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The Flip Phone

Although cell phones were becoming ubiquitous about the time I was at university, I never had one or even wanted one. I just didn’t see the point. I hated talking on the phone, for one thing. For another, I preferred to communicate via either e-mail or instant message. The fact that in the early 2000s these activities were generally tied to a computer did not faze me because I preferred to be in front of a computer anyway. For the few times I actually needed to talk on the phone, our apartment had a land line.

Right before moving to North Carolina, I decided I would buy a cell phone. I was not yet sold on the idea of owning a cell phone, but I recognized that at least for this moment in time it would be prudent to have some ability to contact the outside world. I walked over to CVS and bought one of those pre-pay flip phones running on Virgin Mobile.

The phone I got was hot trash and broke in just a few months (I also learned to keep my phone in a different pocket than I keep other stuff in). So I ended up buying a newer, slightly more expensive flip phone. I had this phone for about two years.

My friends were all getting iPhones and Android phones, both of which had come out a year or two before and were quickly gaining popularity. I was skeptical, though by that point I had discovered that even if I didn’t particularly care for phone calls, text messages were not too dissimilar from instant messages and were fairly convenient (and no doubt even more so when not using a flip phone’s number pad to type them in). I also enjoyed being a bit counter-cultural with my hipster dumbphone.

I had a point; more of one than I was aware of at the time. I would occasionally observe that I was the only one at the table whose nose wasn’t buried in his phone or point out that while I had fewer conversations in a day than my smartphone-wielding friends, I was fully present for these conversations. I also noted that some of my friends acted like addicts, or possibly one of Pavlov’s dogs, incapable of going for too long without checking their phones or immediately dropping everything when a notification chime sounded in order to get their latest hit of dopamine.

The fact that my phone cost about $35 and could survive a drop onto asphalt was also a plus. Once I was waiting in line for a food truck and my phone fell from my pocket onto the ground. I picked it up, saw that it was unscathed, and commented, “There’s no app for that.”

I was also on a prepay plan, where I would preload my phone account with credit. Compared to the usurious plans my smartphone-wielding friends were on, often quite expensive ones with multi-year contracts, my plan provided quite a bit of freedom.

There were, however, a few downsides. As previously mentioned, texting was a bit of a chore. The phone plan I was on only made financial sense if I used the phone infrequently. And all my contact data were stored on the phone itself, meaning that getting a new phone required manually moving over every contact (assuming the phone was even functional and still in my possession!), something that was tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone.

Three years after moving, I wound up getting my first smartphone. But that story will have to wait until next time.


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