My Dad wanted a smartphone. I think he envisioned himself using the GPS on it to help him get around. But the last thing I wanted was him tooling around town with a phone in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. Even mounted, Siri screaming out directions, a phone would be more of a hindrance than a help.
But with the focus of a five-year-old my Dad talked about the phone constantly. He told me what smartphones could do and showed me pictures just in case I wasn’t familiar enough with my own iPhone. And so, broken and beleaguered I acquiesced and got my Dad an iPhone 5s. I even had the presence of mind to get an Otter Box case to protect it. But the case made it difficult for my Dad to press the iPhone’s on button; and in trying to do so he dropped the phone, smashing the screen.
“Hello, Apple Care?”
The second iPhone sat unused for six months. Whenever my frustrated gaze wandered over to the pristine Apple box – our in-house Schrodinger’s experiment – my Dad would announce that he was going to teach himself how to use the phone soon.
This went on for weeks and was a bit of a running joke until I realized that phone-in-box is not phone in hand; which is where you need it to be when an emergency happens. Like when my Dad was three hours late coming home from a medical appointment. I couldn’t call him and he couldn’t call anybody. I tracked him down and got him home but lesson learned: a phone is only smart when it’s being used.
And so that’s how I ended up in Target making a backward tech purchase. The clerk apologized that for my Dad’s phone plan the store only had flip phones. I think the clerk couldn’t really wrap his mind around the fact that that’s exactly what I wanted. He also seemed embarrassed to tell me that the phone only had 3G. I said, “3G is plenty for my OG.” And no, he didn’t need a data or texting plan. Like Machete, “Daddy don’t text.”
The clerk asked if I needed help setting up the phone but he was firmly in the touch screen generation. I imagine to him a flip phone must look like an over-sized fidget spinner.
I took on the task of programming in the phone numbers I thought my Dad would need. Even for me, it was a surreal exercise. I’d forgotten what it was like having to press the number five key three times to get to the letter “L” Ugh. But surprisingly it was like a form of analog meditation. I’d get a rhythm going, zone out, forget and start touching the screen; wondering why nothing was happening. I can see how quickly one is pushed to use the new and shiny thing; but also how easily one is left behind when you don’t keep up.
But the real question is how smart do you really need your phone to be? How dumb was I to let an iPhone sit useless in the box, an expensive reminder of the dignity of simplicity?
But now I’m already on to the next challenge: reminding my Dad to turn his phone on when he leaves the house. #sigh