I don’t have a smartphone. Actually, I don’t have a phone at all. I used to have an old mobil phone in Prague, but it finally gave up the ghost about the time I decided to move back to America. I guess I could be embarrassed, but I’m not. I don’t mind not having a smartphone. I actually kind of like it.
I’ve never been a fan of the cell phone. A few lifetimes ago I had a job working for Nextel Communications. Remember them? No? Anyway, I was forced to have a Nextel phone when I worked for them. They called it a perk. I called it a nuisance. I did not like the idea of my job being able to get ahold of me whenever they wanted. The boundaries between my actual life and my job seemed to blur with a cell phone. I took the thing. I only turned it on while I was at work, getting paid. I never gave the number to my friends or family. God forbid my mother should be able to contact me at any time of day or night. It just seemed like a huge intrusion.
When I moved to the Bay Area I had a mobile phone instead of a land line. That worked fine for me. When I decided to move overseas I didn’t even think about a phone. I figured it would work itself out. And it did. I got another clunker and subsisted as most expats did in Prague – by sending SMS’s instead of calling. Cheap and easy. Just the way I like things.
So now I’m in Seattle and I don’t have a smartphone. Or a phone at all. It’s not that I’m trying to make a statement about the digital world and how disconnected we all are (because we totally are) but I just don’t need a smartphone. It seems like a lot of money just to be able to look at Facebook while waiting for the bus. I’m not out of touch with life – I am fairly active on social media, I have this blog, and I read news on the Internets when I have a moment. I’m in touch. A good friend of mine said I was “in the world, just not of the world”. Could be.
I went through a time where I had smartphone envy. It is similar to the ipod envy I felt living in San Francisco circa 2005. Everywhere I looked folks had one. Today it is the same with the smartphone. I look around me and all I see are people: heads down, thumbs and fingers dancing across the tiny screen, ear buds plugging up yet one more vital sense, barely noticing me or anyone else they might be walking into. And it isn’t just in America. When I was leaving Prague about two years ago, Smartphones were the item de jour for not only the Czechs, but the expats as well. Necessary or not, the smartphone is something people want. People make fun of you if you don’t have a smartphone.
People are shocked when they hear that I don’t have a smartphone. Much less a phone at all. I always hear the same thing, “Oh, I wish I didn’t need one… but my job…my kids… my life…” I heard the same ridiculous reasoning from people when I moved to Europe. “Oh, I wish I could do that but I have a family and a job.” So? I promise you that you don’t need a smartphone to do your job. Unless your job is putting together smartphones. If you have a regular phone you can still call people if there is an emergency. If you have a home computer or laptop you can still be a part of the world via FB, Twitter, and email. You can even work from home. The smartphone just helps you take all of that into your bedroom, holidays, your kid’s latest school performance, or even god forbid the weekend.
There is nothing so important that I need to stop in the middle of the street to see to it. There is no email, text, or post that needs to interrupt my life. I am here to tell you that you are not that busy. You are not that important. You just like feeling like you are.
Smartphones make life a little more convenient. A little. But all of the convenience may be making you kind of stupid. For instance, a co-worker of mine couldn’t drive in the city they’d spent almost a year living in without the navigational help of her smartphone. That’s sad. And I have absolutely no sense of direction. I get lost walking to the bathroom. But I am able to get around town just fine because I took the time to learn where I am. Street names. The city grid. I don’t feel helpless or naked without a phone. I figure out where I am going ahead of time, and if I get lost I ask for directions. Easy. I’m pretty resourceful.
I have a billion slips of paper: book titles, ideas for novels, things to get at the store, and even sketches. The act of writing actually helps to improve your memory. Unlike the act of Google-ing. When someone wants to know who sings a song, or what film Nic Cage did with Kevin Bacon (the answer of course is: They have never been in a movie together. I am going to start a petition to get this rectified as soon as possible) I don’t need to Google anything via my phone. I just delve into the deep Rolodex that is my mind and I remember. And if I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m cool with that, and it gives me something new to learn. And RETAIN.
I also find that not owning a smartphone helps me focus on what I am actually doing. For instance, if I am watching an episode of Mad Men, that’s what I am doing. I am not listening to the episode while I look at my Facebook, email, work email,
Amazon, Local Indie Bookstore, and 34 other sites. I am paying attention to what I am doing. I am mindful. I know that multitasking doesn’t work. (Look it up. I’m correct about this one.) People who multitask are usually scattered thinkers and seem more hurried and frazzled than need be. And that is simply their own doing. If you put down your smartphone and use your own brain, you’ll get your shit done in a timely manner. Be mindful of what you are doing and get ‘er done before moving on to the next task. This will also fend off boredom.
I don’t believe in boredom. I don’t have a television, or phone, but I’m never bored. I have cards, games, books, paints, pencils, Angry Birds, and a dozen other activities to keep my mind active. When I wait for the bus I do so with a book in hand. In line at the store I simply observe what is going on around me. I have developed patience that seems huge in capacity compared to what I see around me. A three-minute video is “too long” for some people to “sit through”. You can’t wait three minutes for a joke? You kinda suck. When you expect instant results, instant entertainment, or instant replies from people, your expectations are not just too high. They are unreasonable.
I’m not saying that smartphones are the devil and all those who use them are morons with short attention spans. That would be short sided of me. But I will say that folks depend on them far more than necessary. Having a smartphone gives you the option of checking out of any event or conversation that you don’t like. And it gives you the option of not listening or paying attention. It has become almost a reflex. The moment people have down time they reach for the smartphone. They disengage.
I will put forth a challenge to all of you smartphone users out there. Whatever you are doing this weekend, don’t bring it with you. If that scares you or sends you into an instant panic, you’ve got a problem. You should be able to go out to dinner, or for a hike without need of your phone. You should be able to go to the market or to the park without it. Try packing a book instead and see how your day goes. You’ll get past the panic and eventually feel that warm feeling called relaxation settle over you as you realize you don’t have to check anything.