I have given things up before. I gave up all social media for Lent a few years ago, and it was an eye-opening experience. I realized what I liked about social media and what I didn’t like. It was nice to be free of the compulsion to constantly check and see what might be posted. And to be free of the compulsion to cast every life event in a pithy 140 character remark. Frankly, I should probably do that again.
But deciding to give up on having a smartphone for a year? Dumb. In the two weeks that I’ve been smartphone-less, I’ve realized how often I rely upon it as a tool and not just a toy.
Example 1: I’m at the playground with the kids. The sky looks threatening and the wind starts to blow ominously, they way it does just before a downpour in Blacksburg. But the weather changes quickly here, the sky often looks threatening, and the wind often blows. My weather instincts, honed by decades of living in Virginia and Tennessee, don’t work properly. Is the sky about to open up with a downpour or will it blow over with no precipitation? I have no idea, but I need to know, because it’s a 30 minute walk home with the kids. What could answer this question quickly and definitively? A radar image on my iPhone. (Outcome: We stay. It rains a few drops.)
Example 2: Heading home from a bit of shopping in city center. I think I know a closer place to take the bus than the stop we’ve been using. But it quickly becomes clear that I’ve made a mistake (because the road where I thought we could catch the bus is one-way, in the wrong direction). We wander around for a bit, through a couple blocks that look a little sketchy. We find what is probably an appropriate bus stop, but after waiting a few minutes with no idea when the next bus might come, we abandon it and walk to the train station instead. The kids are thrilled, because we finally take the DART.
If I’d had a smartphone, though, then immediately upon realizing my error, I could have identified the location of an appropriate stop. And, once reaching that stop, I would have had real-time bus information at my fingertips.
And that’s without even mentioning the huge quantity of personal reference material and operational information that my phone can access.
Denying oneself access to good tools for no good reason is foolish. So, I’m going to stop. I’m going to try to stick with my smartphone-less existence until August 1—a full month—to see if I can detect any further redeeming qualities, but right now, I can’t. I have a SIM-unlocked iPhone 3GS ready and waiting. (We packed it with a different use case in mind, but there you go.) Upon activation, I’ll probably mostly keep it in WiFi mode. I certainly won’t be using it casually while I stroll down the street. But when I need it, it will be there.
The curious thing about this, though, is that it doesn’t solve either of the problems mentioned in my original post about my iPhone being snatched. First, I’m not going to run with the iPhone 3GS on my arm. It would probably be perfectly safe, but I’m not going to chance it. So, I’ll be running with an iPod nano (hence, GPS-less) for the rest of the year. Second, the iPhone 3GS camera is pretty crummy. It will do in a pinch, I suppose, but I’ve rearranged my briefcase so that I’m carrying the SLR more-or-less constantly.