I bought a new mobile phone recently. Here it is.
Anything wrong with that? Yes, it’s not a fruit-flavoured smartie phone. Much to the bewilderment and frustration of family and friends, I refuse to own a smartphone. Why? No one has yet convinced me of the need. The phone I have makes and receives phone calls and text messages and that is pretty much all I need it to do.
Ironically, I was one of the first of my peer group to own a mobile phone – back in the mid-nineties, a petrol company was giving them away if you bought enough fuel. I was then covering enough mileage to need a tank of fuel at least once a week and I collected enough points to get one within a month!
Here are some arguments against what others tell me is my need for a smartphone.
“But what about all the exciting apps you could get”. I have enough trouble trying to fit in all the reading and writing and film watching I want to do. I’ve hardly got the time to play with more procrastination-inducing applications. And anyway, I’d had my last retro-phone for over two years before I discovered the games it had pre-installed, so I hardly think I’m going to miss a few apps.
“You can check email / social networks when you are out and about”. Many people find it hard to understand my response of “but I don’t want to”. I will happily respond to emails and Facebook posts when I’m at home and in my own time but when I’m out and about and socialising with other people I’d rather, well, be out and about and socialising with other people.
There seems to be an assumption that because we can be contactable at any time, we should be contactable at any time. People in checkout queues answering calls and launch deep into conversations while trying to pack away their shopping and open their wallets with one hand. Phone calls are private conversations; I don’t want all and sundry listening in to my private conversations. Has no one heard of the phrase “I’m busy right now; could you call back later”? Does no one realise that there is no law that says you have to answer a call? You have voicemail that you can check at your convenience. If it’s important, you can phone them back later; if it’s not, you don’t have to.
“You can check where you are with google maps”. I can also check where I am with real maps (which are far more interesting) or by looking at street signs. I’ve managed to get through over 50 years of my life without the help of google maps when I am travelling, and I’ve never got so hopelessly lost that a search party’s been needed.
A few years ago, while on a walk around Eastleigh we ended up on a road I wasn’t expecting. My companion reached for her phone while I used the old and trusted method of “asking a passer-by”. I found our location while Google Maps was still trying to pinpoint us more precisely than “London” – and got directions to where we wanted to go, to boot.
“You can contact people using WhatsApp”. Yes, but I can already contact people with a plethora of other media. It’s not as if I am off-grid. Having another communication method means something else to check because I don’t know which particular one different people will use to contact me. Multiple different communication methods strikes me as a fast way to communication overload.
“You can take a photo and immediately email it or post it to social media” OK, but is that a good thing? Isn’t it better to wait and consider whether the photo is suitable for distribution? Is the quality good enough? Does it contain people (intentionally or accidentally) who might not want to be plastered all over social media? Do I want people to know where I am right now? Have I removed the hidden properties from the image that might pinpoint the exact location of the image, or other personal details?
And what about something you rarely hear from us retro phone stalwarts: “has anyone got a charger I can borrow?”. One charge will typically last five or six days. None of this 8-hour max malarkey
And what about the size of the screen and keyboard?
The screen size is too small to read anything easily. The small width makes it difficult to scan read and you have to scroll down every few lines. There is no chance of having extra columns of information, or links to other information. That would drive me up the wall.
Compare these two images of the BBC News page. The smart phone version concentrates on one story; you have no idea what else is going on. The real computer allows you to easily pick what story to read, and has easily visible links to other sessions of the BBC site (Sounds is the one I click most often).
“How do I do this”? people ask when trying to navigate through a smartphone enable web site. My stock response is “it’s a computer application. Use a proper computer”.
And how anyone manages to type anything on the screen-based keyboard is beyond me. On the rare occasions that I have tried to use one it’s been a very slow and frustrating experience. I hit a key next to the one I want; or can’t find the letter I want. It’s not that I can’t user a qwerty keyboard – it’s just that I am used to using one with both hands. Letters on the left are hit with the fingers on my left hand; letters on the right with those on my right hand (those in the middle are hit with which ever finger is closer). Yes, I know that this isn’t the proper way to type but it works (after a fashion) for me. But give me a small smartphone keyboard where you are supposed to use one finger for all letters, and I am flummoxed. I can actually write messages using my numeric keypad than I can using a screen-based qwerty one.
I’m not a complete luddite. I have a kindle (did I hear a sharp intake of breath. Don’t worry, I have real books too). And I’m thinking about getting a GPS watch to track my running (I’ve done research; there are some types that don’t need to be coupled with a smartphone to work). Maybe I’ll be persuaded one day. But for now I am keeping with my retro-phone.