My Month with a Smartphone

My Month with a Smartphone

Anyone who knows me well knows my phone.

Going on five years, it’s been my trusty and reliable companion (and often my only ally) in my battle against the technology takeover. A nostalgic #throwback to my first ever week in Hong Kong, my museum-worthy Anycall holds a special place in my heart. And aside from it’s personal significance, it texts, it calls, it has a battery life of over a week (what stamina!), it has a calculator and a torch (which has come in very handy on camping trips when everyone else’s phone dies before sundown) and that’s all I have ever needed it to do.

I prided myself on the fact that should the Terminator-style digital apocalypse happen, I would be the sole survivor whose voice would not be identified by the ‘Big Brother’ surveillance conspiracy that is Siri. And I was far less likely to be kidnapped by terrorists or cyborgs because they would not be able to track me by hacking into Google maps or figure out my every move via my social media accounts. #blessedlife

Smartphone - Telephone
Hello? This is 18th century calling, they want their telephone back.

It was a cost-effective anti-theft device. Nobody wanted it, so I didn’t need to be careful. I once left it in a H&M changing room over a weekend and it was still there when I came back for it. I felt assured by the fact that if the phone broke, or if I lost it, it would cost me less that HK$100 to get a replacement.

Technology didn’t own me. And I felt a prideful surge of hipster-esque rebellion whenever I took out my phone in front of new people and heard them audibly gasp in horror.

I watched, smugly, as couples sat opposite each other in restaurants, scrolling through their Facebook feeds instead of speaking to the person next to them. I sucked my teeth as I watched those taking Insta-photos of their meals, crafting hashtags and monitoring ‘Likes’ rather than eating. On the MTR, I would look up and judge the hundreds of commuters playing Candy Crush before sticking my nose back into the pages of my book.

When people turned up late with the excuse of ‘But I sent you a message on Facebook?’, I snapped that they could have, and should have, called me, or y’know actually turned up on time instead of relying on technology to let everyone know of their lateness. When friends and family complained that it would be so much easier and cheaper for me (but mainly for them) if I was available via Whatsapp rather that texting, I reminded them that it wasn’t cheaper because one has to buy a smartphone, a contract and pay for data, which far exceeds the cost of a few texts. When my boyfriend didn’t reply to a question because he was too busy swiping through Sky Sports News on his phone, I literally whacked it out of his hand.

Smartphone - Instagram
Be honest, how long did it take you to arrange all that stuff?

I would never be like that. I would not be a zombie. I would not give Apple any of my money. I would not cave to peer pressure. I would not prioritise my online presence over my actual presence. I would not become a smartphone wanker.

And then the unthinkable happened.

My boss came to me one day, sick of being unable to communicate with me via the work Whatsapp group, and gave me her old iPhone 4. I’m told that this is an old model that is already considered old fashioned by smartphone snobs the world over, but to me it was a Flux Capacitor. I had no choice. It was finally time to give in and join the virtual world.

And, reader, I admit that I kinda liked it.

My arrival into the world of Whatsapp put me back in contact with old friends who sent messages just to say hi, or mostly ‘Welcome to the real world!’. I could take photos, listen to music, call, message, do the social media thing, Skype, Facetime, calculate, calorie count, shine a torch, and anything else (because, apparently, there’s always an app for that) all in one place. Not that I need to explain that to you, reader, as you’re probably scrolling through this blog post on your smartphone now, right?

And Instagram! Good lord, Instagram! What I had been missing out on there! As a travel junkie, I found a new source of pleasure in flicking through endlessly gorgeous and wanderlust-y pictures by National Geographic, Lonely Planet and all my travel-savvy friends that I have met these past five years. And I shared my own snaps, serotonin rushing to my brain every time someone tapped on the ‘heart icon’ below my pics.

Smartphone - Selfie
Wait. Lemme take a #selfie

When I went to Japan, I was able to share photos that I’d taken with people back home instantly, rather than waiting several weeks before I could be bothered to take them off my camera and put them on Facebook.

My family created a Whatsapp group so that we could keep on top of everyone’s news and organise ourselves better (and make fun of each other, obviously, that’s important too).

I downloaded language apps, and started practising my Italian again.

When inspiration hit – whether it was writing, travel or otherwise – I typed up my thoughts using the notes function without having the problems of ‘Shit, I don’t have a pen,’ or ‘Argh, no paper, I’ll just have to scrawl this on my arm,’ or the dreaded, ‘Where did I put that scrap of paper with the thing on that was going to change my life?’.

But, sadly, it wasn’t all eggplant emojis and Ludwig Instagram filters.

I got in trouble for ‘seeing’ messages and not replying, because Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger like to tell people when you’ve seen something, and when you were last online. I also had one conversation with three different people via three different apps playing a twisted game of ‘he says she says’ because they didn’t want to talk to each other, but didn’t want the others to know that they didn’t want to talk to them. I despaired that the battery never lasted a full day, and that sometimes it would just die with 50% battery, no warning, and then my morning alarm wouldn’t go off.

Smartphone - Video
Why watch the game when I can video it and share it online to let people know that I’m watching the game?

And, even though I had promised myself that I wouldn’t be that person, I admit that I got distracted looking at perfect pictures of skinny Pinterest and Instagram girls effortlessly posing in flawless make-up and intricately braided hair. Why didn’t my hair look like that when I braided it? Why did my belly go outwards when theirs went inwards? Why didn’t I look cute with a lace bra, dark purple lipstick and a cute geometric tattoo?

I stalked people that I hadn’t thought about in years, swiping through their photos, wondering what they were doing now and then feeling bad about myself when I saw they were happier than I thought they would be, or happier than I am.

Yes, I know that people’s online personas are fake. Yes, I know that I was looking at the highlight reel, not the full picture. Yes, I know I was being ridiculous, but somehow I still let myself get sucked in. Obviously, I had social media accounts before I got a smartphone, but this was a digital overload for an analog girl like me.

Then, it got worse.

After three weeks, I accidentally knocked the phone off the bathroom sink and the bottom part of the screen smashed on the floor. It cracked into a spiderweb pattern. It wasn’t enough to break the device or render it unusable, but I started getting tiny pieces of glass crumble on my fingertips whenever I tried to scroll or type.

After four weeks, I went to the Philippines with friends and the phone was stolen. I was as careful as I could be, keeping it in a tightly zipped bag, with my hand on the bag at all times, but it was a futile effort. Two of us were robbed at the same time one night, the thief quickly snatching the phones out of our pockets and bags without us even noticing until it was too late.

When I realised my bag was unzipped and the phone was gone, I was disappointed in myself. Why hadn’t I been more careful? What would my boss would say? Did I need to change my passwords to everything? How would I contact people while I was travelling? What if something went wrong?

And yet there was a small part of me that felt vindicated. I had been right all along about smartphones – they were trouble. It was foolish to put all your eggs in one basket, and carry around something so personally as well as financially valuable.

Smartphone - Food
But you could be eating right now?

Although the thief had bolted, I looked on the ground on the off-chance that either myself or the robber had dropped the phone. Then, I saw a Polaroid photograph on the ground. It had been taken earlier that day by a Korean couple we had met on the beach, who were excited to take photos with (using their words, not ours!) ‘handsome’ and ‘beautiful’ foreigners. They were lovely people, it had been a great day and it was a hilarious memory that I’ll always cherish. The Polaroid was a classic. It didn’t require a filter.

Back in Hong Kong, I came crawling back to my Anycall, like a sheepish ex-girlfriend begging for forgiveness. ‘Will you give me another chance? I promise I’ll never cheat on you again.’ I told my boss what had happened, and I calculated that the excess on my travel insurance would potentially cost me more than the money I would receive in compensation, and there was a risk that my claim wouldn’t be accepted anyway because I had no proof of purchase for the phone. (Thanks a lot insurance, what exactly is the point of you?)

Not without a sense of irony, my trusty Anycall started playing up too. I couldn’t hear people when I called them, and the buttons (buttons!) were stiff and didn’t always work. To add insult to injury, a tiny beach pebble from Boracay got stuck in the headphone jack of my old-school iPod. Meanwhile, my old-school digital camera was also giving up the ghost and, besides, the photos that it took weren’t as good quality as the iPhone’s.

I was faced with a dilemma. A true #firstworldproblem. I was no longer a smartphone virgin, and I now needed a replacement phone, iPod and camera. It made sense to cave and buy myself a smartphone. Plus, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the ease of use of the device; the ability to communicate with loved ones around the world at the touch of (well, not buttons) a touchscreen, especially considering that I live abroad and travel often.

So, yesterday, I bought a secondhand iPhone with my own actual money.

It’s not one of these fancy 6+CS things, it’s not new, I still don’t plan on taking selfies unless it’s ironic, and I still haven’t lost my pride enough to step into an Apple store, but it’s an iPhone nonetheless. And this time, I’ll do it properly. This time, I’ll be a grown-up. This time, I’ll learn from my mistakes.

I will not get sucked into a social media spiral looking at unattainable beauty that I know is orchestrated, photoshopped and sponsored by big brands.

I will not stare at my phone for hours on end, and I will not unnecessarily spend time on my phone when I am with actual flesh-people.

I will not value my online presence over my actual presence.

I have learnt my lesson:

There are no smartphone wankers, only wankers with smartphones.

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