Oh, the joys of a smartphone! The computing power that once would have required a space larger than my Brooklyn apartment can now fit comfortably in your pocket or purse next to loose change and week-old mints from the Olive Garden. Weather updates! The Internet! Angry Birds! GPS! Most of us would be lost without one. Literally. But did you know there are some weird people who live everyday without a phone that has apps and e-mail? Did you know that some of those people were born after FDR left office? It’s true! I am one of them, and I wasn’t able to vote until that year Diddy started threatening everyone.
I haven’t always had a dumbphone. I’m not a luddite or some alternative wingnut out to prove a point. I haven’t gone retro and I’ve never owned any vinyl. Quite the contrary: I’m a certifiable technology fiend (see here), and have, for most of my life, been referred to, and not always in a kind way, as an “early adopter.” Yet for over a year, I’ve carried a phone that wouldn’t be considered state of the art if every other phone made in the past five years were suddenly raptured into gadget heaven. And doing so has been a conscious choice. Mostly.
Lost my iPhone, didn't die
In the fall of 2007, I summarily abandoned the comforts of a T-Mobile family plan and years of Mac agnosticism to embrace Steve Jobs and his glorious iPhone. I loved my iPhone and told stories of its greatness. And when the time came, I upgraded my silverback to an iPhone 3G (although I would later decide to skip the relatively minor update of the 3GS in order to wait on the iPhone 4, when my contract would allow me to get a new phone at a discount).
In the winter of 2009, though, something terrible happened: I lost my iPhone 3G in a cab during a visit to NYC (before I had moved here). Phoneless, short on cash, and unable to get a subsidized phone out of AT&T for several more months, I bought a $20 Go-phone from Best Buy to tide me over while I sorted things out.
At first I felt useless. If there’s any time when a person truly needs a smart phone, it’s when they’re thousands of miles away from home attempting to navigate the country’s most densely populated metropolis. But, as Michael Scott might say, somehow I managed. I trained myself to do all the quaint activities that smart phone people don’t bother with, like looking up addresses and event information before leaving the house, reading print publications while in common waiting areas, or asking a barista what song is playing instead of firing up Shazam and sticking my phone in the air. It took some time and adjustment, but before long my brain rediscovered how to function in the wild after years of outsourcing to the App Store.
I decided to keep my dumb phone. Instead of shelling out several hundred dollars for an unlocked iPhone or Android device, I axed my data plan and embraced a new austere lifestyle. Just as well: there was a recession on and I was barely employed at the time. I still wanted an iPhone 4, but until it was released the following summer, I would get by with just a tiny color screen, texts, and phone calls.
It wasn’t always easy.
The hardest thing about living without a smartphone for an Internet hound like me is the feeling of detachment. When you have a feature-rich, web-connected device on your person, you walk a little more lightly. Almost literally anything could happen to you and you could find your way out of it somehow. It’s like being MacGyver. “Oh, a tornado swept me out of my apartment and dumped me in an open field? Better check to see when the nearest bus is arriving. And I think I’ll shoot and edit a quick video diary and post it to YouTube while I wait.”
By contrast, stepping out of the house with only a feature phone can feel like going into the wilderness. You’re in the world, but somehow disconnected from it. No e-mail, no Facebook, no Twitter, no New York Times… it’s as if you’ve time traveled 250 years into the past and only get news by word of mouth.
But there are good times, too! Ever since I’ve been carrying my little Go phone, I’ve found myself more present in conversations, more attuned to the quirks and rhythms of the world around me. I make more eye contact and don’t obsess as much about social media. When I had my iPhone, I had developed something I called “smart phone ADD”; even at work I couldn’t go 10 minutes without seeking out a distraction to fill up that ever-present 3.5-inch screen. I’m a more patient person now.
And you’d be surprised how much you can achieve with just texting and calling. Consisting strictly of a network of people with whom I’ve exchanged numbers, my phone has once again become an intimate connection to the people I care most about. Plus, if I’m in the wild and something amazing happens, I can still share it with my social networks via Twitter’s convenient text-to-tweet feature. Text messages: still awesome after all these years.
When will it end?
In case you couldn’t tell, I never did get that iPhone 4. This is what happened: When it was announced, I was contractually due for an upgrade and indeed ready to return to the iFamily (despite the furor over “antennagate”). But after my long wait, I had my heart set on a certain iPhone in particular: the white one. Yeah. We all know how that turned out. When Apple finally released the (admittedly gorgeous) device nine months later, I thought it better to just wait a little longer for the iPhone 5: I didn’t want to be made obsolete mere months after returning to the top of the mobile food chain. Of course, now rumor has it the iPhone 5 has been pushed back to a fall release—the first time this has happened since the original iPhone debuted in 2007.
Maybe I should just get an Android.
I know that I’ll own a smart phone again, soon. It’s only a matter of time. And when that day comes, I have no doubt that I’ll love it— I might even obsess over it. But I’ll always know that I don’t need it: my dumb year taught me that.