I joined the 21st century fairly recently when I finally got my first iPhone. Till then I’d been using a “feature phone” – which is a polite way of saying dumb$@%#phone.
Yes, I’m the cofounder of a tech company – and yes, I carried around that candy-orange, complimentary Samsung phone that AT&T gave out circa 2006. You got a problem with that?
I loved my dumbphone, and it loved me. I was proud of not having a smartphone and all the behaviors that came with it.
This thing was a beast. It survived a 250-mile trek, desert sandstorms, stairwell drops, and splashes of seawater. But it was six hours in the Middle Eastern July sun that caused my little Samsung to finally unglue.
When my mother offered me her old iPhone 4S in mint condition (AKA “mom condition”), I reluctantly accepted it…
OK guys, this thing is crack.
The last two months have been a massive discovery binge of notifications, apps, messages, pictures, maps, and music. It’s like I have a futuristic space amulet in my pocket with access to every person, place, and fact in the galaxy.
So maybe I sound like I just came out of cryogenic defrosting – go ahead and laugh – but WOW.
However, I can’t completely forget the past. As my informational joyride sugar rush starts to wind down, I find myself reminiscing and wondering what I might have left behind when I upgraded from that invulnerable candy bar of technology.
Heck, I’ll even say it out loud: I miss my dumbphone.
My dumphone was fusion powered. Charging it was ceremonial. The battery could hang for weeks on that last bar. I could take it on a week long hike and never worry about conserving battery for emergency situations. In normal life I’d never ever think of taking a charger anywhere with me.
In contrast, my iPhone is like a Humvee with a gas tank the size of a champagne glass. That’s nothing new, but the real issue isn’t the power itself, it’s the opportunities to waste it. As you may already know, smartphones can be used for activities of widely varying importance: like scrolling through @EarthPics twitter feed vs. letting your roommate know you’ve locked yourself outside.
No matter what phone you have, being low on battery is paralyzing. And that’s when having telephone functionality and internet junk on the same “battery budget” suddenly becomes a problem.
Let’s just say that being stuck without battery when you’re picking your dad up from the airport is a user experience bad enough to cancel out all of Apple’s pretty innovations.
Stronger Than Steel
I could throw my dumbphone at the wall in anger, drop it while crossing the street, or keep it in my pocket during an ultimate frisbee game. Sure, it might split open, and the cover, sim card, and battery might fly in different directions. But not once did I doubt that they would snap back together like freshly cast Lego.
Carrying around an iPhone feels like taking my grandmother’s finest China teacup and carrying it everywhere I go. I’ve never cracked a screen – but there’s enough screen-fixing services around Tel Aviv to make me wonder when I’ll be next.
I’m sure the iPhone is stronger than it looks – it’s just one more thing to be aware of. Am I about to sit down? Is my phone in my back pocket? Did I just put it in the same pocket as my keys? It’s like going everywhere with an infant (the world’s worst analogy, I know, but I’ve never had a kid).
Practical Human Skills
I used to know where things were, and which streets were one-way. I used to learn mental maps of bus lines, and use things like intuition to get around.
More importantly – I used to talk to people when I needed help. I’d talk to bus drivers, old people on benches, and cute girls at the crosswalk. I’d do crazy things like roll down the window to ask the driver next to me for directions.
When I’d ask people for help I’d often get much more information than I asked for. And navigating using the kindness of strangers always felt good.
But now, if I ask for directions while I’m holding a full-color touchscreen satellite-connected supercomputer in my hand…. I just feel like a creep.
Who steals a dumbphone? Who buys a dumbphone? That’s right. No one.
Let’s just say I’ve never peed faster because I left my orange plastic Samsung at the bar while I went to the bathroom. With my iPhone, it’s like carrying a second wallet.
In the absence of notifications, feeds, and inboxes to consume – I would simple reflect. When I found myself with down time, I’d look around, be aware, and let my mind truly wander. There was nothing to check, and I was free to process my thoughts and think about bigger things.
And it’s not just grabbing at my phone – sometimes when deep in thought, my phone would grab me. Push notifications that really don’t matter still create a false sense of urgency.
Having an iPhone nearly eliminates long periods of time to mentally be with myself. In short: I’ve forgotten how to be bored.
Creativity and Originality
I’m not quite sure how having a smartphone has affected my creativity.
On one hand it’s turned me into a consumer of tidbits. Constantly craving more bite-size sugary snacks of information. On the other hand it’s provided me with a lot more stimulus and exposure to interesting things around the world. I feel like I think faster.
Ultimately I believe that true creativity comes from having the time to digest all that I consume. So while I have a lot more interesting inputs in my day, consuming them eats at the time I have to process and be creative with what I learned.
I’ve found it makes it hard to focus, even without a push notification interrupting my day. My brain feels like a scrambled signal, on a constant craving for intellectual sugar. Nothing in the real world can compete with the endless newness of Quora, Twitter, or Facebook messages.
Do You See the Pattern?
With all that I’ve gained from having an iPhone, on all fronts I’ve consistently ceded one thing: Peace of mind. Each aspect of having an iPhone has just given me more things to manage, more things to worry about, and less space to process what’s important.
Sure I’ve gotten used to it, but I’ve also gotten used to the noise of traffic and breathing in car exhaust when I run. But I still live in central Tel Aviv and not moving to the countryside anytime soon. Sigh.
Like any love-hate relationship with new technology, life will never go back to what it used to be. I could never part with on-demand bus schedules and GPS directions.
However, I can definitely do without “scrolly” apps. You know, the ones that turn us into finger-zombies, scrolling our lives away at the bus stop. And I can certainly edit my preferences to quiet down my messaging apps.
Hopefully these steps will help keep my consciousness wrinkle-free, while even preserving battery life.
At least until the next alert.