For eight months this year, I used a flip phone. For most of those eight months, I hated myself and everyone else.
Frankly, I’m embarrassed to write about this semifailed experiment. Disconnection has become the most congratulated, least convincing narrative gimmick of recent times, a widely excusable hypocrisy. A popular Instagrammer leaves the platform, only to return a month later (welcome back!); a tech columnist claims to read exclusively print newspapers for a month, yet tweets throughout (he’s only human!); pop renunciates in hipster enclaves nationwide grayscale their phones and #deletefacebook and demetricate their Twitters, but lemme just check this text real quick in the middle of dinner.
Meanwhile, many of media’s technophobic éminences grises, long spooked by anything that dings and therefore feeling pretty smug about the current techlash, now see fit to indulge in and promote their analog fantasies at tedious length in national publications, as if we, the hopelessly hyperconnected hoi polloi, care about cows in the countryside, silent retreats at which tears are cathartically shed, or—please, no—the original off-gridder himself and resurgent icon of the new tech-dystopian dark age, Henry David “Friends Totally Joined Me at the Pond All the Time, Guys”
The guy at the Verizon store looked confused. He was most certainly stoned. “A flip phone? We might have some in back.” He brought out exactly two. I took the uglier one, a Kyocera with big dad-size buttons; the point was to despise it. “Come back and tell me what it’s like,” he said, mistily. The friend I was with, suspicious but supportive, bought us midday drinks at the nearest dive. Thematic, see: throwing back at a grungy throwback. On the way to the bathroom, I reached for my iPhone. My hands closed around the Kyocera. Joy swept over. Standing at the urinal, I could already feel the neurons remapping. I couldn’t scroll Twitter! Next round’s on me!
Detox followed. For two weeks I had, or gave myself, an airy headache. I liked to palm my forehead, playacting the bedridden Victorian housewife with the vapors. Do I look sweaty to you? Nobody sympathized. My parents were especially cruel. To be fair, I’d forgotten to tell my mom about the switch; she, master of the family phone plan, had to find out from a poor Verizon rep. “Everybody on the planet has Apple phones, Jason!” she shouted, when we finally connected. “They’re called iPhones, Mom!” I’m not sure who hung up on whom, but when I flipped that phone shut? Such an atavistically satisfying snap.
Later, my mom would admit this: My voice sounded so much clearer through the Kyocera than it ever did on my iPhone. Makes sense—telephony was its primary purpose. And I was, for once, talking into the phone, not near-ish a fancy multipurpose brick. Didn’t help the cause, though. To her, my flip phone was not only proof of insanity but dangerous. What if my car died? What if I got lost? How could I summon the Uber?! Nothing could convince her that a slab of antiquity could actually work in 2018.
I wanted such peace. Texting has always been my particular sickness. It’s not that I’m a frequent texter; I am, much worse, a resentful one. Forget people who don’t text back (they can enjoy hell)—even prompt responders can blast my mood to utter shit if their messages aren’t phrased exactly to my liking. I knew that I had no chance of becoming the Dalai Lama of SMS with an iPhone, which practically forces you to resent your friends so that it might come out looking like the only reliable thing in your life. However, bound by the Kyocera’s character limit and thumbs unused to predictive text, perhaps I could rise above, self-transcend. As the Dalai Lama once tweeted, “It’s important that we shouldn’t be slaves to technology.”