Let’s begin with a confession.
I have never had a desire to own a cell phone, much less a smartphone. Still, I have had a cell for awhile. (Prepare to feel disdain. It’s a TracFone. I know, these days that’s like driving a Pinto.)
The phone cost me a full 12 bucks. A year ago I bought 365 service days for $119. I know – only $10 a month. How uncool can you get?
We had to do something when we sold our house over 4 years ago. The executive apartment which we rented had no place to plug in a phone, so we were dragged into the cell phone world. TracFone was the answer: no commitment, pay as you go, keep it simple and cheap.
The SmartPhone Offer
Recently the people with whom I work urged me to take advantage of their provision of a sleek glass and aluminum slab with a provided plan. I resisted. I sensed an impending rise in the sea level of life clutter in my future. One more thing to carry around. One more noise in my world.
Am I techno-phobic? No. A Luddite? No. I have been asked for help on tech issues by people 20 years my junior. An Apple Genius once expressed a fair amount of amazement at the diagnostics I had used on my Mac Pro at home. In turn, his amazement amazed me. And, some technological pieces do make me salivate, especially ones with four wheels, like this one.
This salivation has never happened over a cell phone, just as I have never salivated over the prospect of getting harassed by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes and cell phones share common characteristics:
Elegant, simple, streamlined technology that just works is desirable. Technologically-exacerbated life clutter is not.
Some folks extol to me the wonders of text messaging (one of the more klunky means of communication of the past 100 years). For those who believe their lives are void of color unless they can spray truncated 140-character missives all day long, I can accommodate them without ever touching a cell. All you need is Google Voice. Without spending a penny I’ve received and responded to text messages via iPad, laptop, or desktop. No money changes hands, and without stopping to pick up another device, I can send out responses to those missives at triple speed using a keyboard that fits human fingers rather than small pencil erasers.
Actually, it’s the cell phone culture that rankles me, more than the technology itself. It plays along with the superficial aspects of American culture in general, contributing to our insatiable demand for instantaneity.
1) Smartphones make people stupid. (Have you ever felt like igniting the “Bonfire of the Inanities”?)
2) Smartphones make people oblivious. Who hasn’t been around the high-powered business traveler who broadcasts to all within a 40-yard perimeter her latest sales conquests, barking directives to a subordinate, or shredding a co-worker’s character in minute detail? She seems to have no idea that 148 people are taking it all in – involuntarily.
One day I was in the local mall. Ahead I spied a young high school girl, engrossed in the tiny screen in her hands. Her thumbs were busy. I was ready to employ an evasive maneuver. Never taking her eyes or thumbs of the Object of her Adoration, she gracefully eased to the right at the last moment. We passed without eye contact. She’s not alone, as you can see here.
3) Smartphones cause isolation. I was counseled by someone that when I obtain my phone, I should not answer it, but just return calls. From my experience people take that to heart! So, the very means of connection empowers people to avoid being connected.
An ongoing mystery to me is the phenomenon of two or more individuals at a restaurant table, spaced of into their tiny screens, communicating with people who are not there and ignoring the warm humans right next to them.
5) Smartphones make people more self-centered and demanding. We feel so entitled to instant everything, and cell phones exacerbate that demand for immediate response. “Didn’t you get my text??”
‘I am grateful to and care about the people who think I need the latest glass and aluminum slab with the logo of partially eaten fruit. I admire that company’s products, and enjoy some aspects of having their cell phone. The first advantage is that I can retire the Tracfone and save $10 a month. Nice. Another is I can dictate text messages, for those who must have that means of communication.
Will I wear the device on my hip? No.
Will I carry it in my pocket? No.
Will it be glued to my ear? No.
Finally, what do you think are the first features I learned on the new shiny device? They were: location of the off button and “Do Not Disturb” switch.
How have you done in the battle to rule the phone rather than letting it rule you?