Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I think I’m going to ask for a smartphone for Christmas. Thanks to some combination of high principles and a low bank balance, I have held off on fancy mobile phone ownership so far. I’ve never owned a Blackberry, an Andriod, an iPhone, or any phone that makes it easy to do anything other than make calls. But I think I’m finally ready to cave. There have been a couple of situations recently when it would have been helpful to access my email while I was out, and more than once when I’ve been lost I really wished I could pull up Google Maps on my phone. So I’m excited about eventually being part of the world of smartphone owners.
But then I see families sitting around tables in restaurants with everyone staring into their glowing iPhone screens, or think of that video of the bride texting during her own wedding ceremony, and I think, Is that going to be me?! In theory, there is no reason why texts and emails and Angry Birds should dominate my life just because I have this device. I should simply choose not to look at it during occasions when it would be inappropriate. But that’s kind of like saying I shouldn’t have that third slice of chocolate cake when I’m trying to lose weight. With my measly willpower, it just doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to.
They say that there’s no going back once you’ve tasted life with a smartphone, but I’ve resolved to downgrade if I can’t handle it. The moment I catch myself texting a friend to say “Watching DD blow out birthday candles,” instead of actually watching my dear daughter blow out birthday candles, is the day I go down to the Verizon store and beg them to give me back my $30 flip phone.
So, as a reminder to my future self of what is good about my current, iPhone-free life, here is a list of its benefits:
People don’t expect immediate replies when they email me. My friends and family know that I’m offline unless I’m in front of my computer, so they’re understanding if it takes me a while to reply to their notes. Whereas a friend of mine reports that people have come to expect quick replies from her ever since she got an iPhone, since everyone knows that she has constant access to email.
I’m not distracted while driving. The other day I went out for a jog on a main street in our neighborhood during morning rush hour. Of the dozen or so cars that drove past, the driver was texting while driving (or doing something involving tapping at a smartphone screen) in more than half of them. My cheapie phone’s texting capabilities are so clunky that I never use them, which saves me the temptation to read and reply to texts while on the road.
I’m not distracted during family time. As a stay-at-home mom, I’m definitely tempted to spend too much time on my computer. Being outside of the workforce leaves you feeling isolated, and texting, emails, and web surfing offer a much-needed sense of connectedness and community. That’s a good thing, but I’m tempted to escape to my “community” in the online world too often. I already have to fight a daily battle not to waste half the day staring at my laptop, and it’s nice that there’s not one more glowing screen in the house competing for my attention.
My breaks from the internet are complete. When I log off of my computer (or when my husband pries it out of my hands as I scream “MY PRECIOUSSSSSS!”), I am fully disconnected. My only access to the online world is through my laptop, so when it’s shut down, I have no choice but to live in the real world and give my full attention to the actual human beings around me.
It’s not a big deal if my phone is lost or damaged. Since my current phone cost less than $50, and I only use it for making calls, I don’t worry about it getting lost or damaged.
I take notes the old fashioned way. Without any high tech gadgets in my purse, when I want to make note of something (e.g. an interesting tidbit from a homily, something a speaker says at a talk, etc.), I have to use pen and paper. If I had a smartphone I’m sure I’d be in the habit of using that, and may forget to keep a notebook and pen in my purse at all times. But I think that the old fashioned route is the best way to take notes in those kinds of situations, since if you pull out your iPhone and start typing, it could look like you’re texting or surfing the web at an inappropriate time.
All that said, I’m still going to ask Santa Claus to bring me one for Christmas. My impression is that smartphones are now specifically mentioned in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, somewhere between Food and Shelter, and that my life will be significantly improved by having one. But I need to print out this list and keep it handy, so that I won’t hesitate to go back to my trusty old flip phone if my iPhone starts taking over my life.