By Geoff Olson
As a preemptive New Years resolution, I recently ditched my 11-year old cell phone along with it’s bare bones, $30 monthly mobility plan.
The candybar-style “Nokia Shorty” is a lozenge-shaped mobile that predates flip phones. I had grown fond of its stupidity. The device’s archaic interface kept me from joining the hordes of tapping, swiping, smartphone owners who populate our streets, public transit, restaurants, schools, boardrooms, and dining rooms.
My dumb phone had a damnably tricky alphanumeric keypad, with 26 letters and ten numbers allocated to 12 keys. I found writing a text message was like drawing with an Etch-a-Sketch while wearing ski gloves. I kind of liked that limitation, since I’m an infomaniac at heart. Meaning I can get sucked into a flame war or clickbait vortex with the zeal of a multitasking tween with OCD.
Blogging, browsing, buying, texting, liking, lurking, and binge-watching “Narcos” is all fine by me. But I prefer to do it sitting in front of a laptop or tablet, not in motion toward an open manhole. For years, the app-free Nokia 2115i kept me from amusing myself to death in my leisure hours.
The battery charge lasted for days and the thing could take a real beating. I can’t remember how many times I dropped it on floors and pavement. Its front bracket and keypad would fly off merrily in all directions, but it was always a cinch to reassemble it.
Post-Snowden, many of us have learned how conversations on smart phones can be monitored remotely unless the battery is physically removed. But I was always more concerned with data mining from marketers, and in that department the Nokia’s shallow memory probably made for a disappointing dig.
A while back, some barista pronounced my Nokia as the sickest thing, like, totally ever. Too young to recall the twenty-five year arc of cell phones from brick-like to bite-sized and back again to widescreen smartphones, she may have thought I held the future in my hands, a la Mr. Spock with a Tricorder.
And surely there’s a Star Trek episode in here somewhere. Imagine the Enterprise invaded time-warped back to Victorian-era England, with Ned Ludd and his followers breaking into the ship. Kirk and his crew stand paralyzed as the Luddites start busting up Scotty’s warp drive.
Suddenly a middle-aged Canadian media “content provider” from the 21st century appears holding an itsy-bitsy candybar mobile. He talks of a middle path, between uncritically embracing new technology and mindlessly rejecting it. After an awkward silence, Ned grabs the Nokia and stomps it into pieces, but the main body lies glowing and undamaged on the engine room floor. Convinced the device is the spawn of Satan, the leader and his gang flee the ship in terror.
In fact, me and my Nokia may have been as much ahead of the cultural curve as behind it – if we are to take celebrity as our yardstick. Flip phones are reportedly making a comeback among the glitterati, including Iggy Pop, Rhianna, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. This isn’t just a retro fling with the past: older mobiles don’t make for appealing targets for hack attacks, unlike smart phones with their porous third-party apps and state-crowbarred back doors.
(Sales of smart phones are slowing: one tech firm projects a ten percent growth over the next year, down considerably from the 27 percent growth peak in 2014.)
Alas, eleven years is a geological epoch in tech time. The processor-free Nokia from 2004 was wearing thin with friends and family, who tired of my monosyllabic text responses and general inaccessibility. So after months of dithering I replaced my preCambrian precious with a Blackberry Bold 9990 model from 2011. With a data-free plan from Telus, I can phone and text more than I want or need to. But I can only receive and respond to emails through wifi networks. Fine by me.
So there you have it: on the cusp of the New Year, I have leapt from 2004 to 2011, mobility-wise. An additional five year jump would take me right to the present, but it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. In fact, I’m hoping to stick with my defunct Blackberry until they put either it or me into the Smithsonian.
The Vancouver Courier, Dec. 31