New Year’s resolutions generally come with an over-priced gym membership, an impulse purchase of Dr. Oz self-help books and a two week expiration date. Mine came with a yearlong contract, unlimited Tetris and a fast pass to the ‘90s.
Flip phones – the poster child for the losing team in survival of the fittest – remain a nostalgic yet horribly outdated icon: the perm of technological devices. As iPhone-clad elementary schoolers and college kids alike iMessage, Snapchat and tweet their days away, my flip phone has five ringtone options. Don't worry, my phone has other perks, too. I get to shut it dramatically, and I have a pretty great filter for my photos. It’s called blurry, and it can be in color, black-and-white or even sepia. That’s luxury.
I decided my New Year’s resolution a bit late – January 2, actually – while crammed on the subway. As I scanned the train car, I saw a family sitting in an enclave at the end of the train car. The father, flicking through his iPad, sat aloof as his two children, around the ages of four and six, sat beside him on the worn orange seats. His kids argued and cried for two stops until, without looking up, he got out two iPhones, green and blue, and handed them to each child. They quieted. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the absurd tactic, only to find that, out of the 11 people on the train car, nine were on their smartphones. Out of the two people who weren’t, one was asleep and the other was in the corner playing with her live snake.
I got off the train and decided, probably a bit too spontaneously, that I wanted to see what would happen if I went on a tech detox. The detox entailed a no iPhone diet, which by proxy meant no mobile internet or email, no iMaps, no Snapchat, no Tinder, no apps at all (unless you count the two apps my new flip phone has: a free trial of Tetris and a calculator). I’m not a masochist, so I allowed myself to keep a computer (with wifi) for the evenings, but during the day I was technologically solo. Instead of using a smartphone to never talk to people face to face, to never be alone, to never be uncomfortable, I decided that 2015 would be the year where my communication was text (as little as possible), call or, most importantly, talk. I immediately planned to go to the nearest AT&T store. Without pause, I used my iPhone to find it.
Logistically, a flip phone in 2015 is burdensome. I have, on multiple occasions, called my friends solely to make them look up what train I need to take, the weather forecast or to check if I got a notification on Facebook. The amount of times I want to call someone to do something so fundamentally unnecessary is jarring. I call people constantly, and on multiple occasions have been yelled at for leaving three voicemails while a friend was in class.
I also have felt, at times, isolated. Today's communication has progressed (or, depending on how you see it, regressed) into a never-ending influx of chirps, beeps and buzzes signaling GroupMe, group chats, emails, TMZ scandals and emojis. People spend so much time on their phones that ‘text-neck’ is a thing. I text as infrequently as humanly possible, considering that messaging is a near-Odyssean task – clicking the 1 button 7 times to get an exclamation point has forced me to be incredibly less enthused via text message. I now have to text people just to clarify what an emoji means, unless they actually meant to send an empty box.
There is a bizarre sense of pity for my cellular life choices. People have stared at my flip phone as if I were using a telegraph. It always ignites a conversation, but when I explain my goals I either get a ‘but really, why?’ or an assumption that I broke my iPhone and this was forced on me, as if not having constant access to Twitter is a true burden. In the last three weeks of my iPhone-less existence, my communication tactics have in fact changed – I spend less time looking at a GroupMe and more time actually speaking to people – but what has struck me far more than my new communication skills is how little I was ever uncomfortably alone.
Grasping that we are solitary beings even in a bustling, chaotic, overcrowded planet is conceptually robust and frightening. Maybe it’s our intrinsic fear of isolation, but being without a smartphone has made me realize the rarity of legitimate solitude. As a reflex at an awful party, I would do the rounds – not of mingling, but of checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, if I was especially uncomfortable, even stooping to Tinder. A smartphone is a safety net, a bubble of assurance that you will neither be truly alone nor have to face your discomfort. I don’t have my phone with me half as often, but I have, on occasion, walked home at night, under the dim glow of street-lamps, and looked around to realize that I am by myself, truly. Strangely enough, it’s peaceful.
While buying my hunk of plastic (I say buy when, in fact, the phone cost me $0. Clearly this is AT&T’s last-ditch effort before they dump thousands of unused flip phones into the bottom of the Pacific), the manager asked me not once but three times if my current phone was broken. I told him proudly that my New Year’s resolution was to be more comfortable speaking face to face, actually communicating. He asked me if I had heard of FaceTime.