My month with a 2009 mobile phone

If you give me a new phone, you can be sure that I will drop it almost immediately. It is a law of physics. My hands are just too tiny for newer, larger phones. (I half expect the next iPhone to resemble Zack Morris’ mobile).

No surprise, then, that I recently shattered my Nexus 6. While I sent it out for repairs, I turned back to using my old Droid 2, which was in surprisingly good condition. I only intended to use it until my N6 was fixed, but here’s the thing: I actually liked using the 2009 Droid 2 more than I expected.

Consequently, I kept using it. For a month.

Before I explain why, here are some things to know about my device:

  • Judging by timestamps in the Photos gallery, I bought it in December 2009 and stopped using it in January 2011.
  • It is still running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), whereas new devices run Android 5.0+ (Lollipop).
  • It features a sliding, Sidekick-style keyboard and its screen is made of plastic, not glass (which is probably why the screen isn’t shattered).
  • Because I can’t update any of its existing apps or download new ones on this older OS, this phone is pretty much stuck in the past.

All of this means the device is essentially a mobile time capsule. For example, here are some things you find when you open it:

  • Angry Birds
  • the Blockbuster Video app (R.I.P.)*
  • Instagram featuring the original Kelvin filter
  • my Foursquare badge collection
  • Google Goggles (R.I.P.)
  • Gowalla (R.I.P.)
  • photos from when I lived in Boston, London and San Francisco
  • text messages from friendships and relationships long ended

*The Blockbuster app is probably my favorite thing to show off, because it’s a reminder of how quickly technology is changing the media world. I only stopped using the Droid 2 in 2011 and now, four years later, Blockbuster doesn’t exist!

And here are some things my device doesn’t have…

  • the ability to show group texts as such (more on that below)
  • a front-facing camera (yup, we once lived in a world without selfies)
  • Google Search voice actions
  • Lyft, Washio, Postmates or any other service economy apps*
  • screenshot capture
  • Snapchat
  • visual voicemail (this was the worst… ask my mom)
  • WhatsApp

(*It does have Uber, but it won’t run on this device anymore.)

So what did I learn from this accidental experiment?

  • Once upon a time, we used to have to walk, hail cabs and take the bus to get anywhere. (Gasp! I know! It’s crazy). Not having Uber or Lyft on the phone forced me to plan my movements around San Francisco more deliberately and, consequently, meant I was on time to more appointments and gatherings than when I could call a car five minutes before I was supposed to be somewhere. (I also saved about $75 a week).
  • It gave me newfound empathy for mobile phone users outside of Silicon Valley and especially in developing countries, where high-end devices are a luxury. It also gave me sympathy for developers who have to support a range of devices and releases.
  • It reminded me what a data-hog I am, when given the chance. Over the past four weeks, I only used 1.6GB of data compared to 9.2GB I used in the prior month. (The Verizon customer service rep reminded me that’s a lot of data. I know, dude… I tether a lot, okay?).
  • Part of that is because the Droid 2 was so slow that I checked social media less frequently than I usually do, especially in idle moments. The apps on this phone take so long to load (the Twitter app crashes constantly) that when I had a few minutes to spare I didn’t spend them on my phone. It took longer to load an app than it was worth.
  • I forgot how much I love having a slide-out keyboard. Because I was typing out every letter there were less incorrect auto-corrects, which always leaves me frustrated, like, “Cmon, phone! You should know by now that I’m talking about ‘Lady Gaga’ not ‘Lady fava beans’!” Can we bring sliding keyboards back to future devices, please? Please?!
  • My text messages were a hot mess. I probably got one in three (?) and they often arrived out of order. This particularly frustrated my good friend @JessicaHenry*, who shared these screenshots of how she’s tried to get ahold of me without success ←

(*For the record, Jess, I’d have loved to go see St. Lucia with you).

  • If I got a group message, I couldn’t see who else was on it. This caused confusion particularly when it came to social invitations, like, ‘Hey, guy — um, are you asking me to drinks, or was this a group message in which you asked a group of people to drinks? Just checking…’
  • None of the contacts I’d made since 2011 were on the Droid 2, which meant I didn’t know who’s calling me half the time. It reminded me of the days before caller ID and that feeling of excited anxiousness before you picked up the phone and didn’t know who was on the other end (your crush? your grandma? a telemarketer?).
  • I loved having a smaller screen made of plastic. I don’t care if the resolution isn’t as good or I can’t watch movies on it; the Droid 2 fits in my pocket and if I drop it, it doesn’t shatter like a fallen icicle.

I’m back to an N6 now, but I’ll miss my little Droid 2. Silicon Valley is where we think about the future! and innovation! and disruption!, but perhaps we should step back more often and revisit the past, even if that past is only as far back as the Blockbuster Video app.

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