One day in London in September 2008 I walked home in the pouring rain, got utterly soaked, and chucked my jeans in the washing machine as soon as I got inside. The jeans, along with my cell phone in their front pocket, got a great wash.
The next day I set out to buy a new phone. My philosophy is usually “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and this time it was definitely broke. I went to Orange, a British mobile network operator, and bought a Samsung phone for £5 (about $8); it came as a cheap add-on to a monthly phone plan. It wasn’t even a flip phone – just an ultra-basic, tiny cell phone that fit snugly in the palm of my hand.
Now, fast forward some 5 years and 4 months. In that time, I finished my Master’s degree, moved away from London after living there for nearly 6 years, spent a few months in Tunisia in late 2010 on the eve of the Arab spring, had a stint teaching in Somaliland, backpacked all through East Africa, moved to Liberia for two years, made numerous overland forays throughout West Africa, and circumnavigated the globe to visit far away friends before returning to the US.
In that period, I also dropped my phone countless times; broke it into a few pieces and reassembled it; moistened it in a few tropical rainstorms; shoved innumerable pay-as-you go SIM cards into it from countries ranging from Sweden to Swaziland and Bahrain to Burkina Faso; replaced the charger once or twice (or three times) when the wire wore thin; and even lost it in a Somali minibus once but later retrieved it.
It went through a lot of shit, but my trusty little Samsung stayed by my side the whole time, and never once let me down. I still have the little fellow, but he lives in a drawer now (it must be hard for him, after all his previous globetrotting).
When I returned to the US, my brother was so kind as to offer me his “old” iPhone, since he had recently upgraded to a “newer” version. He apologized to me that it was one of the older models; he said that he had tried to trade it in for some sort of credit, but he was told it was so worthless that he couldn’t get anything for it. Apparently it’s called an iPhone “3GS,” a model that is so high-tech it was discontinued in June 2010. Oh my God, 3.5 years ago. That was, like, a whole generation ago. I hear they are onto “5G” these days, whatever that means.
Well, this “old” iPhone is the first smart phone I’ve ever had, and to me it seems revolutionary, not retro. It’s like a whole new world has been opened up to me. A few points of comparison to illustrate my point…
(1) My Samsung had such limited storage capacity that it could only hold 100 or so contacts in the phone book, meaning I had to frequently delete the entries of people that I thought I wouldn’t need to call again (but not, mind you, the phone numbers of people who were likely to call me again and whose calls I wanted to avoid). Meanwhile, my iPhone seems to have synced with my Facebook and automatically populated my phone book with the phone numbers of all my Facebook friends. Should I be alarmed?
(2) My Samsung had that ORIGINAL default ring tone that you hear all over Africa, meaning I was never entirely sure if it was my phone that was ringing (hey, at least I fit in). The only way to change the annoying ring tone was to… put it on silent. My iPhone, on the other hand, allows me to stream music of any and every variety. (Although I haven’t yet figured out how to use it to stream the Samsung ring tone, for those days I’m feeling nostalgic).
(3) My Samsung had a choice of three or perhaps four possible background images for the main screen. For years, it was a stupid sketch of a boy catching a balloon which irked me every time I used my phone. I remember one day some random guy changed it for me to a much more attractive default picture (pixilated, of course) of a tropical beach. That improved my phone so much. I’ll never forget him, bless his soul. At the other end of the spectrum, my iPhone seems to also operate as a camera and let me take my own background photo. Mind blowing.
(4) The “space” key on my Samsung became stubborn in its old age, meaning I either had to press it repeatedly to produce the desired result, or simply send cryptic text messages devoid of spacing. Whoreallyneedspunctuationanyways? But this thing that they call the “iPhone” doesn’t even have a keypad. Can you imagine that?! A device without a keypad. You type on the screen instead. Astonishing technology.
Which leads me to my one question/complaint about the iPhone, after all my singing of its post-modern praises. With all this “touch screen” action, I find that the screen of my iPhone is just so… greasy. Am I missing something here? Or am I eating too much pizza by the slice? Or am I meant to be Windexing my iPhone? I went to Macy’s the other day to buy gloves before heading out east, and they were selling special “Smart Phone Compatible Gloves.” Maybe I should start wearing those, even in warm weather?