Monday, September 23, 2013

why i don't own a smartphone (and probably never will)

Hello, my name is Lisa and I am a Luddite.

I do not own a smartphone.  My cellphone is actually my husband's cast off and I reluctantly took it when my cellphone provider would no longer service my beloved flip phone. (Remember those?  It was like a communicator from Star Trek.) I'm not totally tech-phobic ... I love my laptop (which stays at home) and I made the switch from film camera to digital (but I cherish my Polaroid SX-70).

In all honesty, I don't have a smartphone because I am cheap.  I cannot stomach the notion of the monthly fees.  Even with the best bundled simply-everything-plus-really-complete package plan (did you see that episode of Portlandia?) I cannot justify the expense.  (And by-the-way, I don't pay for texting ... so please don't text me because that costs me.)

Okay, so perhaps I should say "Hello, my name is Lisa and I am a pathological cheap-skate."  

But in fairness, I choose to allocate my resources for things I deem valuable: travel, art supplies, books, film (for Luddite camera), good food, handmade products, online courses.  So we make different choices and that is the beauty of variety and choice. I honor your choice to put your hard earned money towards your smartphone (with that sexy new skin) but the pressure to conform has been intensifying and I feel the need to call out some unsavory developments that are worth considering.

If you dare ... read on ...

When I was traveling abroad I admit I was feeling vulnerable moving outside of the range of my pathetic Fischer-Price phone.  What if I needed to contact someone?  What if I ran into delays - how would I procure information?  Then it struck me that I would do what I did in the paleolithic age before cell-phones and smartphones (and ipads - of course I don't own one of those either!  Kindle - nope. Nook - pas de): I would ask for assistance.  I would approach a stranger and trust in their kindness and willingness to help me out.

One argument for a smartphone is the GPS system.  Well, I like reading maps.  I am excited to know Cowgirl is learning how to read a map in school (it gives me hope that maps may continue into the 21st century).  Yes, I get confused and lost and here again I fall back upon a trusty skill: asking for help.  Or better yet: I turn getting lost into an opportunity to explore, risking discovery of places unexpected, sharpening skills of observation and navigation.  I look around, I pay attention to where I am and where I am going.  

The Husband (who does own a smartphone and a Kindle, although he is considering reverting back to an "old-fashioned" - what Cowgirl calls antique items) tries to press upon me the Suggestion feature on his phone for restaurants and activities for when we are vacationing.  Maybe we are doing something wrong, but honestly - have you ever gotten a decent recommendation from your phone?  Is it too threatening to - gasp! - talk to a local shop keeper or resident and ask for their suggestions?  What has happened to our ability to engage in small talk and niceties?

Because what I see is everyone walking/driving around with phones bonded to the side of their heads.  Or worse - in a tractor-beam lock with head perpetually tilted down towards phone, fingers madly texting (will we eventually shed one vertebra to accommodate this lifestyle habit?) We are not engaging with each other, with our community, the environment or the world around us.  A friend gave a talk to a group of high school students and she asked them "Can you tell me the color of your best friend's eyes?"  She said the teens squirmed uncomfortably in their seats.

Many of my friends - appealing to my love of photography -  talk about the ease and convenience of their phones for capturing the fleeting and golden moments of their day and how wonderful it is for sharing those memories with friends and family.  I agree - I see more of my nieces and nephews lives due to the convenience of Facebook and emails with those instant photos downloaded and available for instant access. I will confess though, given the overwhelming glut of images, I tend to look and see less and less.  In the past, a picture may have been worth a more than a thousand words but in the absence of meaningful discourse, I would rather hear the stories rather than be inundated by the barrage of images. (Oh, I own my contribution to that sea of images!)  

In college we had a visiting artist from China come to speak to our art history class.  He told us how he once rode his bike a hundred miles to visit a friend who had a postcard image of a Monet painting.  One hundred miles to see a postcard!  Is more really better?  I cherish the one album of photos from my mother's childhood, pouring over the sharp black and white images for any clues, any details into her life.  Given all that is available to us, do we invest any quality time looking, talking, thinking?

The other issue I have with all the iphone (and digital in general) images is the false sense of certainty that these images will be seen and cherished by future generations.  Most people I know rarely print any pictures out and have the files stored on CDs or hard drives which may not be accessible in the future without proper archival care.  Can you tell me where your pictures from summer vacation 2009 reside?  (If nothing else ... I hope I convince a few of you to make photo books ... they are true treasures and a way to cull through those thousands of images to find the ones that tell the story you want to remember and share.)

All our modern devices seem to offer this allure of certainty and connectedness.  But what exactly are we connected to?  Whom are we reaching?  What is the depth and value of those connections?  All the options of texting, cellphones, email, facebook, twitter present an illusion of being in touch and plugged in, but my experience is clear communication is utterly absent.  If you doubt me, try organizing a child's birthday party.  Despite giving people multiple options to respond, I still end up - in vain! - trying to contact people for a answer.  Now, it may be a trend of obtuseness (which morphs into "rudeness") but I think the root of the problem lies in the false of sense of instantaneous connection. I know I can reach you in any number of ways in any given time, so I put it off.  And then I forget because I am swimming in an overload of information, messages, images, and stimulation.

It's not that these devices are inherently bad, but the behaviors they encourage are cause for alarm.  The Husband does not remember anything outside of what his Google calendar tells him in a pop-up reminder on his phone and in email; Cowgirl finds it impossibly boring to sit through a restaurant meal without dad's phone for entertainment.  We cave in; but I am remembering the stories I would hear as a child while listening to the adult conversation.  If I had had a smartphone, I would never have known about my demure aunt running around with a wild crowd, stealing a chicken and having her mother fry it up and feeding it to her friends. I would not know my father's stories from the Navy during World War II nor would I have known the fuller picture of life during the era in which I grew up if I hadn't been present for dinner time conversations with other families and friends.  I would have missed the clues to a larger life outside of the one contained in that small rectangular box. 

For all the access to a wider world, it feels like we have become increasingly self-obsessed.  The Husband points out that Facebook feels more like "Look at Me!" and less about dialogue, inquiry and the process of self-identification and understanding.  Remember when we identified our Tribe by the music we listened to? I knew my friends interests and tastes, I knew about their dreams, desires and secrets.  Do I really know much about any of my purported -yikes! -372 Facebook friends?  Honestly, I need to purge so I can focus upon the people that do matter.  I think that may be the deeper and honest truth: that we may have access to more, but it is impossible for our brains to process all that data, never mind engaging with it in any rich and meaningful way. We cannot commit because we are too busy contemplating the vast array of options, life streaming by faster and faster like the chocolates on the conveyor belt in the infamous Chocolate Factory episode from   I Love Lucy.  

I don't want to shove life into my mouth.  I want to be present for it. I want to talk to you about your life, your thoughts.  I want to make the time to hear the stories and to understand the narrative that is playing out in my life.  

And now ... step away from the laptop Lisa ...

Closing the lid and turning my gaze to the very full world waiting for me right here in my kitchen. 


  1. Despite being an iphone owner. I do agree with you. I struggle with all this "me-ness" that gets at you through social media and yes, smartphones. The more we seemingly "connect" the further we step away from others. I have been trying to strike some sort of balance, it's tough. I too am about purge my social media once again. October just calls for purging and connecting in deeper and more meaningful ways! :) xoxo

    1. I want to honor that so many like yourself are mindful and actively engaged with utilizing these devices in a healthy manner. I should amend that I don't own many techno toys because I KNOW I would struggle too much and am not hardy enough to trust myself. Oh yes, October is definitely calling out for snuggle time, fires, books, board games, music and knitting. Me thinks an informal campaign is underway ;)

  2. rofl...i'll pop right over and visit the limousines.

    now if THAT isn't a testimonial in and of itself on the foolish and arbitrary nature of technology,i don't know what is.

    well, i do own an iphone - aka, the silly pink phone - and i would justify it (we don't have a landline in our house, my old one was broken, that was my upgrade choice etc etc) but that's not what you were writing about, i know.

    i work very hard to be mindful of its use...and i think i do well with that...although there are some things i would like to improve upon.;)

    my Luddite heart loved every word of this post -- it is so very timely and i am now inspired to gather some photos into books...something i've been meaning to do for such a long time but why do i keep putting it off. i still remember getting pics developed and having them to touch and look through...

    a purge awaits in these parts as well....along with cozy-fication, knitting, books and music....oh yes....move along the trestle, Liza, i needs to warm my chilblains by the fire...:) i've deemed October to be a return to the hearth month...


  3. I don't care what other people do, except one. Nathan, will you please put own the phone during dinner?!

  4. Good words, Lisa. You really still love your polaroid? I never liked them, even in the beginning. They were the "instant picture" camera that iphone has become. I'm in love with my digital SLR, but I agree with you...will my children and grands get to see what I have seen thru my lens? We have book cases full of photo albums that our kids love to go thru on visits home. Nobody looks at my albums on my computer!