I remember an episode of NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show that featured a man who was touting a life without smartphones. He and his wife and children had all gotten rid of theirs and replaced them with normal mobiles, and the man said that his life felt calmer and he felt like his time was used more wisely. I found myself agreeing with everything the guy was saying. I’m pretty sure I even tweeted about it from my BlackBerry.
Yes, even though I thought this man had a point, I was very much enthralled with my own smartphone. And yet at the same time I felt resentful of it. In addition to being alerted every time I got a call or a text, my BlackBerry let me know every time somebody emailed me at two addresses, left me a comment on Facebook, mentioned me on Twitter, or instant messaged me through AIM, Yahoo!, G-chat, MSN, Skype, and BlackBerry Messenger. If one of my friends sneezed while thinking about me, I’m pretty sure it triggered some sort of alert on my phone. Some of my friends even took it personally if I didn’t respond to their messages INSTANTLY because they knew my phone was telling me I was being summoned via a complicated series of lights and beeps and vibrations. And while I could have shut off any or all of these alerts, once they started, I couldn’t stop them. It made me too anxious to silence my Berry. I was worried I was missing out not just on something, but everything.
At the risk of sounding like I’m fishing for compliments, y’all, I’m just not that important. I’m a paper-pusher and freelance writer. Nobody is going to die if I can’t be reached via 75 different applications. Nothing is going to explode if I don’t have instant and constant access to the internet. I sit in front of a computer all day at work and check my email, bank account, and Facebook page regularly, and though I’m loath to be in front of the computer at home after spending eight or nine hours working at one during the day, I usually take a few minutes to check my Twitter feed as well as my email and Facebook again before I go to bed. I spend Saturday or Sunday mornings catching up with my favorite blogs and hunting down recipes, and any time I think of something I need to check, I can grab my netbook and head over to Google pretty much whenever I want.
My point is that even removing the BlackBerry from my life wouldn’t mean I was suddenly removed from the technology I rely on to keep me in touch with people. But the thought of being without it while I listened to and agreed with this guy preaching the gospel of simplifying his life by cutting his iPhone out of it made me want to break out in hives.
Then my beloved BlackBerry fell into a toilet. And before you ask, no, I wasn’t texting or talking in the bathroom. I’m a full-time student in addition to a full-time employee, and since I carry a bottomless school bag that swallows small, expensive gadgets instead of a purse most of the year, I’ve long since gotten into the habit of keeping my phone in my pocket. I bent over to tie my shoe or adjust my pants leg or something and the phone just slipped out and landed in the (mercifully clean) toilet with a horrible splash. It blinked pitifully at me for a few seconds while I resisted the urge to plunge my hand into the bowl to get it, and then the screen went permanently black.
Even with insurance I couldn’t afford to replace it, so I didn’t. The decision to cut my smartphone from my life was made for me by the mere fact that my finances wouldn’t allow it. I may have loved my BlackBerry, but not more than I love having a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and hot running water. My brother kindly loaned me his old Samsung Sway, which, while not pretty, works perfectly. I had to get used to texting on a T9 keyboard again, which has been a pretty hilarious adventure for me and my friends, but what surprised me most about unwillingly downgrading my phone technology was this: after the initial shock and disappointment wore off, I didn’t miss the BlackBerry. I don’t miss the BlackBerry. Everything that guy said was right. I have my free time back. I don’t obsessively check my phone for status updates and new tweets and messages and emails because I can’t.
I know I’m not the only one who’s gone through this. Many of my friends have become very dependent on their smartphones. And I’m not knocking them for it. I loved my BlackBerry because it was fun. It gave me lots of things to look at and play with when I was in a doctor’s office or airport. It allowed me to share weird or funny observations with the world every time and everywhere they occurred to me. If it hadn’t fallen into the toilet, I’d still have my smartphone, and I’d still love it.
But I’ve made the best of my loss and I’ve wound up feeling better without my Berry. I read more now. I enjoy my quiet time more. I still text a lot (and boy, have those old T9 skills gotten rusty), and I’m in no way trying to suggest that I’ve gone from being tethered to my Berry to living in a shack in the woods without running water. I enjoy technology very much (I’m even looking at getting a Nook), but the difference now is that I own my phone. My phone doesn’t own me.
Today I became eligible for an upgrade, and the decision to keep a basic phone or upgrade to a smartphone again was before me. My brother has offered me his Droid Incredible for free, so it was merely a question of whether or not I wanted to (or could) pay for necessary data plan. I could reasonably do this, but after I thought about it—and I mean really thought about it—I ordered a basic phone. I did upgrade slightly: the new phone has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. T9 really is the pits. But it was free, I can most definitely afford the bill (it’s what I already pay), and it will serve my mobile phone needs fully and well. I’m not only satisfied, I’m happy.
I realize I’m in the minority for my age group here, but I’d still like to know: how do you guys feel about this? Do you think you’re (for lack of a better word, though I hate to overuse this one) addicted to your smartphones? Have you avoided getting a smartphone on purpose? Have you had one and gone back to a basic phone, like I did? Or would you rather eat glass than get rid of your smartphone? I’d like to read your thoughts on this.