Dear dumbphone: a Millennial’s declaration of love
For not having a smartphone, they called me Amish, they called me a grandma. But guess what? I liked my dumbphone.
Dumbphone: (n) Opposite of smartphone. A cellphone which has little or no advanced features
Dear old purple Samsung dumbphone,
It’s been a month. A month since I finally made the change I had stubbornly resisted for so long—obtained a sleek, glossy iPhone and let your scratched, Internet-less, app-less screen drain itself of life and slowly blink into oblivion.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Despite all the scoffing, the taunts of being Amish or a curmudgeon, you and I…we were inseparable. When co-workers, strangers and friends asked me in disbelief why I still had that “janky old thing,” I defended my decision to stick by you. It wasn’t a matter of money. It was philosophical, it was conscious and it was with a strong sense of purpose.
I just didn’t see the need to be connected all the time—that was my refrain to those who challenged our relationship, and I still stand by that.
Being with you as a 20-something, having grown up in Cupertino, Apple’s birthplace, and now living in tech hub San Francisco, had its challenges—I won’t deny that.
Friends’ emojis were rendered as unintelligible symbols on your screen, leaving me feeling like a befuddled archaeologist trying to interpret mysterious hieroglyphics. Meeting spots with friends were changed while I was en route, having carefully transcribed Google Map directions to a now useless Post-It. And I felt not unlike a grandma in conversations about Tinder and Snapchat, both mystified and intrigued by what the “kids these days” were doing with these newfangled apps.
But despite all that, even with your shiny, pedigreed replacement in hand, one that so many consider an upgrade, I miss you. More importantly, I miss who I was with you.
I’ve never been good at directions and moving to the unfamiliar city of San Francisco without the comfort of a map app or my direction-savvy mother to guide me was unnerving. My solution: Carrying a folded map of San Francisco (meant for tourists, which I was often mistaken for by drunken bar-hoppers) in my wallet. Having to rely on the lost art of map-reading forced me to know my city better and, to trust myself. Slowly, being lost no longer meant panic. I became confident that with my map, some luck, and perhaps a little old-fashioned reliance on the kindness of strangers, I would find my way—a feeling that was incredibly liberating. You forced me to make myself capable of navigating a strange city with only my intuition and wits to guide me, and for that I am grateful.
As hard as it is to be an outsider in a sea of smartphones—you and I, we were outcasts together swimming against a vigorous social current, and more importantly,observers. Bereft of a smartphone of my own, it was strange to me how often I would be spending time with a friend, only to have them, much to my discomfort and frustration, continually glancing at their phones. Sometimes this occurred even as I was attempting to have a serious conversation…not an easy task when you only have someone’s divided attention. I vowed that in the company of friends, I would only take out my phone when necessary—a conviction that has stayed with me. I like to think that doing so has cultivated a stronger sense of intimacy, and not only that, afforded me more opportunity for spontaneous, organic conversation with strangers and friends alike.
But more importantly, you let me be alone with my thoughts. In my daily commute, I so rarely see people who just let themselves be. They are never bored—constantly tapping at their smartphones seeking stimuli, tuning out the hum of the world with music and earbuds, swapping out window-gazing and people-watching for the virtual windows of their apps and a more two-dimensional, microscopic kind of people-watching on Facebook. And perhaps it’s more tempting to evade the bleak cityscapes and the sometimes alarming lunatics of MUNI for the more saturated, filtered and carefully edited snapshots and scenery of social media, but for me?
Those mundane, silent, utterly dull moments were when I got to do my best thinking.No headphones, no apps—
just me, myself, and I.
With only my thoughts to entertain myself, you made me turn inward to find solace and self-reflection after stressful, hectic days at work. You let me process and problem-solve. You compelled me to find entertainment in observing strangers, surroundings and fleeting acts of kindness. You let me create stories and goals and ways to better myself. You made me laugh to myself rewinding funny moments from the weekend before or years past (while also making me look like one of those MUNI lunatics). In the absence of external stimuli, in the presence of sheer boredom: I explored the intimate spaces of my mind, organized the clutter within, and always emerged mentally nourished, replenished and a little wiser.
And dear dumbphone, what do I have to say now for myself? After all those years of protestation, the insistence that you would always be good enough for me, that I didn’t need to always be connected…
Not to peer pressure and not because of any fault of your own, but for reasons that may seem trivial and silly to you: the need for maps and a sense of security for solo travel in unfamiliar cities, the ability to call a Sidecar when stranded taxi-less in SoMa in the wee hours of the night.But perhaps most compellingly, life with you in a smartphone-dominant reality was becoming a struggle. Not because of my own want or need for a smartphone, but because society was and is becoming a place where others firmly assume and expect smartphones.(“Just look it up on your phone, just use XYZ app, just drop me a pin.”) In having to find complicated workarounds to these assumptions, my clinging to simplicity was making life more complex, and the resistance to change more exhausting. It’s time to face the facts: As much as I love you, nostalgia for our days past and my stubbornness just aren’t enough to keep us together. You and I have not changed, but the world has.
And now? Now, I fear that I will become one of those people I used to swear to never be: the ones who forsake human connectivity for wireless connectivity; the ones who feel the need to look up the answer to the question being debated mid-conversation right then and there because goodness knows, why wait till later; the ones who advertise their every interesting activity via social media, craving just one more validating “like.” I feel my attention fragmenting, splintering and shortening into a million infinitesimal shards as I jump from my Netflix show to Instagram to Facebook; I feel my eyes strain from staring at so many screens, from my computer at work to my phone on the train, telling myself to just shut the damn thing off, yet still constantly clicking, swiping, refreshing, liking, posting; because there’s just so much stimuli beckoning at my fingertips and it’s like a magnet pulling at me. I sometimes feel like I have regressed into a toddler, captivated by every brightly colored, shiny new box and toy.
But if you fear that I will become someone you should be disappointed in, if you fear that I have utterly forgotten the person I was with you—don’t be. I remember you. And I’m not letting go.
Because of you, I am always striving to be aware of and truly present in my current environment. Because of you, I do not panic when my battery dies (let’s just say, while your replacement may have more advanced moves, he lacks stamina)—I can, and have survived without apps. Because of you, I know that eye contact with friends takes precedence over that with a screen. Because of you, I zip away my phone, knowing that I will step off the bus feeling mentally recharged if I pause for introspection; knowing that diversion and sometimes, inspiration, can be found in the most unremarkable places. Dumbphone,I wish you could have seen this today: the way that Metro driver kindly paused on a stop to hand some empty bottles to a frail woman scrounging for recyclables and the way it brought a smile to my face…I only wish my fellow riders had been looking up to see it. Those traits you instilled in me, that desire to stop, look and listen, are an inextricable part of me. It’s all because of you. (And between you and me, I’m still befuddled by the concept of Snapchat.)
So you know what, dearest? As much as our naysayers exclaimed “Finally, it’s time!” upon your replacement, as much as my life seems to have oddly gotten both easier and more complicated, as much as your replacement has earned me more approval and less disbelief, I miss you, quite intensely. I wish we still lived in a world where it was easier to be together. We don’t. But I know that I am a better person for having been with you. So thank you, I will never quite move on from you and I’m glad for that.
Because really, it’s not you. It’s me.
Sent from my iPhone