Last week, I missed out on The Darkness, a cheeky British glam-rock band who played a sold-out show at the Trocadero. As a small consolation, an old friend who lives in Michigan and was headed to their gig in Detroit promised to send me some real-time updates. When the band took the stage, the electronics in my living room began to buzz, warning me that something was headed to my phone—something large, like a data tsunami. A red-alert symbol blinked on the display. My cell was having a seizure. Finally, the message came through—with a photo from my friend’s iPhone. For most people, this is a completely normal event. For me, it’s time to hold my breath and pray that my device doesn’t explode. That’s thanks to my not-so-secret shame: I own a flip phone.
For all of the jokes that I make about my Samsung being “vintage,” there’s an undeniable look of disbelief—and perhaps pity—when I use it in public. That’s followed by a slight feeling of shame on my part. I’m no Luddite—I’m a Mac user, on my third iPod, a bit of a gamer, and I read Wired. But the lead to a New York Times story about faster, smarter smartphones hit a little too close to home: “Is that certain someone on your [holiday] shopping list still carrying a sad little flip phone? Are you?” Yes, I am, and thanks for confirming that my outdated cell makes me a creature that inspires sadness.
The way to rid myself of this technological scarlet letter is obvious: Buy a new phone. I get it. Let’s set aside the fact that my bill will double if I upgrade; the necessary data and text plans would mean a big rate hike. My other rationale for sticking with my low-tech phone is that I’m a little old-school, in the sense that I don’t like to be quite so available 24 hours a day. I can’t check email at the gym or the grocery store, which is fine by me. When my brain turns to oatmeal and I can’t remember something simple—like the town where Marquette University is located, or the name of the horror movie that Phil Dunphy from Modern Family was in—I’m ok with not getting an instant answer from Google (although I know any one of my friends can look it up in seconds). As a guy, I’m also not accustomed to carrying around something that’s roughly the size of a half-deck of playing cards. I’m already lugging around my wallet (a little too Costanza-esque in its girth) and my keys (of which there are 10 and give the impression that I might be a janitor). I’ve noticed a lot of men who line their iPhones and Androids on the bar or table when they sit down for a drink or dinner. They also check them frequently. It’s like something out of Entourage. If you’re expecting a text from a supermodel, you get a pass. Otherwise, dude, how about turning off your phone and engaging in non-virtual conversation?
Whatever sense of nobility (and frugality) there is to my philosophy, it seems to have reached its expiration date. Having a smartphone isn’t just a convenience these days. Without it, I’m feeling left behind in a greater cultural sense. I have a Twitter account, but I never use it or check in; though it’s a natural fit as a phone app, tweeting on my computer doesn’t have the same appeal. Texting on my phone is liking typing on a keyboard while wearing oven mitts. The camera takes snapshots about the size of a postage stamp with the visual crispness of a ’70s porn flick. It’s generally frowned upon to borrow someone else’s phone for marathon sessions of Angry Birds or Words With Friends. Printed-out Mapquest directions get me where I’m going, and if they’re wrong, my cell doesn’t have GPS, or a good restaurant recommendation when I get there, or movie times at the closest cineplex, or any one of a million things most phones can do without gasping for air. Meanwhile, if you text me a vacation pic, it will likely be a crippling, battery-draining event on my end (and your beach photo will look like a pixilated Jackson Pollack when it finally opens up).
As much as I’ll miss the cracks about my WWII-era phone—you know, the kind you’ve seen in Saving Private Ryan that needs a hand crank for power—it’s become far more inconvenient to go without a smartphone than to give in. To all the hipsters, college kids, baristas, friends and complete strangers who’ve judged my tech artifact, you haven’t won. This is purely a practical decision. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.