Horrible. Crippling. Jealousy.
I had to hit the internet to figure out how long I’ve been deep in the “hate” part of a love/hate relationship with my phone. September! It’s been since September. Pretty much the moment the first round of Windows Phone 8 devices were announced and I knew my phone wasn’t long for this world.
Then my students started showing up with new phones. Galaxy S3. iPhone 5. A Lumia 920. An HTC 8X.
Generous damn parents those kids have.
I was a late adopter for cellphones in general. I was in high school when the Motorola RAZR craze hit, but beyond the fact that it looked cool I wasn’t sold on the utility of a cell phone.
It wasn’t until university that I got one. It wasn’t a flip phone. It was a sexy black-and-chrome vertical slider. It had red accents. It looked like the kind of phone I’d have if I were an operative in the Matrix.
My world changed.
Recently, my sister entered the smartphone world with, on my recommendation, a Nexus 4. Within minutes, she had a more capable phone than I had after two years. I’m chugging along on Windows Phone 7.8, which, for as much as I like it, is far behind the curve of Android Jellybean. Especially running stock.
And it’s a beautiful phone, too. Disco patterned and glass and augh.
My phone is separating across the middle from being dropped.
It was time for me to bail on my first cell phone plan. I was unimpressed with the service I was getting, and I wanted a better deal elsewhere.
Touchscreens had just started coming to PDAs, and were still not a desired way to interact with your devices. The term “smartphone” was still in its infancy. I moved to another of the Big Three Canadian carriers and got a new phone.
It still wasn’t a smartphone, but I had unlimited web browsing, rudimentary email, and – this is the kicker – a small, context-aware resistive touchscreen that meant I could operate my phone without ever touching the physical keypad… if I didn’t care about efficiency.
It wasn’t until about four months in that I realized that it was a terrible phone and far, far from the cutting edge.
I used that phone through the end of my BA, and while I worked for a major carrier… selling people brand new smartphones.
There was one condolence. Natalie Joy and I were in similar situations with our phones. Her iPhone 4’s home button had since stopped functioning, and the latest OS update has pretty much torpedoed its performance. My phone has hit its ceiling; hers had rapidly approached its nadir.
Enter the revelation that she had been overpaying on her plan and that she’s eligible for an upgrade.
In order to give her a suggestion, I hit the stores and started playing with phones.
By the time I was thinking about buying a phone again, I was in doing my Bachelor’s in Education and every single other student had a smartphone. And I couldn’t quite keep up with the furious volume of texts that came with being a student in the two-thousand-and-tweens. Finally, I had an excuse: a broken screen. I hopped a bus with a friend (the proud owner of a shiny new Nexus One) and picked up a $50 slider with a QWERTY keyboard. I could now tweet with the best of them, but my phone was still cripplingly dumb.
And people around me kept getting new phones.
The Nexus 4 was bad enough. I hadn’t had much hands-on time with it, even though it looked great and got fantastic reviews. But now I was shopping for my partner’s phone, using the cream of the crop. I used the WP8 devices I’d been looking at, and the Galaxy S4, and then the HTC One.
The One was a big mistake. It feels great in the hand and looks great and augh. Compared to the weight of the HTC Surround in my pocket – big speakers hanging like lead shot off the back of it – the One is a feather. Beautiful. My kind of device. I pictured myself pairing it with a JaJa or other awesome stylus and sketching stuff for the website on it and looking totally rad while doing so.
Natalie Joy went with the Galaxy S4. It’s amazing.
I finally entered the smartphone game as Windows Phone Mango was starting to roll out. I was back from teacher’s college and looking more seriously for work. I was trying to look and act more like a young professional. And I though – I still think – that Windows Phone is my favourite paradigm for a mobile OS.
But, it’s not nearly as feature-rich now as the other major OSes, and it certainly wasn’t then.
I waited for Mango for months.
Behind the curve again. And I hated it. But, I thought, I’d wait for Nokia’s offerings, and then upgrade.
I never did.
I’d always read, and from my limited experience believed, the talk about the inferior build quality of Samsung smartphones. I’ll say this: the S4 is no HTC One, that’s for damn sure. The One feels like the future, much like the 8X. But the S4 feels good. It feels like it shouldn’t work. Like it’s a prop out of Star Trek. And the images on the screen float right up against the surface of the glass, like the pictures are Okudagrams, printed out on gels and slapped on over lights. It feels like it shouldn’t be able to be a real thing, like it shouldn’t be allowed.
But I didn’t want one. And after thinking about it, I didn’t want a One, either. Nor a Nexus 4. Nor a 920. Nor the Lumia 925, which is a definite step in the right direction. Nor an 8X.
The one thing all these things have in common? I’ve been nerding out over them all for quite some time. They’ve all been on my radar, and I was looking forward to them. And they’re all out. And I’m not excited about them anymore.
Malaise set in.
One of the custodians at my school told me about great off-brand Android phones in the $80 range. A friend mentioned a sale he’d seen on the Note II somewhere. Kijiji listed an 8X, unlocked, for a steal. My tax return is coming with more than enough to buy a Nexus 4 or two.
I didn’t research these options in the same kind of way I did with the 920 and 8X and Nexus 4 and S4 and the One. I abandoned the searches.
For argument’s sake, and so that I had something to scratch my tech itch, I went to a store and played with the new BlackBerry for a while. I poked at the iPhone 5. And then I did something I didn’t think I’d do.
I picked up a Note II.
It’s huge. I stood there before it, perplexed for a moment, like the monkeys in 2001. I pulled the security cord as far out as it would go and held the phone against my pocket, comparing to see if it could possibly fit.
“Everybody does that,” the sales rep said, laughing.
I picked up the stylus – the S Pen. Within seconds of starting to draw, I was sold. This is it, I thought. I am ready to pull the trigger on getting a phone right now.
I thought about how good I felt with my first dumbphone, getting something that was brand-new on the shelf. I thought about how happy I would have been had I kept that phone instead of jumping on a behind-the-curve bandwagon.
I didn’t want another year-old device.
And so I put it back on the shelf, wedged my wallet deeper into my pocket, and left the store.
“I guess I just don’t understand it,” my dad said. We were coming back from the quarry with a load of topsoil to try and replant the front lawn. It had been looking pretty sad for years, no matter how many times he and Mom tried to get ahead of it. “It seems crazy to me that she paid over three hundred bucks for a phone.”
“It’s not a phone, though,” I said. “Cell phones haven’t been phones for a while now. She paid three hundred bucks for a computer. One that’s way more versatile than most other things you can get for that kind of money.”
“I guess. It just seems like a strange thing to spend money on.”
“Must have been something like that for you,” I said.
He thought. “Cars, probably,” he said. “All sorts of car stuff.” He thought again. “That’s different, though.”
“Well, in a car you go places, do things, go see people. Connects you to stuff.”
“That’s pretty much the same idea,” I said. I held up my phone. “Go places and do things? The sum total of human knowledge at your fingertips anywhere,” I said. That old chestnut. “And it’s how people connect, how people see each other. Texting and Skype and FaceTime and whatnot.” I suddenly became very aware of the fact that my phone has no front-facing camera and dropped it back into my lap.
“Sure,” Dad said. “I guess – but in a car, you do it in person.”
“I’m not arguing that it’s better,” I said. “Just that it’s how it is. Especially with more urban youth, right? I still don’t strictly need a car. Up in the Valley –“
“—there’s not much of a choice,” Dad said. “Makes sense.”
With that argument made, I suddenly felt very confined by my phone.
But then, I realized just how much I didn’t need to be.
I love technology. Name a type of device – I’ve got it, and I use it. Name a platform. Name a brand. It’s crossed my desk at some point. And so often, they’re tools for one thing or another, and the technology part of it – the science that makes magic happen – is ancillary joy to the purpose of a device.
So, I thought, what is it I use my phone for? Why should I be unhappy with it? Is it literally just the consumerism of it?
And just like that, I was able to start seeing all the things I liked about my phone from the beginning. I took a breath, and decided that I can wait to finish my contract before I start thinking about an upgrade. Remember that the important thing is whether or not you’re happy with what you have, not whether or not you’re on the razor’s edge.
One thing remained, though. The malaise that came from the fact that all the tech I was looking forward to had been released.
The nice thing about capitalism, and the iterative nature of the tech industry, is that – and I should have known this – I wouldn’t have long to wait.
Not long after my encounter with the Note II, the internet started to buzz with the promise of the next version of the Note. One with a brilliant camera on top of everything else I was smitten with on the Note.
And that’s all it takes, folks. A little self-awareness, the presence of mind to allow yourself to stop finding reasons to be unhappy with your stuff, and the promise and hope for something new. I wish I knew that when I bought my first phone. And my second, and my third. Going forward, I’ll remember it. And remember to keep my expectations checked as I look forward to things.
And in the meantime, I’ll love the stuff I have. All while looking forward to loving the next thing.