I've owned and loved a Blackberry since 2008, but as my two-year service agreement wound to a close last spring, I had already made up my mind to ditch it for an iPhone. Every time I heard about another whiz-bang app, my trusty Curve 8330 looked a little dowdier to me. It was the tech version of classic midlife wanderlust. I was ready to trade up.
Then, as people going through midlife wanderlust so often do, I joined a gym. And the household budget came to me, and said, "The gym or your mobile data plan. Choose one." I consulted both my head and my heart, but at the end of the day, the deciding vote went to my ass. The gym promised to do way more for it than my smartphone ever had. Also the locker room has a hot tub. There's no app for that, last time I checked.
So, fine, no new smart phone commitment, but I figured I better get a pay-as-you-go "dumb" phone in case of emergencies. I found an eight-dollar refurbished Nokia on Go Phone, closed my Verizon account, transferred my number, and resisted signing up for anything but the no-frills, no-strings, twenty-five cent per minute price plan. I bought an initial fifteen dollars worth of airtime, and a thousand text messages for ten bucks.
Disconnecting the Blackberry felt a bit like unplugging a pet from life support. And it was disorienting at first. I'd have a thought that I wanted to tweet, or an idle question I wanted answered, or just time to kill while waiting in line, and I'd reflexively reach for the Blackberry. It was similar to quitting smoking, over a decade ago. The urge was as physical as it was mental.
But I noticed how very infrequently I was actually inconvenienced by not being able to tweet or google or catch up on the New York Times online. Those twitches had a way of calling me back to the physical present. After a few weeks, they mostly went away. You know something else? I felt my attention span come back. I can't remember a summer when I've read so many books.
Don't worry, this is not a conversion story. I love technology. I love social media. It has enriched my life and my relationships--both on and offline--immeasurably. But it works a particular set of mental muscles, and I think some other ones had gotten slack.
After the initial withdrawl pangs, the dummying down of my phone turned out not be that much of a sacrifice. As a matter of fact, my dumb phone does nearly all the essential things I needed my Blackberry to do, which amounts to a lot of texting (e.g, "pizza for supper?") and the occasional phone call. Not being able to do the other stuff (email, internet) as easily is forcing me to put some much needed boundaries around my work time. Because my Blackberry syncs with my home computer, I'm still able to use it as a calendar and note-keeper, as well as a player for my music and audio books. The only reason I can think of to still want an iPhone is the great built-in camera, and all those sexy photo apps. But the allure dims in light of the money I've been saving.
It helps that I'm not much of a phone talker. Fifteen dollars of airtime a month has been just about right. I'm coming in just under 1,000 messages a month. That's $25 a month, compared to my average bill of $150 for the Blackberry. To be fair, about twenty of that was for a mobile line for the kids, just to take on sleepovers or long outings. I replaced that with a refurbished GoPhone also. It cost $6 and they've only used a few dollars worth of airtime all summer. My sixth grader accidentally dropped it in the pool this week. It dried out fine. But if it hadn't? Hey, it cost six bucks.
Who's got the smart phone now?