Dumb Phones Are For Dumb People

dumb-phone“Oh, gosh,” he answered, “I guess probably eighty-five to ninety percent buy smart phones. Almost nobody needs one but,” Brent the Verizon salesman said, “nobody trades in their smart phone. I’ve never seen it.”

Two years ago I had an idea for for a fundraiser so massive my boss demanded I get a smart phone before he would even let me attempt it. “Only if you get a big boy phone,” he said. And I did. And he was right. I received more than 100 e-mails an hour at one point! And many more texts. There’s no way I could have lead that project without that phone.

But after the fundraiser? The smart phone was totally unnecessary. But I kept it. I liked being so connected. And I hated being so connected.

Tech evangelists are constantly telling us technology allows an unprecedented number of connections to others and information. And this, we’re told, is unquestionably good.

But there’s more to the story. Sherry Turkle, in Alone Together, dares to tell it, and backs it with decades of data and scores of interviews. The full negative impact of technology on individuals and society is too great to cover in this little blog post. (Get the book.) But one example?

The people in our lives – especially our children – feel that they are in competition with our technology. Turkle says kids have grown up disconnected from parents who pushed them on a swing while texting, spoke to them while staring at a laptop, thumbed their Blackberry while “watching” soccer practice, read blogs and posted to Facebook instead of doing any number of things with them. Technology-wielding multitasking parents have left their children feeling like a task.

These kids are now teens and twenty-somethings seeking connection through technology and being inflicted with more psychological, intellectual and relational illnesses and retardations in the process. As my ten year-old remarked after walking away from playing a card game with a texting thirteen year-old, “I’m all by myself when I’m with her.”

Yes, televisions and home phones were competition for real life relationship too, but when we were away from home we got a break from the competition. With mobile devices there is no break.

Tech has not harmed us. Turkle never makes that claim and neither do I. Our use of it has harmed us. Not can. It has. Turkle has convinced me of that.

We lack the forethought to see how our use of technology impacts our health and the health of those around us – how our use of technology makes it nearly impossible to love God and love people as we ought – starting with those in our immediate proximity. To put it bluntly, we’re too dumb for smart phones.

I am.

For the last two years I’ve wasted time most days “checking” this site or that on my “big boy phone.” I feel lowgrade anxiety when it’s on – that odd sense that I need to touch it, use it, do something. And I feel lowgrade anxiety when it’s off – this feeling that I’m missing something, that I may be needed, that I may disappoint whoever needs me, that I’ll be punished somehow for not responding immediately. I’m too dumb for a smart phone.

So today I asked Brent to sell me the dumbest phone in the store. It was free with a contract extension. It feels like Legos. It doesn’t get e-mail. It’s painfully slow to text with. The ringtones are vintage. It does so little and is so unfun to do it on that, well, I’ll barely use it.

That’s just what I need.

Because I lack self-control. I waste time. I don’t love well. I’m dumb.