A Little While Longer
People are always surprised that I don’t own one. They’ll raise their eyebrows as I pull my little blue slider out of my purse, and immediately the staccato of questions begin.
First, they’ll ask why I don’t have a smartphone, and wonder how I do most things without one. Then, they’ll ask if my phone slides, and I’ll show them and they’ll laugh and say they used to have one like that. Or they’ll laugh and give me more of the looks they’ve been giving me all along. When I tell them I print off Google directions or use maps—paper maps, that is—they of course, inevitably, ask why.
No matter what I say, they can never be convinced. The necessity for convenience and ease trumps all else, and they remain baffled. Sometimes I wonder if I just can’t explain myself well enough in the moment.
I can’t explain why I don’t always want my email inbox following me, why I don’t always want Facebook hanging around. And I can’t explain how much it bothers me when I’m somewhere with someone and they keep texting someone else (or why this happens more to people with smartphones than dumb ones). And I can’t explain how irritated I get when I receive a sudden wave of texts from several friends about several different things and feel like I have to respond to them all immediately, even though none of it is urgent. And I can’t explain that feeling I get when I’m riding on the train and everyone’s looking down while I’m looking out.
More often than you’d expect, I meet people who give me a pat on the back and jokingly encourage me to not give in, who say they hate what they have now. The part I don’t like is when they say they had to get it. It’s as though, at some point, they shrugged and found themselves saying, “Well, what are you gonna do?”
I used to think that would be me. That at some point, I too would give in and accept this apparent fate society deemed mine. But the longer I’ve gone on, and the more conversations I’ve had, the less I’ve felt this way.
I’m not sure whether it was the Slovak stubbornness running through my veins or more of an honest disinterest—the only reasons I’ve ever wanted a smartphone, to date, are for the camera function and those amazing alarm tones—but whatever it was in the beginning has evolved into a strongly held opinion.
I have gone from not caring about smartphones at all to caring about not wanting one. I hold this feeling so closely that sometimes it seems as if I am on a crusade. While the world points and laughs, I stand my ground, tightening my grasp with every additional app.
This call of duty has grown so strong that I find myself rejecting the possibilities even when they are, quite obviously, so much more practical. While there’s much I can say to my friends when they point out that it would save me time and energy to have access to things like the Internet and Google Maps—I can talk about patience and planning ahead and knowing, practically speaking, how to read a map—there’s not much I can say when they point out the fact that it could actually save me money.
As a complete and utter cheapskate, this is something even I am baffled by.
My mother has been offering me her old iPhone for months now. For free. She kept asking me when I was going to switch over, but I kept telling her the next month and the next month and the next. And I finally realized that, as practical as it sounded, I just couldn’t do it. We asked the guy at the Verizon store if we could save it until my old phone stopped working, and he said yes.
People, including my mother, have asked me how long I plan to keep my old phone.
“Until it clunks out,” I’ll say, and then joke that, given its track record, that probably won’t happen.
Most of the time, they’ll shrug and laugh, but more often than expected, someone will nod reassuringly.
“That was the best phone I ever had,” they’ll say, looking at my slider, initially released circa 2010. And then they’ll talk about how many times they dropped it, and I’ll them how many times I’ve dropped mine. And then they’ll show me the splintered glass on their iPhone, or the OtterBox they finally succumbed to getting.
I have begun to wonder what I will do about my children. I don’t have any at the moment—I’m not married, not even dating anyone currently—but I have a feeling I am going to be one of those moms whose children loathe her. They will ask me why they can’t have a phone until they’re thirteen and when they have one why they can’t text at the dinner table. Maybe they will even loathe me for making them use flip phones, or something much less advanced than whatever it is they’ve come up with by then.
In the third grade, every morning before school, my brother and I would watch Lamb Chops. Tears and whining would emerge as it became clear that no, we were not going to stay home and watch animal puppets sing songs on TV all day. In the evenings, the battle would ensue as bouncing tigers and other forms of entertainment tempted us away from our homework.
Finally, after weeks of this kind of routine, my parents had a brilliant idea: there would be no TV in our house Mondays through Thursdays. The weekends would be free, but the weekdays? They were now, quite officially, off limits.
Though much of it is faded, what I remember the most is feeling as though I was missing something. Every day at school, my friends would talk about Tommy and Chuckie and their friends and what had happened to all of them. The reasoning behind my parents’ decision was certainly beyond me—of course they had told us, but that didn’t matter—and my brother and I often commented on the unfairness of it all. On Saturday mornings, we crammed in as much TV as we could, feeling so sick afterwards that we literally stumbled away when it was time for lunch.
Though it definitely felt unfair at the time, and the tale still manages to shock almost anyone I tell it to, I wouldn’t ask for anything else. While my best friends were watching Tommy and Chuckie play together, my brother and I played outside. While episode one turned into episode ten, we climbed castles splintered with bark and leapt over lava pits of boiling grass. While eyes stared at screens, we put on plays for my parents, plays where princesses and dragons became best friends, where Beanie Babies took over the world, where a little boy and a little girl were spurred on with every ooh and ahh, where a mother and father sometimes became kings and queens, too.
I’ve had my phone for seven years now. It’s shiny and blue, almost metallic-like, even though it’s all plastic. The sliding function still works well; I’ve dropped it a lot, though fortunately never into water. Every time it’s dropped on any kind of hard surface—wood, concrete, you name it—the cover will snap off and pieces will go sliding. I’ll bend over, pick them up, snap the battery back into place, and put the cover back on. The phone is so small it fits in the palm of my hand.
Just two hours away, in my mom’s office, sits an iPhone, waiting for me.
But the reality is this: I’m not missing out. I’m already texting my friends and family when I wake up at six in the morning or right as I’m falling asleep at night. I’m already texting them when I’m grocery shopping or watching a movie or cooking dinner. And when I’m somewhere with any of them I’m already messaging everyone else. Generally speaking, I’m already always doing something else when I’m doing something else—even though my phone doesn’t have apps or Internet, even when I have no one to text, I feel antsy, this need to be clicking, reaching. So I delete all my old messages or organize new ones.
And now, when I’m riding the train, I’m already looking down with everyone else, instead of looking out.
The other day, I found myself driving home through the loop. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the route I wound up on was unintentional. I had missed my exit on my way out of Chinatown, rendering me potentially lost unless I turned around to reroute. I’d misplaced the Google directions I’d printed earlier and, still fairly new to city, I wasn’t sure how to get home.
There was a flicker of panic, but then there was this tug.
So I went.
I decided to take a right, hoping to catch the interstate, only to fall further into the heart of the city. After several minutes of wandering, Wacker presented itself and, liking the idea, I followed it.
Curving and waving, I rolled along the river, traffic flowing past on the other side like streaming fish. I’d always liked Wacker. Eventually, it brought me to a light, and suddenly I found myself stopped.
I was next to one of those old bridges, the kind with red steel and tender houses at the end. It looked imposing, almost regal, against the endless traffic, and so did all the other bridges, like something of another time, something important we should all pay attention to. Then there were the skyscrapers beyond—tall and overwhelming, spanning over those wide gaps the river creates. Though I’d seen the sight endless times, at that moment, with the skyscrapers juxtaposed against those historic bridges, the city had a look of magnificence about it. I looked, and forgot all else.
A blink of red, beeping behind me, and I realized I needed to move. I took a left, still not sure where I was, but knew I was headed north. As I passed over the old bridge and headed away from the loop, the first several blocks of the street I was on eluded me. It seemed like any other and, for all I knew, I was in for another twenty minutes of wandering.
Suddenly, like magic, I knew where I was—it was as if I’d passed through a portal from one world into another. I laughed as I recognized where I’d come to—a street I had frequented for several months while visiting a friend. Only driving certain parts, with never enough time to explore, I’d always wanted to see what it looked like from the other side. There was something sweetly satisfying about coming from the end of a road that I had always gazed down and winding up back at the start.
I headed toward the interstate—I knew the rest of the way now—and smiled the whole way home about a piece of the city I’d never known.
I’m not sure when I’ll get a smartphone. Sometimes I think it will eventually happen, that I’ll inevitably succumb. Sometimes I think I won’t.
All I know is that I want to keep missing out. At least a little while longer.
Hannah Kiefer is a writer and performer living in Chicago. When she isn't working on her novel, blogging, or navigating the city with paper maps, you can find her eating chocolate (LOTS of chocolate).