I don’t have, nor have I ever had, a smart phone. Two years ago, I had to renew my 2-year contract with Verizon and get a new phone. I had a basic phone with a slide-out keypad and wished to replace it with a smart phone, but, as my sister didn’t get an iPhone until her college graduation, it was understood that I wouldn’t get one until mine (as a side, I have graduated, but for irrelevant reasons, I’m still coaxing my basic phone into submission). My parents wished to treat my older sister and me as equally as possible, and they didn’t think it would be fair to her if they got me an iPhone while I was still in school. Thing is, when my sister was in college, smart phones were not as prevalent as they are today. No one expected anyone to have one, like people expected (and still expect) you to have a Facebook account. It wasn’t a big deal if you didn’t have one. But it is today.
Here are some thoughts and observations I have had involving smart phones.
1. Not owning a smart phone can be quite lonely and isolating. Try to think about all the things you do with your smart phone, and then try to imagine not being able to do any of it. I have never taken a selfie or Instagram shot, updated a Facebook status on the go, used an app — you get the idea. Since a lot of social interaction revolves around the smart phone or things associated with it (I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve been a part of that include Snapchat references, or how many times my Group Me text messages include pictures or emojis I can’t look at), I miss out on a lot. I can’t get behind current trends, so I constantly feel out of the loop. Even more, I have been having an increasingly difficult time communicating with people. I have long-distance friends who only communicate via Instagram or Snapchat, so I can’t keep in touch with them, or rather, they won’t keep in touch with me. I have learned from all of this that if someone in your life is worth it, you’ll make the effort to communicate with them, regardless of the ease with which you can.
2. I’ve heard people complain about the amount of debt they’re in, or how they can’t go out and do fun things because they don’t have the money to do them. Yet these are the same people who not only own smart phones, but also pay for their teenagers to have them as well. With Verizon, it costs $40 to add a new smart phone to the family plan. So if three people in a family have smart phones, the family is spending at least $120 each month, or $2,880 every two years. “But I need it for work! The kids need them, too!” I do understand that certain jobs require one to own a smart phone. I worked as a student research assistant for a professor and she berated me for not responding to her emails straight away. I could only check my email as often as I could access a computer, and since I was in class all day, I couldn’t check it as often as she would’ve liked. Ideally, your boss and colleagues would understand your inability to respond promptly to emails or to do whatever work-related things you need to do on a smart phone, but they might not and that’s just the way society seems to work these days. But do your kids really need iPhones? I survived high school and college without a smart phone – your kids can, too, at the risk of feeling left out when their friends’ conversations inevitably turn to Snapchat. I’m not saying everyone should give up their phones right now. But if you truly struggle with your finances — if you’re thousands of dollars in debt, reconsider: do you need a smart phone or do you want one?
3. Each time a new friend or family member gets a smart phone, I typically feel disappointed. You might accuse me of jealousy, and you’d be right, but the disappointment generates primarily from someplace less sinful. Whenever a friend gets a smart phone, there is usually a noticeable shift in our conversational style. The person in question engages less with me and in the surrounding environment and more with The Phone. It is quite sad, really. My friends will be with me but won’t be present with me; they’re choosing to spend their time with the friends with whom they’re Snapchatting or stalking on Facebook or Instagram. Or, if there’s a lull in the conversation, they’ll log onto Flappy Bird or whatever the latest game craze is. It makes me feel inadequate, to be honest. Like they’d rather be doing something else, but they’re stuck with me, so they do what it takes to tolerate the time we have together. I’ve called a few people out on it: “Hey, get off your phone and talk to me.” They usually say something along the lines of, “Well, we weren’t really talking, so…” Do you know why we weren’t talking? Because you were on your phone and when I say something I can tell you’re not really listening; it really is like talking to a wall, and why would I want to talk to a wall? A wall isn’t going to respond to me. I’m not co-dependent, but when we make plans to get coffee, I want to talk to you and not look at you look at your phone. Not all my friends are like this, thankfully. Some of them put their phones away, maybe even turn them off. With them, I feel like they truly value my time, and I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate them for it.
Like I said, I’m not advocating that we as a society revert back to the days when smart phones were nonexistent. They are incredible devices that push us towards being more knowledgeable and efficient than ever before. We no longer need to sit and try in vain to remember which other movies that one actor has been in, or wonder what gluten actually is (this takes me back to that How I Met Your Mother episode, “Mystery vs. History”). You can spot a fresh eggplant at the grocery and look up a quick eggplant recipe to see what other ingredients you’ll need. You can play a round of Flappy Bird when you get to the Comcast service center and find that you’re #121 in line and #82 is next in line. And you can get lost on campus and find your way without nonverbally proclaiming your freshman status. The possibilities are endless.
But as smart phones are meant to help connect us to people from all over town and all over the world, I think it’s ironic that they also help us disconnect from people close to us. And as smart phones can help us learn anything at any point in time, I think it’s ironic that they also help serve to dumb our intellect and promote egotism. And finally, with so many people in debt, I can’t help but wonder what everyone’s financial situations would look like if people opted for basic phones over smart phones (note: I am not presuming that everyone in debt has a smart phone, but I would imagine that that there is a sizable number of people in debt who own them).
I might sound judgmental because I don’t have a smart phone and I don’t know what I’m talking about. In fact, if I had a smartphone, I might be doing some of the same things I’m complaining about, like ignoring my friends when we’re eating dinner together or taking endless numbers of selfies. Maybe the problem isn’t the smart phone, it’s that I’m choosing to spend my time with the wrong people. I wonder where we’d be as a society if we didn’t have smart phones — maybe we’d be better off, maybe not, it’s impossible to say; all I can do is hope that, as it is becoming an increasingly common thing to hope, we as a society own smart phones and not let them own us.