Why I Don’t (Yet) Own a Smartphone

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People often see my flip phone and react with a sense of dumbfoundedness, followed by disdain. Matters are made worse by the fact that I work in the field of IT and studied it in school. I’d like to take an opportunity to commit to paper (ahem, pixels) my reasoning. If you are reading this, it is likely that I’ve emailed this link to you because our in-person conversation was far too short to make tracks. Please take heart. I don’t intend to convert you, I merely wish for you to have the opportunity to ponder the question.

The quick answer is that smartphones are too expensive. There. You can stop reading now, walk away, and just call me cheap. We can still be friends. I encourage you, however, to keep reading. When I bought my smartphone back in 2012 (oh yes, I had one, didn’t I mention it?), I bought it for a very specific reason. Comcast kept upping my cable bill till I found myself paying around $90/mo for high-speed internet in my apartment. I had unlimited data on my blackberry, which cost me around $50/mo. For years I had watched the market, waiting for that crucial time when “tethering” became a technological reality. It finally came. I ditched my secondhand blackberry and spent $500 on a brand new cutting edge Galaxy S2 (broken into 25 friendly payments of $20/mo for two years). I signed up for the $100/mo unlimited talk/text/data plan and fired Comcast, saving myself about $20/mo.

I’ve never been much of a techie, in the gadget sense. (Obviously, since I’m writing an article like this.) My parents believed video games would rot my brain, so I wasn’t raised on them and never got hooked on them as an adult. I’ve never really liked sports or television, so I’ve never been compelled to buy a really nice LCD or flatscreen. I love movies, but I’ve always managed to collect DVDs and enjoy that hobby on my laptop. My interest in technology is strictly geeky. I studied math in college and I am drawn to computers for the sole reason that they are programmable. I prefer laptops over desktops because they are portable, so I can use them outside. (I’m writing this post out on my deck.) The end result is I have no demand for high-bandwidth applications such as video streaming or interactive games. I use my computer as a DVD player, a word processor, a web surfer, and for programming. Tethering worked fine.

So, after smartphones exploded with the advent of the iPhone and Android (in 2007 and 2009, respectively), I hopped on the bandwagon in 2012 when the price point finally fell enough to address my low-tech needs. But now I have a flip phone. Ah, yes. Two years went by, I paid off the phone and my contract expired. So what happened? I liked the smartphone a lot! I most enjoyed having the social connection of Gmail and Facebook at my fingertips, and the convenience of navigation, Google searches, and a QWERTY keyboard. I even liked Audible. However, I never used the phone like most use it. I never played games, streamed movies, video ichatted, or used real-time, crowd-sourced applications for gambling, bidding, price-matching, or shopping. I consistently under-used the technology but paid full price for it.

Then the roof caved in. My tethered internet slowed. And slowed. And slowed some more. The phenomenal success of smartphones took a toll on my local bandwidth, and my connection steadily slowed to a crawl until it stopped altogether. The experts said “Well, we don’t recommend using tethering as your sole internet connection.” Fine, but I’d been using it all the same until the quality deteriorated. Also, constant updates caused the phone to degrade until in early 2014 the S2 had become obsolete. So there I was, $500 later (not even including monthly service charges), with a buggy, obsolete device and no internet. I found a refurb website that would buy the phone back for $50, bought a $60 flipper, and signed up for a no-contract, $10/mo plan.

It’s not exactly an explanation for why I don’t (yet) own a smartphone, but it gives you a peek inside my decision-making process. Honestly, I don’t own a smartphone for the same reason I don’t own a big screen TV or luxury car: It offers too much for my needs. The question then becomes, why are my needs so low? To which I reply, why are yours so high? I am very pro-technology, but again, for geek reasons. Improvements in medicine, space exploration, sustainability, communication, manufacturing, and materials science excite me! Entertainment gadgets are a by-product, not an end goal, of technological innovation. It puzzles me that gadgetry has become a status symbol and I do not make purchases based on status.

The dumbfoundedness comes from trying to imagine your life without your smartphone. Our lifestyles are very different. I spend a lot of time cooking rather than eating out. I read instead of watching TV. I run or kayak instead of going to the gym. I hike instead of golfing or shopping. I’m sure we have some hobbies in common, just as I’m sure the latter hobbies don’t define you as a person. I use those examples because they are fairly mainstream. Although I could say more, I believe this post is quite long enough. It’s getting to be that very delightful, cool, shadowy time of day about an hour before dusk. I think I’ll go for a little paddle out on the lake. I’ll be leaving my flip phone at home.

Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.