Just how dumb is a dumb phone?

I was online today, updating our cell phone account payment information, and got a little pop up message that we are eligible to upgrade our cell phones in one week.

Hubs and I have what are called ‘basic’ phones by cell companies, and ‘dumb phones’ by virtually everyone else. We’ve resisted the smart phone push largely because we can’t justify the investment… also known as, “We don’t need them.” They simply aren’t necessary to our lives, and we choose not to have them.

This is harder for me than it appears on the surface. In my former life, I was a geek. Guys at work called me “Gadget Girl” because I was the one who begged to test out new hardware, install the newest operating system, develop a white paper for the new drive imaging software. I had one of the first Palm Pilots, one of the first iPods, knew what mp3s well before Napster made life difficult for Madonna and Metallica. I played the first Duke Nukem and the original Warcraft on an ad hoc network for hours on end. I used to correspond with Desmond Crisis on an old BBS.

I was a geek. Still am, actually; I just hide it better nowadays.

So the opportunity to upgrade to an iPhone for free (“with new activation and two-year agreement!”) gives me pause.

I can justify it, if I try hard enough. It’s only ten or twenty bucks more a month than what we’re currently paying; I can have plenty of room for my audiobooks and music; I can use RunKeeper to track my runs; I can give the iPod to the kids for their apps and games.

But what does it truly cost?

A few months ago, Stella didn’t have school, so after we dropped the boys off, we went to Panera for a ‘Panera Date.’ I saw a mother and her two teenaged daughters sitting at a table near us. As Stella and I ate and chatted, not a word was spoken by the three; they were each engrossed in their iPhones. A perfect opportunity to talk about their day, or their friends, or the football game they were going to on Friday… squandered, usurped by technology.

I’m not judging this mother or her daughters, because as a mother with three of my own, I honestly appreciate the value of a quiet moment. (And, who knows? Maybe they talked themselves hoarse in the car on the way there.) I have no problem with handing over the iPad when we’re waiting at the dentist’s office, just to keep a child (or three) occupied. But when we are so addicted to technology that we feel sick to our stomach or irritable when we leave our phones at home? To have so great a need to post something to facebook, or tweet constantly, so that it’s virtually impossible to disconnect and take a break?

What about when we pick our kids up from school, or they get off the bus, and we’re on the phone? They don’t get the message that we love and miss them and are interested in how their day was; in this way, we tell them, ‘you are not as important as this phone call.’

You are not important.

When our phones ring, and our kids run to get them for us. Because even at two years of age, they know that the phone is important. It gets answered every time it rings.

What about the last time your kid asked you to play Uno or build LEGOs? Did you answer that call? (Being honest here: I didn’t.)

Completely separate is the ‘new every two’ mentality that has cropped up as a result of cell phone upgrades. In our disposable society, phones are tossed out without thought. Some are recycled, but most are thrown into landfills. The attitude of buying, taking care of, fixing when broken, and then using until it’s beyond repair has sadly gone by the wayside.

I’ve been following a really great blog for about a year now, called The Hands-Free Revolution. She talks about how important it is to consciously unplug, or we risk missing our kids’ childhoods. It’s caused me to think carefully about how much technology we have in our home. We live in an ‘entertain me’ age, and if I don’t want my kids to fall prey to the impatience and ‘gimme now’ mentality that is so pervasive nowadays, I need to model patience and ‘good things come to those who wait’ behaviors. For me, a recovering geek who could very easily become addicted to the convenience and cool-factor of  the iPhone, it’s especially imperative.

I guess the dumb phone isn’t so dumb after all.

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