addiction, similar to compulsive gambling and substance abuse, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. The way I protectively clutch my phone definitely reminds me of how back in the day I used to worry over my cigarettes (housed in a similarly-shaped flat rectangular box, hmm), constantly patting myself to make sure they were still there. (Been quit from that habit for almost 10 years now, thank heavens.)

Even if you don't sleep with your phone under your pillow, the urgency to keep up with the barrage of texts and tweets can be mentally and emotionally overwhelming, sucking us into a time-evaporating vortex as we endlessly refresh multiple platforms. There's even a name for our hand-wringing anxiety about being separated from our devices: "Nomophobia" is the official psychological term for the fear of losing your phone.

But I'm hardly the person to provide you with a smug public service rant about such hazards. As I have illustrated above, having a smartphone certainly hasn't made me any less stupid.

After what the children now call Mommy's Big Hissyfit, I brought my battered phone to the techy people at iRepair on Bull Street to see if my phone could be resuscitated. They assured me it could — but I'd have to wait for a part to be shipped.

Two days later, when the new screen arrived broken, I was looking at doing Thanksgiving weekend cold turkey, so to speak.

Witnessing the facial twitches, the nice pregnant lady at the desk apologetically offered me the use of a Blackberry so prehistoric it might have been exhumed by Fred Flintstone. (Come ON, when's last time you used a trackball?) Forced into technological exile, I went back to the Dark Ages, relegated to checking email on a computer and forgetting to update Facebook.

I have now been apart from my Precious for over a week. The first days of withdrawal got kind of intense when I tried to slide open the refrigerator with my index finger and asked a bar of soap for directions.

After that, it became amazingly normal not to check my black box every 30 seconds. I especially have not missed the always ominous possibility of it sliding out of my back pocket and dropping in the toilet. (Which I, along with 19 percent of Americans, have done, according to another study. More dirty laundry.)

And here's the kicker: After months of feeling like I didn't have a spare minute, I've suddenly had time to knit a pair of lopsided handwarmers and play board games with the family. Denied the digital download of the Catching Fire soundtrack, we rediscovered our vinyl appreciation, thanks to a stack of classics from Graveface Records. Still, I could've really used some instant Google action when my spouse challenged my knowledge of '80s glam bands.

The petroglyph Blackberry makes outgoing calls and receives texts, so I haven't missed any emergencies, but it's so hideous that I feel no need to whip it out in public. Instead, I've been doing a lot of people-watching — though it's less interesting when it's just a bunch of heads bowed over screens, faces aglow.

The call that my phone is fixed will come at any minute, and I wonder if it's possible to mindfully return to the world of status updates and selfies. It's been an eye-opening banishment from the realm, and like Gollum over his golden band, I remain torn by the obsession and the desire to be free of it.