In 2016 I still had a “dumb phone.” This was not a social statement. I simply had a hard time typing onscreen—what people today call “fat fingers.” I kept a phone with a raised keyboard that felt like a laptop. It worked great for me in every functional way, but after a while it became a professional embarrassment.
My cell phone humiliation started the year I first attended a digital summit—an annual thought-leadership conference for marketers. As senior copywriter for my employer, I needed to keep up with digital trends. But during a presentation on Yelp, in an audience of millennials glued to their devices, it became startlingly clear that my digital credibility was in question. I got a ping from my supervisor, pulled out my outdated device, and immediately became the focus of uncomprehending stares. I realized in that moment that my love affair with my old-style mobile device had to end if I was going to maintain a professional image. In short order, I began using a serviceable, relatively up-to-date Android. Even though I still could not type onscreen to save my life, I was able to blend in.
Soon, though, I discovered I wasn’t using my phone the way everyone else was. What started off for most Americans as a convenience in 2007 had by 2016 become an ingrained way of life. From email to Facebook, to Twitter and news to shopping, it had all migrated to the phone. Cell phone use, though a necessary tool, had for many become an intrusion and a compulsion.
In a New York Times opinion piece, computer scientist and author Cal Newport writes that Steve Jobs would not approve of the way we use our phones:
“Mr. Jobs seemed to understand the iPhone as something that would help us with a small number of activities—listening to music, placing calls, generating directions. He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives. He simply wanted to take experiences we already found important and make them better.” Instead, our devices have become a “ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest ‘breaking’ news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep.”
I have a smartphone now, but I still buck the trend: I don’t do email or surf social media on it, and rarely make a purchase on it—I reserve those activities for my laptop at home. I find it stressful just thinking about having all that on my phone. I don’t want to feel like I’m always on call. Instead, I use my phone like Steve Jobs intended: I call people, text, look things up, and map my route.
Many people, however, are glued to their phones—and may not be happy about it. If you Google “phones control our lives” you’ll see a wealth of articles addressing our addiction to devices. Use your phone too much? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that—seriously! (Don’t get me started on the irony of using your phone to curb your phone addiction.) If you don’t want to use an app, you can always read this wikiHow on controlling your mobile use. Based on the plethora of search results, smart phone addiction is a serious problem, and people want help.
My self-imposed restrictions have become a healthy boundary that have saved me from a world of aggravation. As I look back on how I got here, I’ve never been more grateful for fat fingers.