Why I Like My Flip Phone: The 5 Smartphone Effects


In spite of my proclivity toward simple-living, over the past couple of years I’ve been feeling more and more technologically shunned without a smartphone. Since I make my living writing for the Web and 90% of my workday takes place in front of a computer screen, I gradually began to justify a mobile phone upgrade. I told myself that it would help my career — make me more available to clients, allow me to respond more quickly to assignment requests, do editing on-the-fly, etc. (See also: Living Without a Landline)

Fast forward to last week. I finally took the plunge and retired my lovely, simple little contract-free flip phone. By signing a two-year contract, I got a discounted (but not by much) mega-fancy-bells-and-whistles smartphone with a conservative 2G data plan. My cell phone bill doubled, jumping from a contract-free $50.00 per month to a two-year contract at $110.00 per month.

My humble, quietly dependable flip phone went in my sock drawer. The sleek and sexy new phone took its rightful place at my side. I finally had, albeit late, a ticket to the Smartphone Party.

And that’s when the trouble began. My misadventure with my new smartphone wasn’t dramatic or comedic or the result of being technologically challenged. Rather, it was a slow disillusionment born from a dozen annoyances. Because of what I’ve come to call “Five Smartphone Effects,” I began to long for humble little Flipper, sleeping in my sock drawer.

1. The Live Wire Effect

A touch screen seems like a great idea, but in practice I found it unnerving. Maybe I would have improved with practice, but I was constantly hitting the wrong key, inadvertently launching an app, or calling someone I had no desire to talk to. Touch screens make 45% of the phone a “live wire,” sensitive to even the most ginger graze of a fingertip. To avoid a misfire, you have to pay attention.

2. The Shirt-Tail Effect

The beauty of a smartphone is, of course, its connectedness. Audible alerts tugged on my metaphorical shirt-tail all day long. Texts, emails, Facebook updates — each clamored for attention. Different rings told me who was calling before I looked. Wonderful and terrible. If I forgot to silence these default tones before bed, my sleep became restless and my dreams infused with a cacophony of digital bird calls.

3. The Zombie Screen-Gazer Effect

I’ve always been amused by that special subset of smartphone user, the zombie gazer. Before my foray into their world, the leagues of people walking into lamp posts, tripping on sidewalks, and driving on curbs was a constant source of fascination and annoyance. Honestly, I was probably just a few months away from plastering a “Shut up and drive!” bumper sticker on my car. And although I didn’t become an avid screen-gazer, the temptation was there. Checking email, texts, and Facebook or Googling any random question I had at the most inopportune time became not only possible, it became necessary. I wondered and worried about my ability to ever go back to delayed gratification — to wait until I had parked the car before Facebooking about my commute. To choke down my first bite of sushi before texting my friends about how much I hated it. My standards were slowly being reset, my sense of timing was being condensed.

4. The Simplicity Through Complexity Effect

As much as I wanted to believe it and as much as I had nearly convinced myself of it, I don’t think smartphones simplify much in our lives. Simplicity at its best is gained by a removal of something — hassles, challenges, red tape, objects we no longer use, expenses we don’t need. While smartphones arguably offer convenience, simplicity is an entirely different animal. Simplicity finds the golden mean between the competing ideas of convenience and distraction, between productivity and inefficiency.

5. The Tribal Effect

Let’s admit it; smartphones are a marker of status. They imply certain things about our financial condition, our position, our professions, or our popularity. Whether any of those assumptions hold true behind Oz’s curtain is inconsequential. Smartphones, like all branded status products, convey an almost tribal affiliation. They’re the slightly more expensive Jordan high-tops for adults. And, while I’m not above a bit of vanity, I’d look ridiculous in high-tops (my legs are too short). Besides, there are still a few hardcore members of my tribe pulling out flip phones with a steely sense of self.

So, with a "meh," my smartphone misadventure came to an end today. I was still within my 14-day trial period, and I bid farewell to sleek and sexy and retrieved my ugly duckling from the sock drawer. Numbers have been ported, car chargers exchanged, proper authorities notified, and tribal affiliations realigned. Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first), but I love my little phone that simply makes great calls and takes really bad photos. I may even buy a back-up to have on-hand when Flipper makes his inevitable final call. I have a feeling he’ll soon be hard to replace.

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Guest's picture

Why you'd pay $50/mo for any phone, smart or not, is beyond me.

Shop around and you can go as low as $10 a year if you have wifi nearby.

I personally pay $12 a month for my smartphone (Droid X) on Page Plus Cellular.

Guest's picture

I both agree and disagree with the sentiment in this post.

I mean, I agree with all the things that you've indicated as negatives about having a smartphone - hell, if I had a Facebook account i'd probably go insane within an hour of the incessant updates (my wife has her FB alerts set to vibrate, but I can STILL hear that 80% of the time when it goes off).

But I was just thinking this morning of how nice it is to be able to look up anything at all on the fly. Sometimes I wonder about things; having my phone allows me to find out the answers without having a chance to forget what I was wondering about - this morning I was walking the dog and looked up the lyrics to a song that was stuck in my head, for instance. Having a smartphone also means I don't need a watch, a portable GPS unit, or an iPod.

Yes, basic phones are cheaper. Also, as the previous commenter mentioned, you can get cheaper service. (We tried the cheap guys before, didn't work out so well for us coverage-wise.)

You can, though, live a peaceful Flipper-style life with a Droid in your pocket; you just have to turn off, or never turn on, all the distracting crap. I get notices for text messages, email messages for just my main folder (so I don't get mailing list subscriptions alerted or anything like that), and a little bird chirp if somebody Tweets directly to me; a grand total of maybe a half dozen blips a day unless I'm in a text conversation with someone. I don't even have games on my phone... might still have one, come to think of it, but I haven't played it in months.

Guest's picture

Tracfone flip phone, $99 a year. iPod touch with wifi for all non-calling smart phone features. Total monthly costs, amortized, just over $8. No way I'd pay $100 a month.

Guest's picture

Tracfone service sucks in my area..Have a Flipper with Boost now and haven't had a problem with coverage..

Guest's picture

While my phone isn't quite a flip phone, its still an older version Verizon voyager. I do like it and wouldn't really need an iPhone or Android if it wasn't for the fact that people these days pretty much expect you to be able to do anything right on your phone. Eventually everyone will need internet access in the palm of their hand to be able to send and check emails, look up directions or do research.

Guest's picture

A Smartphone will simplify your life just as any Internet-connected gadget would.
I mainly use mine for the multitude of education apps available on the Internet - and I only use the Internet when I download those, that's all!

Guest's picture

Guilty as charged! However I don't know if I will give it up for a smart phone though. What i'm considering doing is turning off the email alerts on my bb so my phone only buzzes for instant messages.