I finally joined the smartphone club

An editorial on a momentous event in my life, about ten years behind everyone else. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.


I got a smartphone yesterday.

I’m pretty thrilled with it. It feels like a big leap from the crummy little flip-phone I’ve been using – suddenly I no longer have to come back to the office to check email, find directions, or look up phone numbers. Heck, maybe I can start live updating during breaking news. Stay tuned.

I remained a dumbphone diehard for so long because I get annoyed with smartphone culture: a nation of people staring at their phones, necks craned over, oblivious to the outside world.

Of course, before I was a dumbphone diehard, I was the final payphone purist. I made the same allegations I now make about smartphones back when texting became popular in the mid-2000s.

Drawing a distinction between types of cell phone seems needlessly smug – maybe I just enjoy being a contrarian. It’s a trait that makes for a good journalist, after all.

Switching to a smartphone, like every leap in technology, will allow me to gain a range of new capabilities, but will undoubtedly mean leaving other things behind.

When I roll into a small town on a road trip and stop at a greasy spoon diner, will I still fumble around for 75 cents to buy a copy of the local paper? Local papers are such a joy, such an atmosphere-setting characterization to the little hamlets across the country. I like reading clunky stories about ag board meetings, overblown letters to the editor, and lists of 4H winners while I wait for eggs and toast.

I hope I still bother and don’t give into the temptation to scroll through the algorithmically-determined Google News headlines my phone has picked out for me.

I certainly lost something when I got a cell phone in the first place, in my sophomore year in college – 2007 or so.

The ability to receive a phone call anywhere stripped me of immanence, of the ability to simply be somewhere. Before my cell phone, the world didn’t exist beyond my immediate field of vision. When I left home, I had no idea if my girlfriend was mad at me, if my roommate had blown off rent again, or if there had been another mass shooting. Trips to a bookstore or a restaurant had the potential for real carefree abandon that they lost forever once I could still expect to wince at the arrival of bad news anywhere.

But, wouldn’t you know it, I ended up hopelessly addicted to the thing, and in the meantime, society restructured itself so there weren’t any more payphones for me to be a purist about.

Chances are good I’ll end up pretty hopelessly addicted to the smartphone, too. Alamosa’s a small town – don’t hesitate to call me out if you catch me taking Instagram photos of my lunch at El Super Taco.

Digital communication has certainly made my life easier. Moving to Alamosa on my own has been a lonely endeavor – my friends and family are far away. But they’d feel quite a bit farther away if I didn’t have Skype and Facebook and Instagram to keep me up-to-date on what everyone’s doing back home. If long-distance calling cost as much as it did 20 years ago, I’d be a lot more lonely.

The pace of technological change only increases, and there are plenty more changes we’ll all have to adjust to.

And yet, nothing compares to the changes of ages past – sometimes I think of the pioneers who settled Colorado, and how newspapers were worth their weight in gold to them, with months-old editions passed around like precious objects. They often didn’t hear about major national events until long after the fact. What must it have been like when they got the telegraph? Suddenly they were connected to the cities of the east at the speed of light, rather than the speed of a horse or a train.

Sometimes when I’m driving across the Valley late at night, I switch the radio in my truck over to AM, and scan the dial for distant radio stations enigmatically bouncing inside the atmosphere from thousands of miles away. The other night I listened to the news from Milwaukee from La Veta Pass.

I can instantaneously pull up news or pictures of any place on earth, but somehow those distant fuzzy radio stations seem far more exotic. The holy shiver I get from them can’t be replicated online.

I read somewhere that radio static between stations is a great cosmic murmur, the still-sizzling remnant of the Big Bang itself. In between those crackling stations is the sigh of the cosmos.

You don’t hear that on a smartphone.