My Week Without a Smartphone

While on my Pacific trip, my now-ancient (2 year old) HTC My Touch 3g Slide Android phone started to die--the display would come up scrolled 1/2 way up, etc.  Fortunately, it lasted until I got home, and then the screen died completely, which was really frustrating because the phone would ring, texts would come in, but it was virtually impossible to navigate to those screens to answer or read them. Unfortunately, the insurance deductible to replace this relic with an equally underpowered phone was $100, money I'd rather put into a new phone.  But, while T-Mobile customer service was always excellent, they had a critical flaw--spotty coverage where I work, and many places I traveled. So I decided to switch to Verizon, but the Droid Razr MAXX phone that I wanted was out of stock.

I asked if Verizon had a loaner program or something to get me up and running until my new Razr was available, and Verizon suggested that I ask friends if anyone had an old phone I could use until my new phone came in.  So, I asked on Facebook, and my friend Erica G had an old Motorala V276 flip phone; I got it activated, and then that got me through the last week until yesterday, when I got a older HTC Droid phone from my sister, which is just slightly less powerful than my old mytouch phone.

So, for about a week, I took a step back about four years, and it was an interesting experiment to show how the smartphone has really changed my life. First, this V276 actually works as a phone much better than any smartphone or PDA I've ever had. Battery life is measured in days, even on this well-used phone. The V276 actually is comfortable to hold--I talked for a full hour on the phone to my brother, something I'd hate to do with a rectangular box of a smart phone.  But this phone really sucked for texting (back to the old number keypad days), and of course had no apps, and if I wanted contacts imported I'd have to do it manually.  And forget about a calendar or email.

I'm terrible at remembering numbers, addresses, etc, so I've had some sort of electronic organizer since 1995. I started with an HP 95LX, which, while limited, worked great. I then moved from that to the disastrous HP IPAQ in about 2000, (this is about the time HP really started declining), and then through to several generations of Palm Pilots, the last of which included a phone (before that I used to carry that and a Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go flip phone in addition to my electronic organizer). As soon as the Android was available in 2008, I moved to TMobile and the G1. This meant that with this one device, I could keep my calendar (which I used to keep in printed format before the HP), all my contacts, phone numbers, etc, and have it all synched for me. 

Going without all that for a week really made me realize how the Android smartphone really changed how I interact with the city. Sitting at home or work, not having a smartphone really wasn't a problem.  But when I'd have one of those multi-errand days out and about, I'd have to, as in the old days, really think carefully the night before about where I was going, and print out every address, phone number, etc I would need for the day. Over the last few years I even stopped carrying a pen (just never used it), but suddenly I had to keep one with me at all times to take a note. And if I got lost or confused?  No map.  In the old days, I used to carry a business-card sized subway map and a little map of the west Village (which, despite living in NYC since 1990, still confuses me).  No Yelp, Foursquare, Google Tasks, Calendar, weather radar, Facebook, no reading Twitter on the train. No automatically synched and backed up contacts. I started carrying my (wifi only) Kindle fire just so I could look at the calendar.  And, most of all: no email.  This took me back years, where I'd have to sit in front of the computer, tired, at the end of the day, to get caught up on everything, and research and prepare for the next day.  With my wimpy Android cast off now, I'm at least back up to the power and connectivity of my original G1, and I'm really psyched to get the new Razr Maxx next week and, moving from 512MB on the Mytouch to 16 Gig on the Maxx--I'll really be able to move forward, and maybe even ditch my Ipod. 

So just the same way that camping makes you realize how important hot water and plumbing are, going without a smartphone for a week really made me realize how much having constant information access really does improve my life, and makes things much more flexible for me.  I don't take the phone or turn it off when I want to be offline, but that's a choice I can make... Bring on the future!