With the death of my basic phone, would my simple-living ideals die with it?
Recently, something I’d been dreading happened. My phone died. My handy little flip phone, scratched and nicked from being dropped dozens of times by me or one of my young kids, refused to turn on. I begged it loudly, “Please work! I only want you!”
No response. Reluctantly, I went to the cellphone store. I wore skinny jeans. A tunic. Lipstick. It was an attempt to look hip, because I knew that what I was about to admit was very old-fashioned.
“Um, my phone’s broken,” I said to the twentysomething who greeted me, holding my phone up but shielding it mostly with my hand.
“No prob,” he said, craning his neck to see the model.
I laughed nervously. “It’s a basic phone.”
“Oh, we can get you a Smartphone.”
“But I really want a basic one.” I practically whispered this.
“Okay, absolutely! We’ll upgrade you.”
I exhaled, shocked at my luck, and sort of flipped my hair and marveled at his use of the word “upgrade.” Because the truth is, I don’t think I know anyone who has a basic phone anymore. Even my late-adapting-to-technology friends have converted by now. And a couple of years ago, I too succumbed momentarily, buying a shiny new Android with a pretty blue case.
But I hated who I became in its presence, which was always. My phone would beckon to me all day, from my desk, the counter, my purse, even from the basket of my cruiser bike while I was riding through the Cottonwoods along the Poudre river, looking for a good spot to meditate. Tweet a photo of your beautiful lunch, it would whisper. Or, What if you have a new email from the last five minutes? Sometimes it would goad me to take a selfie. Or urge, You should write a snarky response to your “friend” on Facebook who wrote that totally narcissistic post today. Ooh, ooh, here’s what you could say.
It was an ongoing stream of chatter, prompting me to do things that felt very unlike “me.” Within two weeks I began to feel fragmented and shallow, like I was living my life through a series of social media posts and emails. It would unsettle me when, during a face-to-face interaction with someone, they’d direct me to Facebook for their updates. Or when a friend or colleague would express conflict through email or text instead of addressing the issue directly by picking up the phone or arranging an in-person meeting. Instead of feeling more connected, I felt lonely.
Perhaps my reaction was due, in part, to the fact that I have context to ground me. When I was very young, landlines in homes rang and rang until someone did (or didn’t) pick up the phone. Later, answering machines came along, but they were like a laid-back secretary. I took it for granted at the time, but I realize now how freeing it was to have that space and time, to not feel pressure to be available 24/7 and respond immediately and share everything. It shaped who I am today and I feel fortunate for that.
At the same time, I understand that technology has opened doors, often in extremely beneficial ways. I studied genetics in college and I’m especially wowed by the improvements in screening for and treating various diseases. I also love that my dental appointments are more efficient and less painful! But when it comes to how technology has impacted human communication, what I mostly feel is contraction.
And so, backwards or not, I made a personal decision to return to a basic phone, allowing me to contain my time online to when I’m at my laptop. I find I use a more thoughtful approach to my communication this way. With social media, I’m less likely to act impulsively and more apt to consider what and why I’m sharing.
Which leaves space for the age-old practices I value, like the art of being alone. When I’m waiting for a friend in a restaurant, I simply sit. I also handwrite letters to a pen pal in Michigan, enjoying the tactical experience of putting words on paper. Determined to instill these values in my kids, I’ve been enhancing the bits of cursive my son has learned in third grade, both so he can practice this if he chooses, and also so he can read the notes I’ve been writing for him since he was born.
At the cellphone store, as the salesperson finalized my contract and handed me my new-but-still-basic phone, a bit more fancy with a slide-out keyboard, I suddenly felt lighthearted. “I bet you don’t get many requests like this,” I said, joking. “We’re a dying breed.”
“Actually,” he said, “You’re the third person today.”