I have a Nokia. It’s old school and held together with sticky tape from all the times I have dropped it. It doesn’t have internet, Instagram, Google Maps or Facebook. It doesn’t even have a camera. I have what you may call a dumb phone.
I have the daggiest, cheapest, least sought after phone there is. It’s the antithesis of desirable technology but it makes me happy. Happy not with what it can do, but what it can’t do.
My phone isn’t shiny, bright or enticing. My phone is an embarrassment of sorts, it has a ringtone from about 10 years ago that elicits puzzled looks when it rings.
It might appear I can’t afford a decent phone, because surely that would be the only reason for shunning such a desirable and seemingly essential modern-day tool. But that’s not true.
A couple of years ago my husband bought me an iPhone 5 which I promptly put in the draw. The following year I received an iPhone 6. I bought a nice little leather case for it, carried it around in my handbag for a while (without actually turning it on) then put it into the draw with its mate, where it remains lifeless.
“C’mon” coaxes my close friend who now resides overseas. “If you connect your phone we can play Scrabble Words”. “I don’t want to play Scrabble Words”, I push back.
"You're a writer, you'll love Scrabble Words, it'll be fun, we can keep in touch!"
But it's not enough to make me want to convert.
I confess – I like surfing the net and checking out my friends’ photos on Facebook. I enjoy the convenience of having information on tap. But I decide not to take the internet with me when I’m out. Without the net to distract, I can experience moments of boredom and subsequent beauty.
When I’m free to take notice I’m constantly surprised; a compelling cloud arrangement, the first frangipanis opening up into flowers, the local shop owner standing outside who catches my eye, smiles and invites my kids in for a free hot chocolate. Interesting things happen in the cracks.
Call me old-fashioned but there is a loveliness in noticing life.
At bus stops, every single person now seems immersed in their phone. Standing together but all alone.
There was a time once where people made small talk at bus stops, met their neighbours, made a friend. It's sad but it rarely happens anymore.
Even our old friends now feel more distant. A girlfriend who I have known for years recently met me for coffee. For the entire time, she kept her phone positioned importantly on the table, compulsively checking it for updates.
At the first beep or ring, she picked it up, held it at face level and inspected the screen.
Mid-sentence she'd stop, glance at her phone, read a text or retrieve a voice mail then attempt to recommence our fragmented conversation.
At times I felt like I was an inconvenience, impinging on her phone time. I left the cafe feeling deflated and disappointed by our lack of connection.
A short time later my hubby and I were walking along the beach promenade near our home relishing the sparkling day. On the steps edging the sand, sat a man completely engrossed in his smartphone while his three boys played at his feet.
The boys were building a sandcastle with a moat and laughing.
Here was a Dad who had probably worked a 50 hour week and was now out in the sun with his children, and yet unable to surrender to the moment. He was ignoring a chance to create memories they could all carry with them forever. It made me feel deeply sad.
There seem to be children everywhere getting all they want materially but not what they need.
At my daughter’s swim class there are myriad parents who spend the entire time on their phone. One week the woman next to me missed her daughter’s first proper jump into the pool, then her first lap of dog paddle and finally her foray into freestyle.
With each achievement the small girl looked through the glass window, searching for her mum’s praise. It’s boring having to spend time by the pool watching a whole heap of splashing but in a way, these are the moments that bond us with our kids.
The slow build up of memories that carry them through their adulthood and sustain us in our old age.
Gym class is the same. The parents sit behind a large glass window while the kids learn new tricks inside. Each time a feat is accomplished, an expectant face looks up hoping for their parent’s applause.
Lately, there has been a change of scene – one woman shuns the lure to be glued to her screen and instead stands at the glass watching the class and smiling.
When her child walks the beam, somersaults or bravely swings on the rope this woman claps and waves. She’s a Grandma, from a different age.
My own Grandma who grew up in the Depression inspires me. She regales me with stories of her childhood, of having few toys and clothes but always feeling like she and her four siblings had plenty. Grandma is a woman who seems to know life’s secrets.
She’s 87 and despite many adversities and heartbreaks she is still full of spirit and verve, and is always kind.
Grandma is the most wonderful company of any person I know. She listens and pays attention, never immersed in the ‘other life’ trapped inside a phone. Her way of living is simpler, slower, more beautiful.
Recently her garage was flooded by torrential rain, the roller door ripped off its hinges and the entire downstairs of her house destroyed. She wasn’t fazed by the obliteration of the material and was just happy she survived.
I love her perspective, her optimistic point of view. She counts her blessings and rejoices in life, no matter how sad, tragic or mundane.
For me, the smartphone has become a symbol of the business of our modern world, a time where efficiency matters but people do not.
It’s the local grocery store vs the big supermarket chain, originality vs mass production, old-time values vs clichéd affirmations.
Carrying a dumb phone rather than a smartphone feels like a small act of rebellion, a refusal to let technology and the modern world rule me.
My husband (who ironically works in IT) advocates the practicalities of using a smartphone. He cites the convenience of the camera, inbuilt maps, the ability to locate any information you may need.
“I don’t want more practicality” I sigh. “It’s more poetry that we need.”
But I fear I may soon need to capitulate.
My five-year-old daughter is due to commence school next year and I’ve been informed by the Principal that the main way the school communicates is via a smartphone app.
This presents a quandary; to be an informed (better) parent I have to be connected to this app. It was reconfirmed when our babysitter sent me photo updates of my kids all day, which of course I was unable to access.
I thought I could triumph over technology but suddenly the situation is more complex. The iPhone sits in the drawer waiting for me.
Right now though I am still using my archaic, beaten up and embarrassing Nokia. I love this old phone in all its dagginess; I love it for everything it can't do and the moments it has given me.