Commentary

So I Bought a Smartphone!

After years of vowing never to own a smartphone, viewing them as needless childish gadgets, I finally caved in and bought one.

The phone I’ve used for the past ten years (I’ve had three) is the Nokia 105 Dual SIM that weighs 74 grams and is the size of a Mars Bar. It has the battery life of 13 days and even has a radio (and two games). My new phone weighs 220 grams, has the battery life of a day, and has the portability of a chopping board.

There was a time in the not so distant past when people would laugh at you for carrying around a ‘brick’ of a phone. So what happened? At what point did these massive, chunky, cumbersome phones become so popular when twenty years ago you could buy one the size of a matchbox. I’m not a technological anthropologist, if they even exist, but I bet it was the day Steve Jobs stood on stage with his iPhone and said something dumb like “This is the future!”

Cheers for that, Steve. Now even I’ve got to buy one.

Of course, I didn’t have to. He didn’t force me from silicon heaven. But I did. But why? Why did I dispense with a phone that was working perfectly, and had served me well for nearly a decade?

I’m not entirely sure. Yes, I’d been thinking about it for a while. There had been a few occasions when I could have done with one. Like getting lost recently in Caen in sheeting rain at one o’clock in the morning after making a wrong turning from the ferry terminal. There were also a few other times when companies sent me verification texts that could only be accessed via a smartphone, you know the kind.

Of course, none of these warranted the purchase, I could have plodded on regardless and got by with my Nokia. But then I went to my brother’s wedding and everything changed.

During his speech, he affectionately alluded to the fact that I lived in deep technological isolation on a farm in France. Which is true, I do. And I enjoy it. But for some reason, as I was munching on the wedding cake, I felt the urge to buy a smartphone, right there, right then, as though my life depended on it.

I couldn’t as I was in the middle of North Yorkshire, but when I got back to France (after getting lost in Caen), I decided the time had come. So I ordered a Xiaomi Redmi 9A (for Christmas) and when I got it, instantly messaged my brother:

“Hi, Guess what!!!!???”

I waited for the reply, which I assumed would arrive within minutes, seconds even.

I didn’t get one. So I sent it again. But nothing. Had something gone wrong? Was my message lying in some heavily encrypted Xiaomi outbox without me knowing it?

No. Turns out my brother had switched his phone off for Christmas. The irony wasn’t lost on me, for sure.

I actually felt like sending the phone back, as it had served its purpose – I’d made contact with the outside world. But I didn’t, of course. Who sends their own Christmas present back? Not me, so I plugged slowly on, becoming like everyone else: loading up Apps and photographing inane things and then adding faux artistic filters. Like this wine box with a vanilla b/w sheen:

(good idea though, don’t you think?)

So do I miss my Nokia? Yes. Absolutely. I miss the compactness of its design. Its tactility, its sleekness, it’s smallness. The fact that you can hold it between your index finger and thumb with ease. Twenty years ago, this type of phone was the height of sophistication. A statement of cool. A symbol you were on the move, heading boldly into the 21st century, no holds barred.

Now what have we got? A brick in our pocket that weighs us down like a lead weight. Going out of the house these days feels like training for a strong man contest. Have I got my phone, my wallet, my keys, my bag, my laptop, my life! Were things this complicated when I was 25? I can’t remember but probably not. I didn’t even have a mobile phone until I was 28. And even then it was one of those real chunky Motorola affairs made out of indestructible plastic that you could open bottles of beer with. Or even use as a weapon. Not that I did.

When you think about it, the very definition of a mobile phone has become some sick joke. Which is probably why at some point it was changed from a mobile phone to a smartphone to avoid the obvious confusion. Probably by Steve Jobs.

But anyway, the deed is done now. I’ve got it, and it’s not going back. One, the time period to send it back has elapsed. And two, I do like the star constellation app Star Walk. It tells me what stars and constellations I’m looking at as I look through the camera. So if nothing else, if I get blasted into space or kidnapped by aliens, at least I’ll know where I am.

(Main photo/Julius Drost)


Further (hypocritical) reading:

Why I Don’t Own a Smartphone (here)

Why I Still Don’t Own a Smartphone (here)


When a faulty satnav unexpectedly sends British tourists into a deathly quiet French village, it gives its idle mayor, Jean Marc Bulot, a final shot at redemption.

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Commentary, Observation

Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone

On a recent visit to see me in France, my friend asked me if he could borrow my phone for a minute. His was out of battery and he needed to check something. I handed him mine.

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

‘My phone. It’s quite smart. It only cost €5. It’s even got a radio.’

He looked at me in utter disbelief. I hadn’t seen him for a few years so he couldn’t work out whether I was joking or I simply hadn’t caught up with modern life.

‘But it doesn’t even have internet,’ he complained pressing the thick plasticky keys of my Logitech D34.

‘No, it doesn’t,’ I declared. ‘But it does have a torch, so at least I can see where I’m going.’

Once he’d got over the initial shock, he congratulated me, telling me he would love to live without his phone, but sadly, he couldn’t.

‘Why not?’ I asked. I wasn’t trying to be smug or clever; I was simply interested.

‘Because it’s got everything on it,’ he admitted. ‘I mean everything, bank details, work schedules, films, photos, my diary, passwords, my life. If I lost it, I’d be screwed. Even leaving home without it sends me into a mild panic. I sometimes have to drive back home just to retrieve it. It’s like a drug I know.’

‘More wine?’ I asked.

I poured him another glass as we tucked into our confit du canard, which I’d lovingly cooked from the tin. ‘Mmm.’ He licked his lips. ‘Very good. I mean, down our way you can’t even order a pizza unless you’ve got the App! I can’t even remember the last time I actually spoke on the phone. I just communicate via Messenger or WhatsApp.’

‘I prefer email,’ I added. ‘Or the old fashioned landline.’

My friend burst out laughing. ‘That’s why I can never get in touch with you. Who uses a landline these days? Next you’ll be writing letters.’

We laughed and discussed more fantastical scenarios involving the future of technology, and what would happen if one day it all got turned off and we were all forced to write letters again. Then finally, we got onto my novel, Le Glitch.

‘So? I asked him tentatively, slugging back a glass of red Saumur so lacking in body it felt like I was drinking Shloer. ‘What did you think?’

He got my book out of his bag and held it in his hand like he was taking an oath. ‘I haven’t read it,’ he quickly admitted. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘What!’ I exploded. ‘What do you mean, you haven’t read it? You said you would. What were you doing on the train down here? You could have probably finished it, you’re a fast reader, aren’t you? Plus it’s quite pacy — or so I’m told by people who have read it.’

‘I’m sorry, I got distracted.’

‘By what? The view?’

He looked sheepish. I’d known this guy since school and he always looked the same when he’d been caught out. His face muscles tightened and his mouth dropped open like a dead fish, signalling he was about to tell the truth. ‘I’ve just started seeing this new girl, you know how it is. Messaging and texting and before I knew it, I was at the station. It’s why my phone is out of battery. I’ll read it tomorrow.’

Then I had an idea. ‘No, you’ll read it now,’ I barked. ‘I’m not going to give you the internet code until you’ve read the book. And seeing as there’s no mobile signal around here for miles, I suggest you get reading. Unless you want to start writing letters. In that case the post goes at about eleven o’clock in the morning twice a week. But as the postman rarely shows up, you might have to resort to smoke signals to contact your girl. Your choice.’

My friend looked back at me. No internet. No mobile phone signal. His world had suddenly collapsed in on itself, casting him into a sea of impenetrable darkness. ‘But but but,’ he pleaded. ‘Can I just text her to tell her I’ve arrived?’

‘No — get reading!’ I ordered. ‘It shouldn’t take you long. As I’ve said, it’s quite pacy.’

And with that my friend sat down in my armchair, filled up his glass of cheap Saumur, and opened the first page of my book and started reading.

Five hours later he was finished.

‘Well?’ I asked.

‘It’s good. Can I go to bed now?’

‘Oh.’ I looked astonished. ‘Don’t you want the code?’

‘The code?’

‘For the internet.’

My friend rubbed his tired eyes. ‘Nah. Forget it, it can wait till the morning. I’m going to bed. Night.’

(*This was originally published 25 November 2019. I still don’t have a Smartphone. Although with technology creeping up on me and everything requiring Apps these days, I’m not sure how long I can last. I’ll keep you posted.)

Le Glitch is still available here

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Feature

Still off the Pills — Why I Haven’t Gone Back to Social Media

A few years ago I wrote a piece called Why I Canned Social Media. This is a follow-up piece – Like one of those What are they doing now? programmes you get on crappy daytime TV.

So how am I doing? Well, I’ve probably lost most of my friends and I don’t get invited out anymore. But apart from that, I’m fine.

To be honest though, most weren’t my friends anyway. They were just people I said YES to when a friend invite came up on Facebook. Luckily, I have my real friends, many of whom, I’ve developed a better relationship with since leaving social media, simply by using email. Or even seeing them in person. Remember that?

I’m also better humoured than I was before. And I laugh more. Especially when I read about 24-hour social media strikes. That gets me laughing! People protesting because they don’t like something Facebook or Twitter are doing, so they don’t use it for a day. Only to rush back the next to see how many LIKES they’ve got for advertising the fact they were going on a social media strike in the first place.

It’s nuts! It’s like boycotting a supermarket. But for one day only. And on the day you wouldn’t do your shopping anyway — like a Tuesday. I mean, if you’ve got a gripe about Facebook, why don’t you just delete it?

I sound like an ex-smoker haranguing smokers to stop smoking. And I know how utterly tedious it is, because I used to smoke, and hated people telling me to stop. I stopped purely for health reasons. Twenty years on the cigs hadn’t done my lungs any good, so I made the decision. And even though I still miss smoking nearly seven years on, I don’t regret leaving social media one bit. In fact, it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. For one, I’ve got more time, and secondly, I don’t get that horrible sense of dread of wondering whether I’ve said the wrong thing. Or offended someone.

I’m quite a sensitive person, and sensitive people should not use social media. If you’re bullish and don’t give a shit about anything, fire away, comment like crazy, LIKE people’s lunch for eternity. But not if you are a fragile soul like myself. You’re just going to do yourself an injury.

The main reason I left Facebook was that I had the audacity to criticise my school (it was an old fashioned boarding school). I wrote a piece on my blog about bullying and advertised my thoughts. God! The vitriol I received from people I thought were my ‘friends’ was terrible. Sullying the good name of the school seemed to be the common thread. Being ungrateful, another. Being spoilt, another one. It was insane. Who defends a school? I mean, if what I was saying was a total lie, that might be fair enough. But this was the truth, and yet they couldn’t handle it.

I couldn’t handle it either. So I left Facebook. And I feel so much better now. And even the small things I miss on it, are far outweighed by not having to be conscious of what people might think, or might be saying about me. Not that it should matter. But if it does, and you are vulnerable, I really would advise deleting it.

I guarantee it, you’ll feel better. That’s a promise.

Of course, I still use the internet — I’m using it now — but I like to try and use it in a way that fits in with my personality: Unintrusive and quiet. Even the thought of that stupid red symbol Facebook has when you’ve got a like or a reply, makes me shiver. I don’t even have a Smartphone for the same reason. I don’t want to be connected 24/7. (I even wrote a piece about that too called Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone)

I’ve often thought of canning the whole internet thing. It’s very difficult to escape. But not impossible. To have nothing. No email. No bank. No online tax return. All possible, people do it all the time believe it or not. You just don’t read about it.

It’s a funny world we live in. And I’m thinking there might be two types of humans evolving side by side. The connected and the unconnected. Two sub-species of humankind, who don’t speak or communicate with each other, and who are totally oblivious to one another’s existence. Which is exactly how I feel when I enter a public place these days. You’ve only got to go into any bar, cafe, restaurant, town centre, shopping arcade, to see that most people are on their phones. Doing what? I’m not sure. I guess they are on social media or looking at the football, or the news. I mean what else would they be doing? Reading a book? Possibly. But unlikely.

In truth, I’m not sure what will happen, or where it will all go. We might just split into two species after all. One with a hand. The other with a phone.

(Photo by Marc Schaefer on Unsplash)

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