That red-letter day in the tech-enthusiast’s calendar is here again. A new iPhone has landed. Number seven, this time, looking pretty much identical to number six though it’s now available in black and jet-black, and its newly unfettered headphones have become much easier to lose.
But while the nerds grow giddy at the prospect of waterproof housing and six-element camera lenses, and biddable consumers everywhere just shrug and go, “yeah, I’ll probably buy that,” as their iPhone sixes start to feel outdated and lumpen in their pockets, I’m looking down at the phone I carry, thinking: “FFS, this will only make it worse.”
You see, my phone is old, if not in years then at least in design. It is categorically un-smart, and, as such, each evolution of cutting-edge phone technology brings it one step closer to sorry obsolescence.
It is already an object of persistent, almost daily, ridicule. I am supposed to feel embarrassed by its antiquated exterior, its cumbersome, turn-of-the-millennium form.
Mea culpa: It’s a Nokia 130.
It’s the sort of phone most everyone had at one time or another. A small LCD screen displays time, date, signal strength and battery-life. On mine these digits and icons are all super-imposed on some saturated pixels of an orange daisy. Underneath is arrayed a keypad of 17 buttons. Among its myriad specifications are an FM radio and a revamped version of that game Snake. It has a flashlight!
Some personal touches: a fractal of condensation has invaded one corner of the display, residue from that time my year-old son chose to employ it as a teething-aid; a fretwork of scuffs and scratches on the casing testify to its longevity. There is no Whatsapp, no email, no Faceswap, no Clash of Clans.
My life does not feel in the least way diminished for the absence of these things.
Often, I use it to ring another human, thereby fulfilling the primary function of phones, before that function was superseded by the need to snap photos unremittingly, or hunt Charmanders and Bulbasaurs in the sad virtual universe of a 1990s children’s RPG.
Yes, I am one of an ever-dwindling number of people who obdurately refuse to get a smartphone.
Why? Well, having an old phone does have its advantages.
I can drop it, as I often do intentionally to demonstrate its resilience to some uncomprehending smartphone condescender, and it continues to function. If I drop it from high enough, the back flips off and the battery falls out, as if those ingenious Nokia designers, now fidgeting in dark factories bemoaning their bygone industry dominance, had engineered a crumple-system into their schematics. Lose it, and I’ll get another for a handful of pocket-change. My bill is less than $10 a month. The battery lasts for five days.
And until recently, these doughty qualities seemed explanation enough to the ranks of smirking smartphone devotees who queued up to query my choice of mobile.
Recently, though, a tipping-point was breached. To judge from the reactions the phone has started to provoke, from friends, from strangers, from people on the street, owning an old-style Nokia now marks me out as some sort of social transgressive — a bizarre anachronism in a sea of modernity.
“Oh no, have you broken your phone?” people ask sympathetically, when they spot it on the pub table, as if I am a hapless driver whose insurance company, in lieu of my broken-down BMW, has provided me with a bust-up Robin Reliant.
“No,” I reply, pluckily. “This is my actual phone.”
Brief puzzlement gives way to incomprehension as the truth dawns: that I opt to eschew the miracles of smartphone technology by choice.
“Oh,” they say, their brow furrowed, their interest in further conversation wilted. I’m pretty sure I’d draw less incredulity if I dressed in periwinkles and drove a horse-and-cart.
It’s not that I’m blind to the benefits of smartphones. If I’m with you, and some mystery needs unravelling, I’ll doubtless pester you to look up the answer on-line. Often, if my partner’s assumed control of the television, I’ll snaffle her iPhone (this drives her nuts) to seek distraction from the blatherings of some Real Housewives or other. When it suits me, I’m a smart-phone scrounger.
But, even as the prices of older models plunge and the society around us becomes ever more calibrated to the smartphone-user, I’m loathe to actually own one.
This really isn’t about nostalgia. It’s because, quite simply, smartphones are too much. Many of us, if pushed, would confess a lurking anxiety about our increasingly prosthetic attachment to computers, to the web, to screens. But the computer cannot pursue us out the door; the laptop, while portable, has limitations on its utility.
There’s something about a smartphone’s extraordinary convenience — its answers for every question, its maps of every street, all sitting there in your pocket or blinking on the bedside table, every minute of every day — that disconcerts just as much as it amazes. They belong on that growing list of innovations, like Twitter, plastic surgery and internet porn, that come to shape society too fast for us to assess the full implications.
And because I am compulsive by nature, I worry that my transformation from carefree Luddite to modern-day zombie would be swift and absolute. Give me a week with a smartphone, and I’ll be stumbling into oncoming traffic, falling off cliffs, forfeiting bed-time reading in favour of a final half-hour blast of Bejeweled.
I guess I’m scared that a four-inch display will become my principal portal through which to observe the world.
So for now I’ll remain part of my vanishing tribe. As long as non-smartphones exist that’s what I’ll carry, safe in the knowledge that, when the time comes — when the seas have engulfed the coasts and the land has turned to desert, and all you can hear are the echoes of the bombs and the keening of orphaned children — my Nokia will still, inexplicably, have a signal.
What’s that? Your battery’s run out?
Need to make a call?