Calvin (Finally) Gets a Smartphone

apple-iphoneIncorporating a common gadget into one’s daily round may be a dubious pretext for a blogpost – and an especially dubious pretext for as lengthy a post as this one’s going to be. But as my recent crossing of the threshold between non-iPhone usage and iPhone usage may prove to be as significant for this blogger (and person) as my purchasing (back in the Pleistocene 1980s) a personal computer, I’ve decided to document how this intruiging device came to be incorporated into my daily routine.

As is typical for me, my longstanding reluctance to obtain an iPhone had to do with mainly with how much the thing costs – both the machine itself and the monthly fee resulting from using it.

As we shall see, in my case the budget concerns turned out to be marginal. But there was something else that made me hesitant to try one out so belatedly, after most people I knew had long since capitulated decided to replace their mobile phone with a “smartphone” of some sort.

For me, the iPhone – as it is typically deployed in the United States, anyway – had come to symbolize what I consider the Potential Dark Side of the otherwise impressive (and impressively rapid) evolution of computer-based technology and the Middle Class’s access to that technology. I was – and still am – disappointed appalled at how quickly this amazingly powerful portable and wireless computerized device became such a ubiquitous and  socially fragmenting (vs. community-fostering) feature of public life instead of the totally beneficial tool-consolidating, and communication-facilitating device it might have become.

(Warning: Further ruminations about this Potential Dark Side of the smartphone – or, more accurately, the Almost Universally Tacky Use of A Benign Technology by Thoughtlessly Rude Adults – figure largely in this account of how this tantalizing little gadget entered the Cal-o-sphere.)

Like every other first-worlder (or, apparently, like 85% of all current Earthlings regardless of geographical location or income), I began noticing – probably sometime in 2008 shortly after Apple began expensively peddling its notoriously expensive and cleverly-designed mobile phones – more and more of my fellow-citizens spending more and more time staring at something in the palms of their respective left hands (or in the case of left-handed smartphone users, the staring was presumably at the right-hand palm.)

I can’t remember whether my first puzzled noticings of smartphone-staring-at were in an airport, in a subway station, or in a shopping mall, but I do remember feeling that same indignance that had previously been triggered by the sonic degradation of public civility by subsequent waves of boom-box-toting and cellphone-yelling-into hordes. (Fortunately for me, no one of my personal acquaintance had yet whipped out his/her mobile smartphone to gaze into or talk at while I stood there momentarily and rudely ignored.)

At any rate, as the frequency of such palm-staring sightings grew by the month, the more my curiosity – and my chagrin and, eventually, my consternation – became. I kept wondering what magical distractions any machine could possibly provide would prompt people to ignore multiple years’ worth of childhood indoctrination/socialization in the proper ways of deporting oneself and one’s machines in public places – not to mention acceptable behavior in the midst of personal conversations. (Sure enough, it wasn’t long until Miss Manners felt obliged to make a pronouncement on the proper vs. improper use of the mobile telephone.)

What I didn’t realize, for five long years, was that the iPhone (and its imitating Androids, etc.) wasn’t merely a replacement for the land-line telephone or, eventually, the cellphone itself. Owning a smartphone was a way of carrying around with you everywhere a tiny, light-weight, powerful wireless computer.

I didn’t get that. All I saw, to my astonishment and dismay, was more and more individuals (or, far worse, couples and even entire groups of people) peering into their respective hand-helds while sitting in moving cars, in restaurants, and in all sorts of other public venues previously filled with face-to-face conversations . It was annoying, disconcerting, and depressing.

Interestingly (at least to me), my negative personal reaction to the iPhone and its ilk was quite different from my enthusiastic embracing of the desktop computer’s advent into the lives of the great unwashed (by which I mean the now-much-diminished Middle Class to which I belonged at the time). Although hardly an “early adopter” of the home-based personal computer, after deciding in the late 1980s to embark on a year-long project of co-editing a book, I became an ardent and grateful PC partisan – albeit chiefly of the PC’s superior-to-the-typewriter word-processing features.

Still, during the dawning of the era of the smartphone, I never imagined myself ever feeling a genuine “need” to obtain an Internet-accessing, text-messaging mobile telephone. I didn’t see the appeal of tethering myself – especially so expensively – to the already time- and attention-consuming maw of the Internet, and I was certainly mortified by the prospect of an avalanche of text messages to cope with (on top of the email that long since become difficult for me to manage satisfactorily).

Fast-forward to 2013. On a trip to San Francisco, I spent part of my summer vacation there visiting with my ex-partner Harvey, who – like everyone else I knew, and certainly like every other citizen of California – not only owned an iPhone, but used it routinely as the all-purpose, ever-present device its makers designed it to be. By that time, I had recently (and very reluctantly) tip-toed into cellphone-owning status – although not for the obvious convenience of a portable phone but as a method of reducing my monthly “telecommunications” expenses. Still, on those occasions when I’d remembered to carry it with me when I left the house, I used my mobile (and only semi-smart) cellphone exclusively as a phone, not as an Internet-accessing, text-messaging, photo-taking, directions-providing, and god-know-what-else machine.

However, after a frustrating episode during my visit with Harvey that resulted from his understandable but mistaken assumption that we could arrange a particularly important rendezvous via a texting-based communication, Harvey began evangelizing for my acquiring a smartphone. He did this partly by showing me not only some of the more magical things his iPhone can do, but by showing me some of the practical tasks it can perform. Still worried about a suddenly skyrocketing (vs. just-recently reduced) phone bill, I promised to investigate the financial particulars after returning to Atlanta, doubting whether my buying an iPhone was going to happen any time soon.

Fast-forward again another six months to December 2013. My friend Randall’s employer provides him a new iPhone and Randall generously offers to donate his old machine to poor pitiful iPhone-less Cal. Eventually, despite his continuing reservations about becoming a smartphone user, Cal makes several investigatory calls to his customer-friendly cellphone company (the reasonable rate-providing, contract-eschewing, and otherwise wonderful Oregon-based Consumer Cellular). 

Shortly after those conversations, and after a bit more of Randall’s gentle and patient tutelage in the wonders of the iPhone, the die was cast the final week of January 2014. Having determined that a higher phone bill might be worth the flexibility and features a smartphone offers, I begin the second month of a new year equipped with the Randall’s surplus iPhone, which saved me the considerable expense of buying one.

The recently activated iPhone is still too unfamiliar to me to judge how useful – and/or distracting – it will become. As with most technology – indeed, as with many things and as with many relationships – the iPhone will probably prove to be a Mixed Blessing. Still, I am curious to find out what that mixture will feel like, and I am genuinely intrigued at the prospect of eventually discovering even more of this machine’s convenience-expanding as well as its information-accessing and communication features.

So far, my favorite practical features are the multiple clerical tasks I can accomplish by merely speaking into the machine instead of by poking at the iPhone’s tiny keyboard:

  • No more fumbling around in my truck looking for a pen and paper to scribble down the name of some unfamiliar but wonderful song I’ve just listened to on the radio!
  • No more tedious inputting of information about the folks in my now-portable and voice-editable (!!!) address book!
  • No  more mandatory typing of emails, or the necessity of being at home to send one!
  • No more typing of questions into Google – the iPhone’s spooky Siri feature lets me ask my questions verbally!

The miraculous voice-recognition, reminder-recording, and instant information-gleaning features of the iPhone aside, there are other wonders I’ve been enjoying the past few days, or am looking forward to enjoying at some point in the near future:

  • No more waiting until I am at home to read an expected email containing information I might need to know before I get home from wherever I am!
  • No more getting lost when I’m out driving in unfamiliar territory, or at least no more staying lost for very long!
  • No more schlepping around inside my wallet the world’s tiniest (if bulky and certainly messy) paper address book: the iPhone’s contact list, besides accommodating names and phone numbers, also allows (voice-generated or typed) addresses, email addresses, blog URLS, and notes – and a photo that shows up on the screen whenever one of my (photographed) contacts calls!
  • No more temporarily unsettled disagreements about verifiable factoids, or annoying delays in Finding Out More About X.
  • No more wishing I’d brought along my digital camera when I happen to want to take a photo (including a photo to post to this blog, the first of which I took this afternoon); no more rooting around, later, to find the cable I need to upload a photo from my phone to my computer so I can email it to somebody (or post it to the blog)!

So far, my favorite completely non-essential – but, for me as a newbie, exceedingly cool – “apps” (all free, and all of them apps Randall’s shown me how to find):

  • the app that instantly tells you the current and upcoming phase of the Earth’s moon.
  • the app that, while holding the phone over your head on a clear night, labels the constellations visible from the spot where the iPhone’s GPS knows you are standing.
  • the backyard bird-identification app.

Obviously, I’m still a naïve newcomer to iPhone territory. I haven’t yet ventured into exploring the formidable music-storing and –playing capabilities of the iPhone – or, probably more relevantly to me personally, downloaded an audiobook-storing and –playing app. (The route to and from the mountain cabin that I co-own with friends is served only by radio stations that play music decidedly uncongenial to my tastes. Surely the audiobook-playing feature of the iPhone will make considerably more enjoyable my sometimes solo trips to and from the cabin? Since my ancient vehicle is equipped only with a cassette player, this audiobook-playing capability of the iPhone is, for me anyway, huge.)

One final reflection on this inordinately lengthy meditation on my recent acquisition of an iPhone. In view of the many practical uses of this machine for people who devote a huge chunk of their daily lives to full-time jobs, it’s ironic that I waited until after I retired to start using one! After all, I’m at home with my personal computer a lot more often these days than I ever was while holding down a full-time job. Still, if I can ever train myself to remember to routinely take the dang thing with me when I leave the house, I have a hunch I may come to regard the iPhone as extremely (vs. marginally) useful and, at times, as indispensable.

I do continue to ask of myself, however (and however melodramatic it sounds), that I will forever regard (till my dying breath, etc. etc.) the iPhone as a communication and information-obtaining tool. Well, OK, also as a handy device for surfing the Internet or checking my Facebook account when whiling away the more tedious and/or semi-solitary moments of my life – standing in a long line of strangers, say, or waiting – silently! – in the dentist’s office. However, for me at least – and also for at least the majority of my personal friends and my personal acquaintances – I fervently hope the iPhone doesn’t become an unavoidable, unconsciously deployed feature of our casual – or, god forbid, non-casual – interactions.

Meanwhile, I’d like to publicly thank Harvey for Planting the Seed and thanking Randall for generously giving me his old machine (and teaching me the rudiments of how to use it). I’d also love to learn from anyone reading this blog about the embedded features and downloadable apps that you find particularly useful or diverting. (As you might guess, my situation with the iPhone resembles the situation of someone just encountering the vast expanses of the World Wide Web for the first time: I stand poised at the edge of a Whole New World, dumbfounded at the sheer extent of its as-yet-unknown terrain.)

So, all you longtime smartphone users out there, please tell me – either in person next time we meet, or, better, via clicking on the Comment button below and typing away – what smartphone-based capabilities have made your own daily round more convenient or more amusing!

And please stop your snickering about how long – and why – it’s taken me to join the herd!

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2 thoughts on “Calvin (Finally) Gets a Smartphone

  1. Dear Cal,
    Jack and I both favor PassWords Plus and PepperPlate. Both come in iPhone and PC versions and have the capability to automatically update across platforms.
    Regards,
    Barby Dickey Leonard

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