Like the sandy cliffs overlooking a breezy ocean cove, the gently rounded Appalachian hills that once were jagged peaks, and the rocky banks along the once mighty Colorado River, I have been worn down by the gentle flow of time and the subtle pressure of my environment. Today, we bought a smart phone for our college senior.
It’s not the first Rotbart family phone to turn smart – that distinction went to our son after his first year in law school. As parents, we resisted this technology, like we have resisted all technologies. We never owned a Gameboy, X-box, Wii, Nintendo, or other gaming device. We still use spiral-bound “week-at-a-glance calendars,” having missed the entire PDA (personal digital assistants, for those of you who weren’t born before Palm Pilots went out of business) wave, and now we go without an Outlook Calendar. We were the last family we know to get cable TV, flat screen TV, and HDTV. We still wait for our Netflix movies in the red mailers to be delivered by the postman. Alas, however, as happened with the other insidious digital alien invaders, our smart phone willpower gradually eroded.
The kids never asked for smart phones, but we got clues that they needed them. So while the parents are still flipping our flip phones and T-9 messaging, two of our three kids have the whole wide world, and Al Gore’s entire internet, in their hands. What were the clues that the kids needed smart phones, you ask? Text messages to us late at night to ask if we’re near a computer to look up an address or area code; getting lost on the way back from an off-campus event in a car without GPS; forgetting what an important email said and calling home to ask us to log in to their email and read it to them over the phone. But mostly it was grad school and job interview callbacks. In 2012, the assumption is that everyone has a smart phone. Hence, when someone important sends an email, they fully expect a phone to vibrate in someone’s pocket somewhere. If you don’t have a smart phone, and important people send you an email, they think you’re uninterested or rude when they don’t get an answer. That’s a bad thing when you’re interviewing or auditioning or working on a big project. It finally seemed so obvious that our interviewing-age kids needed smart phones that we took the leap.
But here’s the part that isn’t obvious: why are the grown-ups in the house, those of us who already have jobs where important people occasionally need to reach us, doing just fine with our flip phones? Do important people just assume that adults of a certain age are still using flip phones? Do important people know that they must wait for us to fight through rush hour, have dinner, and log on to our desktop computers before bed? That does somehow still seem to be sufficient for me to keep up with what I need to know.
I vividly remember where I was when my brother-in-law and I had the debate about why anyone would ever need email. I argued I already had a phone (land line, of course) and a fax machine. Why does everything have to be seen, read, and dealt with instantaneously? How did college students get jobs or admitted to grad school before smart phones? Heck, before cell phones? Before email? That’s what big thick manilla envelopes used to be for, right?
So, our grad student and almost grad student now both have phones that are as smart and as fast as the desktop computer I’m typing on now. Really important people will never again think those kids are uninterested or rude. The GPS app will keep them from getting lost, and the other apps are so cool they will probably keep our kids from being able to focus on their work in grad school. So they’ll have to drop out and apply for jobs, but they’ll still be waiting to hear from really important people about callback interviews, work schedule changes, and where to meet for a drink after work.
Yes, three of us are still using dumb phones. But our college sophomore will get his smart phone someday soon, probably before either of his parents gets theirs. To put things in perspective, today is my mom’s 84th birthday. She doesn’t have a cell phone, smart or dumb. She doesn’t have cable TV, flat screen TV, HDTV, or a computer. She’s never used a fax machine or email. She doesn’t have a DVD player, so no need even for Netflix movies in red mailers. Mom watches Diane Sawyer every night and reads the Denver Post (hard copy) every morning. She watched the Academy Awards even though she hadn’t seen any of the nominated movies. She doesn’t need a cell phone because she says the only important people who try to reach her are us, and we know how and where to find her.
In celebration of mom’s 84th birthday, we bought our daughter a smart phone. We got mom a Teflon spatula and soup ladle, 4 new cutting knives, and a plastic soap dish for the bar soap she still uses in the kitchen. She was thrilled, but couldn’t understand why she needed the spatula since the one I made for her in junior high shop class in 1968 still worked fine. And as long as her grandkids call her at least once a week, she really doesn’t care what kind of phones they use.