I gave up my smartphone for a dumb one.
I’m not a 70 year old man frustrated with newfangled technology. I’m a 30-something-ish woman who wants to get back to basics. When I confronted myself today and tried to figure out what the biggest, most unproductive time-suck in my life is right now, I could see it as I robotically scrolled through old messages using my phone’s touchscreen.
It was the micro-checking of my smartphone every time it chimed. It chimed if I received a text message, an update, an email on any of my four email accounts (one for personal use,one for the blog, one for coupons and one to give to people I don’t actually like and never want to hear from), my Facebook account, my blog Facebook page, my blog Twitter account, my blog’s WordPress page or when I received an actual, but increasingly rare and old-fashioned, phone call.
I was also tired of the nervous twitch that I had developed to check to see if any of those notifications might be coming in throughout the day. It chimes. When I turn it down, it vibrates. When I de-activate that, the green light blinks. Seriously, there is no escape from the audio-visual knowledge that something is there for you to open. Even if you turned off the data plan, all it would take is a simple, “I wonder what’s playing tonight?” to compel a quick phone call to turn the service back on. “I’ll turn it off next month”. Whatever. Junkie.
Some might say that it all boils down to a lack of discipline, priorities or internal strength. This may, in fact, be true. But, it has become the new normal. I beseech you to look around the next time you’re in the mall at all the people walking past you. Most everyone, including some kids, are probably clutching their cell phones like life support. Women carrying purses the size of a truck tire, have their cell phone in one hand. Teenagers sitting across from one another are communicating via text and they are separated by three small floor tiles. Men are walking, yapping and texting away, using peripheral vision to avoid collisions.
I have downgraded my spiffy smartphone for a phone that looks a whole lot like the one I carried 10 years ago. I can make and receive calls. I can take quality photos and video. I removed my 30 dollar a month data plan and opted to be able to send the photos via text. I’m saving money. I questioned my resolve for a short second when I was informed by the technician that I could always re-activate my smartphone but I will have lost the unlimited data plan I had been grandfathered into. For the same price I was paying, I would only be able to use 2 GB per month. This is the magic number, it appears, because most people use more than 2 GB per month. I’m certain I do.
I look at giving up my unlimited data plan as proof of a supreme commitment. If you consider that, in this age of the internet, commitment in many new modern relationships is signaled by someone making their e-Harmony profile unsearchable, then this step is surely a monumental one. It’s like I’m practically engaged to this fossil of a phone. Unlike the guy who just pushes a button so people can find his dating profile in the morning, I would actually have to pay out the nose to exploit the internet shamelessly in the future should I relapse.
As I thought about whether I could commit to an app-challenged phone, my smart phone kept chiming every minute or two on the other side of the counter where the Verizon Technician was looking at it. It was like crack. I wanted to reach across the counter and rip it from her. Who was trying to reach me? What if it was important? What IS my friend Gretchen having for dinner? What about Lisa?
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, when she went to the back, I picked it up, unlocked it and saw that Brothers All-Natural Crisps were now discounted by 2 dollars per dozen and that Zulilly was having an awesome Crocs sale. This is what I’m talking about. This validated my decision to reclaim my time to focus on more important things.
I told her to go ahead. Make my phone dumb again.
In addition to saving time that was being expended in these micro-transactions throughout the day (that sometimes translated into more lengthy ones), as well as the money we’d save each month without the data plan, I think I’m probably most relieved to not have to face the panic of the “OMG- WHERE IS MY PHONE!!!!!” moment that happens every once in awhile.
I can’t count the times that I’ve made it to my mini-van with two toddlers in tow, a cart full of groceries in 110 degree heat, only to find on one of my nervous checks that my phone is not in my bag, not in the van, not in the cart, not under the seat, not in my son’s pants, and not on the ground. I race like a banshee into the store, mowing over kids and old people re-tracing my steps, breathing heavily, near tears thinking, “MY ENTIRE LIFE IS ON THAT PHONE”.
That phone posesses every account, every photo, and critical identifying information. Who cares if it’s passworded? It’s in there and someone is going to find it, exploit it, steal my identity, ruin my family, bankrupt us and my kids futures’ will be over. I start to feel sick. I beg strangers to let me use their phone to call my own in hopes that I’ll hear that familiar ring, which I don’t. I hear my own voice on the voicemail telling me that I’ll call me back whenever I find my forsaken phone!
Every time it happens, and I find it at the last moment sitting on a shelf of kid’s shoes where I set it when I tried to unsuccessfully squeeze my kid’s fat foot into a sandle, I collapse on the nearest chair, sweaty and panting, and I swear I am getting a dumb phone. Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow. And, of course, I don’t. Until today.
There have been a few other unexpected by-products of this decision. About a year ago, I received a request to “sync” my phone with my email contacts. I didn’t really know what that meant. I selected “Yes”. This imported every single email and phone number amassed in an email account I’d had for 10 years. It happened again shortly thereafter for another email account. I accidentally said “Yes” again and it imported every email and phone number for another one.
Before this, I had about 50 easy to find phone numbers that I had inputted into my phone. These are the people I really care about. These are the people I want to actually talk to on a daily basis. I could no longer find their phone numbers. When I wanted to call my dad, I had to go to “Search” and type in “DAD” because my contacts had become so convoluted and unnavigable. (Dont be offended you’re not on that list. I doubt I’m on yours, either.)
There were literally over 2,000 contacts in my phone address book and I didn’t know half of them. Back in 1998, I made the mistake of “Replying All” to one of those mass chain emails with a 3 page address list promising to grace me with a million dollars if I would just forward that goofy chain letter to 20 more of my friends. I “Replied All” with a “Don’t ever send me this junk again” message. I thought I was the cool, stern, rational kid who didn’t fall for such lame schemes and I wanted them all to know it. Every one of those idiots has been in my address book for the last year. And, now, look who’s the idiot. I should have just forwarded the damn email to twenty of my friends.
When the Verizon technician transferred my contacts today, I saw something beautiful. My original contacts! The ones I cared enough about to actually input myself, number by number. There they were. The list was so short. It was so sweet. Score for the dumb one.
I’d post a picture of my new dumb phone. But, I can’t. My new phone just doesn’t have the chops. If any of my Facebook friends are wondering why they haven’t heard about my new dinosaur phone it’s because I had to drive all the way home first, feed my family, play with my kids, throw in a load of laundry and write this before I even thought about getting on Facebook to update my status.
I already feel free. It feels better than finding out that my ex-boyfriend “is tired of eating Doritos every night and he just wants to find a decent woman, already” as soon as he posts it. Well, maybe the shadenfreude of knowing that he by-passed a good one is slightly better than my newfound cellular freedom- but it’s a pretty close tie.
Oh,and by the way, Facebook just notified me that the ever-invasive smartphone contacts list they just started poaching to send out friend suggestions to my unsuspecting associates, has just been removed. It’s because I don’t have a smartphone anymore. And maybe I won’t have to look like Robocop once a year wearing that wrist brace because my carpal tunnel is acting up again from typing on that microscopic keyboard.
As digital convenience starts to make my life more complicated and difficult, (Hello, 2 GB of unprinted and un-culled digital photos spread over four computers, 3 external hard drives, an online back-up service, Facebook, and Shutterfly) I have to question whether or not all this easiness and immediacy really is better. I’m looking forward to moving backward a little to move forward. I’m feeling good. I think this downgrade might be the best upgrade I’ve had in a long time.