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Flirting with a Smartphone

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My close friends may know that for a millennial, I am quite a technological holdout. I still use Microsoft Word 2003, listen to music on a 4th-gen iPod Nano, and have yet to use social media platforms like Snapchat or TikTok. But what probably most makes me a Luddite is that I still have not acquiesced to the smartphone.

For the second time in my life though, my reliable brick of an ‘unsmart’ flip-phone is becoming obsolete long before it quits working. Network upgrades to 5G will soon render my 3G flip-phone incompatible.

And recently, I was loaned a smartphone to use while on a temporary job assignment, a phone which I was allowed to keep after the job was finished.

Am I now at a crossroads where I’ll join the darkside and become a smartphone user?

I must admit, having a smartphone has been fun for these first few weeks (although I refer to it as a ‘phone,’ it does not actually have a SIM card and therefore cannot be used to make phone calls, which is the primary definition of something being a ‘phone.’ I have been trying to call it for what it actually is, a ‘pocket computer,’ but the name hasn’t stuck and most people would colloquially recognize it as a phone anyway.)

Whereas in my primitive pre-smart-technological life, I would keep either a mental or written list of things I wanted to look up on the internet, and then wait to boot up my clunky old second-hand computer (c.2015) and do a big internet search session, now with a smartphone I have instant access to the world wide web and instant gratification to search for any bizarre or random thing that pops into my head at a moment’s notice. Having the internet in my pocket makes me realize how often I think of random questions that I’d like to research, and also how often I forget about those curiosities if I don’t immediately look them up.

Adamantly decrying smartphones for so long as I have, I found it funny how quickly I became attached to that little pocket computer companion once it was at my fingertips. Oh how easy it was to check messages and emails, to stay in constant contact with the broader world! I kept a web browser pulled up with my email on the smartphone. On breaks or brief moments of down time I could just so easily check for any new messages. And I constantly did check. Of course this was silly—my life hadn’t changed any—previously, checking my email and other messages every couple of days had been sufficient. And it still was sufficient. But I felt that tug of compulsion to constantly check and be connected just because it was so easy. The FOMO was real and it was strong—I couldn’t stand the possibility of missing something, even if it was just the latest promotional email from a company I bought one thing from years ago.

And then, there was my downtime. That phone was so easily a time filler. Getting off work, I would sit and relax in a big comfy chair, phone by my side. Inevitably I’d start browsing. My favorite site was realator.com. Before I knew it, a couple hours would have passed and I’d have progressed into looking at the real estate market in several far-flung cities that I had no intention of ever living in. Wikipedia rabbit holes were also another vice of mine, one that also got me lost for hours. On those evenings alone, that smartphone proved to be a source of mindless recreation, addictive from all the endorphin hits upon each new stimulus viewed. But it also was a huge time-suck.

After leaving the job that necessitated the smartphone, I lost my access to 24/7 high-speed internet along with the SIM card. My next job had me relocating to Bend, Oregon, and while on the extended cross-country drive, it was tough to give up that instant gratification. No more could I instantly research whatever popped into my mind, say the real estate market in Rockford, Illinois, or learning about what had actually happened at the OK corral. On the drive, I found myself periodically checking the phone like I had grown accustomed to—a habit that was so quick and mindless to form. But without service, the smartphone was little more than a slim computer. I had a lot of time to ponder things on my 2,000 mile drive, but I knew that I could no longer just whip out the phone and look something up. Still, the urge to research things on the phone was strong. Irresistible even. I often found the desire compelling enough that sometimes I just had to curb the anxiety by pulling into a McDonalds parking lot to bum WIFI for a few minutes.

So, after my month-long flirtation with a smartphone, am I ready to make the transition from a flip-phone myself?

Absolutely not. I appreciate my flip phone for what it is, and for what it is not. It is just a phone. It is a utilitarian tool, used to call people. The smartphone, though sleek and beautiful and convenient and powerful, is too much for me to handle. I realize I cannot control myself when with a smartphone. I do not want to be counted among the masses who mindlessly check their phone out of habit at every microcosm of an empty microsecond. I like to be free to be alone with my own thoughts. I do not wish to feel so connected and dependent on a technological device that I cannot bear to have it not by my side.

Some folks make the argument that technology is not the culprit, but rather phone abuse is from a lack of self-control. Phooey. This technology is made to be addicting. Even with my staunch anti-smartphone values and austere self-discipline, I still found myself getting sucked into the mire of addiction. Best to just cut it off and not have the temptation.

In the end, though I have decided to keep the smartphone, I have decided not to get a service plan for it. I will use it only like I use a computer—occasionally and with an intended purpose. And though it is becoming more difficult, I can still operate in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected and dependent on smart technology. More than anything else, I value the freedom of not being connected all the time. Though the perks of a smartphone are charming, it is not worth the cost to me.

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