I have a confession to make: I’ve just purchased my first smartphone (an iPhone 6, in case you’re wondering). Yes, I’m 40 years old, and yes this is the year 2015, and no I haven’t been living under a rock, in a mountain cabin in Montana, or in the midst of a technology-shunning cult. (Sorry Amish people.)
I am also not one of those holier-than-thou cranks who believe that screens are melting people’s brains and dumbing down our children and otherwise contributing to the long, slow decline of our civilization. At least I’m not one of those cranks on my “good” days.
Although I’ll freely admit that I wish we all spent more time reading books and less time consuming media blips, the truth is, the fact that I’m a technology late-bloomer comes down to three simple reasons: 1.) laziness, 2.) I have no wish to compete with the digital natives of this world (i.e. teenagers) for technical competence, and 3.) laziness.
To illustrate my first point, here is an actual conversation I had with a friend not too long ago:
Me: You know what I miss? Busy signals. Remember that time when someone would call, and if you weren’t home to answer the phone it would just ring and ring, and if you were already talking with someone the caller would get a busy signal and they’d have to hang up and try again later?
Friend: You are old.
Me: It wasn’t that long ago! I mean, we’re talking about, what, the '80s? When we all had a little time to breathe without feeling like we owed someone a call-back, a text or an email?
Friend: Hold on a sec, I just got a text from my son’s massage therapist that I really need to answer.
OK, so expecting busy signals to come back is probably not realistic (unless someone wants to create an app for that, in which case I fully expect a percentage of the profits). But since I already felt overwhelmed by my inbox, I found myself holding onto the illusion that if I didn’t have a smartphone I could maintain at least a 24-hour response window (possibly longer) for emails.
At the risk of invoking some new twisted version of the “mommy wars,” I still cringe when I see a parent totally missing their kid’s attempts to get their attention while they tap away at a tiny screen. Somehow the opposite reaction – the parent holding her smartphone in front of her face, so as to capture her child’s every cute gesture for display on her social media outlet of choice – strikes me as equally obnoxious.
So what did it? What made me finally give in and order up my own 24-hour technological leash?
Rather than one big defining moment, it was the culmination of a series of smaller moments:
- Standing at the reception desk at my doctor’s office trying to recall what my desk calendar at home had on it for the next six months, while someone next to me fluttered her fingers over her phone for a few seconds, then confidently booked her next appointment
- Receiving blank text messages from friends – or, more disturbingly, one of our babysitters – since at times my old dumbphone was, apparently, unable to process messages from its more intelligent cousins
- Driving up and down Route 1 in Saugus in heavy traffic on New Year’s Eve trying to find the roller skating rink a friend had raved about, until finally being forced to pull over and call that friend for directions. (I was meeting still another friend and her kids at the rink, but I wasn’t worried about her finding the place – she of course already had a smartphone.)
- Watching our 18-month-old gleefully trash the CDs stored on our old-fashioned CD shelf, and thinking to myself, now I know there’s a better, more convenient and less bulky way to store music these days, if I could only remember what that is…
- Seeing my children ask to use the devices of various friends and family members, and then observing them intuitively making the things work. Even the 18-month-old.
Now that I’ve broken down and gotten an i-phone, I have to admit it’s awfully nice to be able to check email, or surf the web, or get directions without having to sit at the desk in my office, looking them up on my bulky old laptop. I’ve been trying, with mixed results, to not be that person staring into her phone while someone attempts to have a real-time conversation with her, and of course I’ve started taking on-the-fly photos of the children and downloading them to my social media outlet of choice. (It can’t be all work and no play, can it?)
The worst part has been feeling this need to catch up, to figure out how to do what most people around me seem to have been doing with ease for some time now. Last week, when my sister-in-law visited Boston from the West Coast, I sat down with her for a tutorial. When I asked her how she’d learned so much about so many different apps she smiled and reminded me that she has teenagers at home.
Which brings me back to my second point. I still have no wish to keep up with the technological know-how of those who can’t remember a time before the Internet (let alone The Age of Busy Signals). But, perhaps, I might now have a chance with their moms.
Please excuse any errors in this essay. It was written on my iPhone.