My Geek Demerits #2: No Smartphone

My wife and I share a single cell phone between the two of us. It’s a dinky LG model 300G prepaid phone with no Internet access. Its special features include a very limited wallpaper selection, a paltry library of super-MIDI ringtones, and the ability to play Sudoku. Its texting capabilities are more primitive than a Speak-&-Spell. I have no interest in writing to someone on a device that requires four keypunches to generate a single “s”.

We didn’t even buy it for ourselves. It was an anniversary gift from a well-meaning relative. Neither of us is a fan of telephones. We keep it on hand for emergencies or rare moments of convenience. I let her carry it most of the time, out of a combination of chivalry and disdain for the thing. Thankfully the minutes roll over infinitely as long as I keep purchasing additional service days. So far through disuse we’ve stockpiled over 2,800 minutes. I could theoretically call Australia and stay on the line from midnight to midnight with no concern for cost.

We know we’re an extremist minority among our under-60 peers. Today’s average American considers their cell phone an essential part of everyday life that combines the usefulness of a few different appliances with several hundred useless distractions. Much discussion has already been held in various venues about smartphones displacing landlines from many homes. I’m sure the same holds true of PCs and laptops for those casual typists who don’t need word processing, spreadsheet capabilities, or CD/DVD-ROM drives.

We realize we could afford upgrading to a smartphone if we felt the urge, but forgo it for several reasons:

* No interest in haggling over pricing, contracts, or bandwidth usage. As long as we continue to underuse, our prepaid Fisher Price toy costs me $15 per month to keep active. If we decide to drop it at a moment’s notice, the financial damage would be negligible. If someone has invented a smartphone contract that’s month-to-month for the same approximate price with unlimited bandwidth, I could see an argument for upgrading. I’d prefer to avoid a long-term commitment to a plan that charges me dozens of extra dollars just because I exceeded my monthly bandwidth allotment after five rounds of Words with Friends.

* Itsy-bitsy keys. I have sausages for fingers. I need a manly keyboard for my manly typing. Even some laptops are uncooperative. I suspect a stylus would be easy to lose and would be an insufficient, frustrating substitute for my reflexive hunt-‘n’-peck keyboard method. I could live with extra typos if I had to, but I would pretty much die without my precious capitalization and punctuation.

* QR code-scanning holds no temptation for us. Oh, no, we’re missing out on extra advertising! Curse the fates!

* Our current appliances remain fully functional. My wife is very happy with her camera. Mine could be better, but it’s not nearly obsolete enough for me to be in the market for a replacement. Our PC serves all our Internet needs with the added advantage of a screen larger than an index card, all the better for viewing movie trailers and extended, heated Comments-section debates. We’re still old-fashioned enough to wear wristwatches, so our timekeeping needs are covered. Our cheap landline still keeps ticking, too, in case we need to dial 911 without worrying whether or not we remembered to charge the phone battery.

* I plan ahead without need for GPS. When we travel, I have all our directions prepared in advance. In the event of a wrong turn or bad directions, I also bring maps in case I need to navigate the old-fashioned way, the way our ancestors managed back in the dark, primeval twentieth century. So far we haven’t failed to return home yet.

* We’re discouraged by the behavior we’ve seen in other smartphone users. We realize millions of sane, collected users exist and conduct themselves just fine. Just the same, we’d rather not risk turning into one of today’s highly visible Stepford Callers. To wit:

— Eye contact no more. As a natural introvert, I already suck at making eye contact, even with people who want me to look at them. If I start carrying around something glowing and flashy to placate me like an audiovisual pacifier, I’ll never know anyone else’s eye color ever again, let alone acknowledge that they’re worth my personal, undivided attention. (Reminder to self: wife’s eyes are brown. Probably. Should double-check that.)

— “Ladies first” is more awkward than ever. When it’s time for crowd egress through a given doorway, it’s hard to be chivalrous when a lady’s mind is in a faraway place and unaware of her surroundings. My recently instated rule for elevator dismissal is, if she’s being hypnotized by her phone, she no longer counts as a “lady” for purposes of determining order of disembarkation. I’ll excuse myself first and let the doors shut on her. Far be it from me to be rude and interrupt her very important reading. I’m sure all those Facebook-shared unfunny Photoshop gags aren’t gonna Like themselves.

— Theaters as Internet cafes, even during the movie. Setting aside the massive distraction and rudeness it presents to the rest of the audience that was respectful enough to put away their toys, I fail to understand why anyone would focus on the tiny handheld screen they carry with them 24/7 while ignoring the large screen they paid an exorbitant fee to watch just this once. If you’re expecting an emergency, a vital communication, or a chat you just can’t miss because that one friend is so totally awesome to hear from, perhaps that two hours of your time would be better spent isolated at home, waiting for the DVD release and leaving the moviegoing to the rest of us stalwart, considerate lot.

— Apps are better than family. I will never forget the time I walked into a nephew’s birthday party and saw most of the adult “partygoers” sitting in a row in the living room, all silently engaged with their phones while the birthday boy spent quality time with the only loved ones not ignoring him — i.e., a few other tykes too small to own their own phones. Just imagine a future after someone invents Baby Einstein smartphones for all ages. With such scientific progress at hand, every family gathering could possess the warmth and charm of a deathly silent study-hall period.

I realize the entry qualifies more as “human demerits” in today’s society than mere geek demerits, but my lone moment of weakness in this area is the twinge of jealousy I feel whenever comic book conventions tout their schedule apps, QR codes for exclusive materials, and other handy on-site networking tools that offer no help for attendees like us who leave their ‘Net access at home. We can see merit in that, especially when it comes to last-minute event cancellations or celeb-sighting flashmobs.

All things considered, we’d still rather do without. Despite what Madison Avenue tells us, we firmly believe we don’t have to have everything. For the sake of some semblance of integrity, I accept my demerit and will continue to appreciate what meager service we’ve gotten out of our li’l plastic push-button knick-knack, even if it can’t access Angry Birds from a single corner of the continental U.S.

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