I don’t have a smartphone. I sorta feel like it’s time to talk about that fact.
I own a phone manufactured by LG that slides out to reveal a lovely QWERTY keyboard. I can make phone calls with it, and I can set up to seven different alarms. And that’s about it.
I’ll get to the “why” later. I know this is odd and you may feel like you can’t relate to this idea, but I know on some level you can. Maybe not now in 2019, but at some point over the past 15 years or so, you’ve experienced some of the things I’m about to talk about. The only difference is that, to you, it’s nostalgia. To me, it’s reality.
Being the Millennial without a smartphone is less weird than you might think. To me, anyway. There are two of us, actually. My wife is the other one. We’re certainly an endangered species. Anyway, just like anything else, there are pros and cons to not having a smartphone. The cons are easier to identify and, frankly, they might be things you’ve grown to take for granted. But they also tend to make life more interesting.
Has your phone ever saved you from a really awkward situation? Like, imagine you’re on a 5-hour flight seated next to a mouth-breather with the gift of gab. Isn’t it sorta nice to be able to pick up your phone and get lost in a sea of apps? I don’t have that luxury. In fact, if I tried to pull out my phone as a diversion, there’s no way the guy next to me doesn’t ask about it. To most people, my phone looks like an antique. A relic of a bygone time. So, I end up getting stuck in a conversation with the mouth-breather. But it’s not always so bad. After half an hour or so, the offensiveness of his breath wears off, likely because I’ve been smell-blinded, and we end up having a great conversation about the best place to get chicken wings in Memphis. I never would have learned about Mel’s Diner otherwise.
Of course, sometimes I hate my phone. For instance, I can’t group text with my buds. My phone can’t handle it. If I’m ever put on a group thread, each text shows up as it’s own message and I have to click through each one to understand the conversation. I’m probably not doing it justice explaining just how much it sucks. And worse yet, I can’t reply. If I do, it sends a direct message back to each person on the thread from me. It confuses the hell out of people. Sometimes that’s funny to me. Most of the time I just don’t respond. My friends think I’m a bad friend. I’m not! I just have a bad phone.
Other times, someone will send me a message and when I try to open it, my phone instantly shuts down. The trusty LG tries to open the message, sees that it’s from some fancy smartphone, freaks out, and goes to sleep. My phone can’t hang. And if a friend or family member tries to send a photo? Nah. I mean, it might come through, but if it does, all I’m seeing is an array of colorful but completely disorganized pixels. And don’t even get me started on emojis. ☐☐☐☐☐☐☐☐ <— That’s all I see when you text me an emoji. Stop texting me boxes.
And then there are the social ramifications of being the millennial without a smartphone. My coworkers get a kick out of it. Always poke fun at me. They all say the same things. “I thought my 89 year-old grandma was the last person on earth to own a phone like that.” “Does that thing really have a keyboard?” “Did you have to buy that off of Ebay?” “I can’t believe they still make phones like that.” Sometimes they’ll ask funny questions about my phone, almost as if they’re learning about ancient history.
And what about trying to run a website sans smartphone? Yeah, it can be pretty tough. WordPress and all the social media platforms have apps that make writing, editing, sharing, and posting super easy. But I – the Millennial without a smartphone – have to be tied to a computer with an internet connection to do all of those things. It gets frustrating at times, but it hasn’t stopped me yet.
I don’t go around thinking about the fact that I don’t have a smartphone. But there are certain times when I’m reminded of that fact. For instance, my side of the family met up in Gatlinburg, TN, over the 4th of July for vacation. We rented a big cabin in the mountains and spent the week hiking, shopping, eating, playing golf, so on and so forth. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Gatlinburg, but getting around can be rather challenging. Our cabin was way up a mountainside which required us to navigate a labyrinth of poorly labeled roads. Not having a phone connected to a satellite that could give instant driving directions made getting anywhere difficult.
But it didn’t make life impossible, like some people might think. All it meant was that I had to be better prepared. If we planned to hike in Rocky Mountain National Forest, I had to look at a map before I left the cabin. I tend to be pretty good with directions. It’s actually a point of pride, so much so that I tend to get really irritated when I miss a turn or can’t figure out an alternate route after I’ve missed said turn. So studying a map, finding landmarks to give context to a particular route, then committing the route to memory is something that comes fairly naturally to me.
But what about the times, say, when we’re driving through an unknown area and need to stop for gas and/or lunch but don’t have a smartphone to tell us where the nearest Panera (or whatever) is located? Those sorts of situations require adaptability. Thinking on the fly. The ability to make educated guesses and hoping for the best outcome. But more importantly, those types of situations require something I sometimes struggle with – humility. I said in the last paragraph that I get madder than a hornet if I get lost, but if I get lost, I absolutely have to have the humility to stop and ask for directions. In a way, owning a dumbphone is making me a better person.
So why have I held on to this dumbphone as long as I have? Honestly, I never intended to hold out this long. In fact, I never actually was trying to hold out. The thing is, technology is moving at an incredible rate. In the beginning of the smartphone revolution, I was in college and was simply too broke to afford a smartphone and the accompanying data plan. Then after I got married, we had student loans and rent and all the other expenses that come along with being an adult, and a $140 monthly phone bill just didn’t make it to the top of the priority list. At this point, it’s just second nature. I don’t even think about it, much less notice it, any more.
My biggest issue now is the fact that it’s getting harder and harder to find dumbphones. Like, I may actually have to get my next phone on Ebay. We tried to go into an AT&T store last year to look at phones. They had eight or ten display cases with all the different manufacturers, but after perusing for a minute I noticed they didn’t have any dumbphones on display. Of course not, why would they?
We had to ask the manager if they had anything else in the back. This definitely wasn’t as cool as asking a chef for something “not on the menu”. The manager sorta cocked his head to the side and stared at us for a beat before slowing making his way to the back of the store. A few minutes later, dude comes out with an old wooden chest covered in dust. It had a padlock on it and everything. From his pocket he pulled a massive iron key and unlocked the chest. He slowly lifted the lid to reveal the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was an LG Xpression 2 phone. Just like the one already in my pocket.
None of that happened, of course. Instead, the manager looked at us like maybe we’d just time-traveled from 15 years in the past, told us he hadn’t sold a phone like that in nearly four years, then laughed at us. He didn’t even try to sell us smartphones, figuring it’d be a fruitless task.
I’m not real sure how I want to end this, so why don’t I leave you with a little thought exercise. A challenge, should you choose to accept it.
Go three days without your smartphone.
Could you do it? What do you think that three days would be like? Give it a shot, then tell me about your experience.
Frankly, sometimes it’s kind of nice to get lost in thought while sitting in the waiting room at your doctor’s office. When was the last time you did that? ♦