Defending My Stupidphone

As of July, Nielsen reported that 55.5% of mobile subscribers in America owned smartphones, a significant jump from 41% a year earlier. This pre-dated the release of the iPhone 5, which has surely swayed that percentage further.

The numbers don't lie. People like me are losing relevance. We're going the way of the VCR I still own but never learned how to use.

This fact alone might tell you all you need to hear. Sure, I may not be confident that I can understand your smartphone, but the truth is I don't really want to.

Before I go extinct, though, I want to explain and defend my stupidphone position. And I want to make one thing clear: I am not your 90-year-old grandmother. I am only 43.

I work in an environment where I'm surrounded by tech savviness and am more than aware that I'm an oddball. But I was hired to report and write stories -- to talk and listen to, focus on and engage with human beings -- and, frankly, I'm neither ashamed nor apologetic that I do my job without a fancy phone.

My aversion has everything to do with who I am -- and who I desperately don't want to be, and by that I mean many of you.

Let me start with genetics.

My late father's law firm dispatched a tutor when he couldn't remember how to turn on his computer. He struggled with call waiting in a way matched only by my mother, who still doesn't have voice mail on her cell phone -- one that's even more stupid than mine.

My favorite story, though, is about one of my father's cousins.

Years after cell phones became commonplace, he decided he was finally ready. So he bought a phone, took it home and left it among other coffee table items. Over the next few days, he sporadically tried using it. He held it to his ear but never found that dial tone. He called others, but no one heard or answered him.

So he marched into the mobile phone store, tossed his on the counter and said, "This thing just doesn't work."

The guy behind the counter picked it up, looked at my father's cousin and said, "Sir, this is a remote control."

I share this story because these are my people. I walk with a tribe of perfectly content Luddites, those who are dubious about and don't need technological advances.

When my laptop died a few years ago, I ventured into my first Apple store. I left twice, once near tears, scared off by hipsters speaking in code. But I bucked up and returned weeks later to buy a MacBook Pro.

People swore it would change my attitude about technology. They said it was intuitive, a good thing since I don't read instruction manuals. I bought it because it was pretty.

Three years in, I still don't love the thing. In fact, for much of this time, I kind of hated it -- in part because I found the screen so hard to see. Imagine my surprise and gratitude when a colleague recently walked by, reached over and tapped some button a bunch of times, and the whole thing brightened before my eyes.

I may have hugged him. And I may have tripped when I jumped up to hug him -- which brings me to my next argument.

I am a klutz. I drop things. I've heard the splash of a phone flying out of my coat pocket and into a toilet one too many times. Whenever my scuffed-up cell hits the pavement, I'm grateful I don't have a cracked screen to replace.

Then there are those videos of those oh-so-smart smartphone users staring down at their addiction and stumbling off subway platforms or into fountains and poles. I'm perfectly capable of doing that on my own and don't need or want a phone's help.

I'm grateful I don't know what it's like to covet such a thing.

As people camped out overnight and fought crowds, just so they could wait in line to buy their fifth iPhone, I kicked back and relaxed. Now, I get to laugh as the gripes pour in. It's too light and gets scratches. There are mapping snafus, batteries that die too soon, power cords that need to be replaced. My new favorite: purple photos. The horror! Want to know what I do to get around this phone injustice? I use something I like to call a camera.

I like to say I'm holding out until those folks at Apple figure out what they're doing so they don't have to keep reinventing the thing. I mean, really, if I wait a little bit longer, won't the next one be that much better?

When people say they're dying for the latest gadget, to replace the perfectly good one they already have, I can't help but think about the kids I just visited in a refugee camp who are dying for the one bowl of food they get in a day.

I hope anyone who drops hundreds of clams for a phone already gives to the needy. But if the 2 million junkies who snatched up the iPhone 5 within 24 hours gave a mere $10 extra to hungry children on that day, or to any cause for that matter, then I'd cheer on their enthusiasm.

But first I'd like to ask those people who park themselves outside Apple stores: Will you to line up this way when it comes time to vote next month?

I realize I probably sound self-righteous, but I find this must-have mentality both absurd and borderline icky. And I just don't understand the obsession, especially with something I'd probably break or drown. Now, a great pair of boots -- that I get. But not this. At least not yet.

I accept that there will inevitably come a time when I'll have to make the leap. At some point, my kind of phone won't be available. Plus, I should probably try to find out what everyone's gushing about.

People say I will love my smartphone once I have one. They also say I will never be the same. And maybe that's what turns me off most.

I don't want to receive pictures of anyone's dinner while I'm out having mine. I don't want to check out of an actual conversation because a random friend used an app to check in for an eyebrow wax. I don't want to read work e-mails on a beach vacation when I should be reading a novel -- the kind made of paper, if that sounds familiar.

And I don't want to pull an Alec Baldwin and be tossed off a flight for playing word games I am sure I'd be unable to quit.

I know myself too well. When I am in front of my computer, I check e-mail and Facebook far more than I should. It's sort of like how I don't keep cookies, cheese or ice cream in my house; if these things are around, I can't stop myself. If I had a smartphone, I'm afraid I'd be toast.

Would I be one of those people who turned to cat videos before I turned to the person beside me? Would I like shared pictures of nature more often than I head out and enjoy it? Would I allow myself undistracted moments to simply think about life?

If I ever become the person in a meeting or at a party who spends the whole time looking down at some iThing or snapping photos of myself, I'm telling you now to slap me.

About a year ago, I was hit with the reality that I was inching toward change. Not of the smart variety, mind you, but I found out I was flirting with semi-intelligence.

I was having dinner in New York. At the table sat a devout gadget head. He heard me reference my stupidphone and told me to hand it over. I did and then lost myself in shared stories, warm pita, hummus and wine. He missed out, doing whatever it is gadget heads do.

After a while, he put my phone down. He looked at me with a sympathetic smile. And then, he said something that would make my people proud: "Honey, I hate to break this to you, but it's not your phone that's stupid."

It turns out my phone, the one I've had for years, can do -- well -- stuff. What exactly? I have no idea. But for now, I'm sure the smartest thing I can do is keep it that way.

By Erin B 10/11/2012 01:51:00