I swear to god the “smartphones are the new cars” thing was invented by clueless parents and grandparents at a loss as to why their kids are engrossed in phones instead of listening with rapt attention to their endless streams of bullshit.
—Patrick George, “Youth Culture Isn’t Dead, This Washington Post Story Just Sucks”
It’s not just the same anymore.
This is my phone. It’s an Nokia 6102i, a classic “flip phone,” circa 2005. You can still see the faded “Cingular” logo on it. It’s my baby. My father gave it to me when I was still in high school. We spent two summers restoring it. I remember my sophomore year of college, pulling the CPU with him with an hoist and his grandpa’s trusty pack of Torx heads. It was a meticulous restoration, one that took way too long and too much money, but, you know, that’s how these things end up. I learned a lot about working on phones with my father. And when I finally plugged in the battery, waited 20 minutes, and connected to the GSM 1800 network with one whole bar, I was never happier.
I’m a phone enthusiast, a “phone guy.” I love phones—smart phones, camera phones, satellite phones, cordless phones, flip phones, candybar phones, jailbroken phones, concept phones, flying phones, vintage phones, tricked-out phones, phones that can run the latest Android SDK, red phones, black phones, blonde phones—sometimes, phones just because of the curve of a clamshell.
My first phone was an iPhone 3GS. I saved up all summer long working at the Bell Atlantic kiosk at the mall to buy it. Just $79 a month with a two-year contract! I was so excited, I drove that iPhone straight to the malt shop to get Caitlin Russell to check it out. By the second week, I had already jailbroken it. Cydia, TetherMe, the works. My phone was tricked out, what with its chrome snap case and fake-diamond wrist strap that I bought at an AutoPhone. In college, after finishing restoring that Nokia with my dad, I started meeting up with other phone guys, even forming a classic phone club. There was a guy in there with an honest-to-God MicroTAC, fully restored! Another guy had an Ericsson R380 that he restomodded to run LTE—he must have spent some dough on it. I was always jealous. He let me operate it once, but I didn’t dare push it, because I didn’t want to break it and end up on the Internet being made fun of by Gizmodo.
On weekends, my phone club buddies and I still like to crowd the parking lot of the T-Mobile, ringtones blaring, to show off our phones. We check under the screens and trade stories about phones and women and where the years have gone. Sometimes we pile into a booth at our local soda fountain, sip a root beer float, listen to some Buddy Holly and play Words with Friends until we get blisters on our thumbs.
My dad’s getting up there in years, but sometimes I visit him at the nursing home and I pull out my Nokia and I can just see his eyes spark up. He can’t speak too well, due to the cellular radiation hurting his brain, but put a 12-button keypad in front of his weathered thumbs and he can still text like nobody’s business. Looks like he’s still got a thing or two to teach me! Kids today, they have predictive typing and Autocorrect, and that’s convenient for daily phoning, but give me the control and precision of T9 predictive text any day. I feel more connected to my phone—my baby.
You try to explain that to a slack-jawed millennial, and he just stares at you. They just don’t understand. They don’t appreciate phones anymore. They’ve got Internet and Wifi and Snapbook and TwiTube all these things to make friends. Social media blows any limits out of the water. You don’t need the phone to go find friends. Seriously, go look at a study: 90% of all teenagers under the age of 18 reported not owning a phone. The rate of kids signing cell phone contracts has fallen by 75%. Out of the teenagers I occasionally witness from my porch across the street but never encounter, due to the Denny’s incident, none of them have their necks craned at a downward angle, their eyes dry from unblinking, playing Snake or using the Stocks app or checking flight patterns.
Sure, they all live in cities, and owning a phone is expensive—maybe it’s easier if I didn’t have to pay for my cell phone plan, and my custom leather dialing gloves, and my prescription blister medication, and my period-correct two-piece Tweety Bird glossy snap-on case on my Nokia. And maybe between overnight shifts at 7-11 and completing their master’s degree in library science, they have no time to enjoy the feel of logging on at full bars, much less taking the battery out and swapping it themselves. But it’s a shame nonetheless. When I go, who will I be able to pass my Nokia 6102i to? Who’s going to change the microSD card on my vintage, CDMA-enabled RAZR V3C? Who’s going to remember what it’s like to pick up a girl with a phone, and then spend the entire time listening to my phone instead of her, just me and my merry Motorola? Who’s going to keep the memories alive and on the cloud? Phone culture, the 21st-century engine of the American Dream, is an old guy’s game.
It’s a shame. These millennials, they’re all too busy driving around in their cars to see the point.
Unintentionally hilarious stock photos from Dreamstime.com.
Bottom: Martin Cooper, inventor of the Motorola DynaTAC, the first commercial cell phone