Do You See Your Smartphone as a Basic Need or as a Luxury?

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Ottawa, Somerset and Bronson, June 2019

Ottawa, Somerset and Bronson, June 2019

I worked with this kind of people who print every single email (“I don’t trust computers”), use fax machines (“I don’t do that email thing”) or take a calculator to sum a column of numbers in Excel (“the what function?”), and I think they should be sent to an intensive Tech 101 boot camp before being allowed back into an office environment.

I have zero patience for people under 80 who don’t leverage technologies that have been around for years now—use your preferred OS, device and software but for fuck’s sake, step into the 21st century.

I reboot my laptop before freaking out because OMG, IT STOPPED WORKING!

I embrace new tools, platforms, updates and anything that makes my life easier.

I’m technically a millennial—I remember life without Internet but I’m tech savvy because, hey, that’s the world we live in today.

But then… I suck at smartphones.

I don’t trust smartphones. I don’t feel the need to constantly check my smartphone. I’d rather not rely on my smartphone. I’ve never used Tinder, Snapchat, Uber Eats, Instagram and plenty of other popular apps.

Shit. Maybe I am technologically challenged and living in the Stone Age.

I see my smartphone as 1) a dumb phone I use occasionally to call remarkably few people 2) a temporary basic replacement for my computer to check emails I will reply to later when I can use a physical keyboard 3) a device to play podcasts because I don’t have an MP3 player. I don’t usually text, type more than a short sentence or, God forbid, make transactions with my phone.

Why? Because I find it inconvenient. The screen is small, I hate typing on a touchscreen, many websites aren’t mobile friendly and those who forced you to use their app are the worst. I mean, why would I download your precious ad-filled app to access your precious ad-filled website?

It doesn’t help that in Canada, cellphone plans are incredibly expensive. Even after switching from Virgin Mobile to Videotron, I still pay $51.68/month for 3 GB of data and unlimited Canada-wide calling plus call display and voicemail. If you’re reading this from Europe, you’re probably laughing—and this is a cheap plan.

My smartphone falls into the “occasionally convenient but not a necessity” category, which I why I don’t take it when I go travelling. “That’s… brave,” a fellow backpacker commented last February. I explained my rational. I already have a laptop, a Kindle and a DSLR, so a phone is yet another device to keep an eye on. I don’t want to be connected all the time. And really, what do I need a smartphone for? I’m happy with paper maps (I write on them, keep them as a souvenir too), I check my emails and work on my laptop and I take better pictures with my DSLR.

Except the world is changing and it apparently expects all of us to have a smartphone.

For instance, in Latin America, absolutely everyone uses WhatsApp. I had to explain many accommodation providers that I had to be contacted by email, which caused complete confusion—if Canadians are known abroad for being technologically backward, well, blame me. In some places, Uber is also more popular than regular taxis and in Valparaíso, I was saved by a shop owner who booked me a ride when I admitted I didn’t have a phone with me.

Two-factor authentication involving smartphones is the bane if my existence.

“Get the smartphone app to sign in without a password. It’s more convenient and more secure!” Microsoft just prompted me when I logged into my Skype account. Oh hell, no.

Occasionally, Gmail or PayPal decides that to prove my identity, I have to type the PIN code they’ve just sent to my phone—great, except that when I’m travelling, I don’t have the fucking device with me. For instance, when I booked an apartment in Valparaíso through AirBnb, I had to give Feng’s phone number and call him to ask him for the code in order to create an account.

My laptop and a reliable Internet connexion are a necessity in my personal and professional life. Provided I have both, my smartphone isn’t. Am I an oddity? Am I missing something here?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

24 Comments

  1. Martin Penwald on

    I don’t have a smartphone, just a tablet and a desktop computer. Thing is, young people are not more tech savvy than old ones. They are more confortable with electronic interfaces, but, for the majority, don’t have any clue how it works underneath, like the majority of old ones. I had a teacher, probably now in her 60’s, who could read TCP frames on the fly.

    • I completely agree with you. For instance, some people who mostly rely on a tablet or a smartphone have no idea of the traditional (and useful) computer file structure.

  2. Yes it’s odd!
    That’s what I first thought but then… I in fact mainly have a phone because of the kids, I needed school and daycare to be able to reach me, and even more now because the school teachers communicate through apps too.
    I use Whatsapp a lot, it is the only thing all of my family knows how to use, for instance my mother can not use a computer but she is good with phones.
    I don’t care if I have no phone but it is usefull, and I try to keep an eye on what’s new, because some of Y friends already have their own phones, they may use them only the week-end but still you have to know what they have access to. We are also teaching the kids how computers, phones, apps, work, and what you do when you have no phone or no cell service to rely on.

    • You made a point, your own use of phone depends on what people around you are using. I wouldn’t mind using WhatsApp to communicate with my French family but none of them use it! And my friends and I rely on email. Even the school communicate by email (or phone, in case of emergency). So basically, phone or computer, it’s the same to me.

  3. I don’t have a cell phone and I don’t want a cell phone… for as long as I can do without it. In Brazil we HAD to buy one because everyone from church wanted to be able to contact the pastor with whatsapp (very annoying), also bank transactions were near impossible without a cell phone: they send confirmation codes via text… So you cannot do without it. Here is Canada, like you, I work from home and I am in front of the computer all day. I don’t need another device to be “connected” when I’m out of the house, especially that I’m most likely away from home to take a break from the screen! The only instance where not having a cell phone has been a little uncomfortable lately was when Tranferwise sent me a confirmation number on my phone via text… but my home phone does not receive text, so I had to select the option “send a voice message”.

    • The most Brazilian thing I have read today–contacting your pastor with WhatsApp! Sorry, it just made me laugh. “Quick check, am I supposed to lie or not according to the Bible thx” (just picturing the typical faith emergency :lol:)

      I kind of like being able to accept or decline assignments on the go because I tend to shop or do chore in the middle of the workday. This way, I’m not chained to my desk.

      • If only it was faith related, I would understand, but the wast majority of the whats*app conversations were fwd gifs and silly stuff. It was so annoying that when someone would actually say something useful, we would probably not see it!

        • 😆 It makes me wonder what kind of relationship people had with your husband. Maybe I’m being super conservative or stereotyping, but I also picture faith leaders as respected and almost unreachable in the community. An authority figure, basically. I guess I’m wrong and it may not be a bad thing that people felt comfortable enough with your husband to share silly stuff (although yeah, could get annoying really fast).

  4. I slowly embraced the smartphone. I used to have a not-so-smartphone (Nokia running on Windows OS), but now I have an iPhone as a work phone, and a Sony Xperia running on Android as a private phone. Now I love it, because this essentially is an extension of my computer, and I love the seamless feel when working with emails for example. Also, when I am on the road, I used it a lot when booking accommodation, since the mobile apps give you pretty much the same functionality as the desktop version.

    That said, I do exercise self-discipline, and have learned not to respond to every notification I get. I also need to turn things off when needed, or else I’ll just be glued to my phone all day long.

    • Ah, so you do travel with your phone! How do you do? Do you buy a local SIM card? Do you usually bring a laptop as well or just your phone?

      • I do buy a local SIM, most likely when I am spending a long time in the country. Although if I am within the EU, then I just use my own because phone charges are the same anyway with roaming within the EU.

        I haven’t really travelled with a laptop, so I rely more either on Internet cafes or my mobile phone when I need to be online. I feel like I have the discipline to be okay not being able to be online all the time, and when I really need to, then I find a way to get access to a computer somehow.

        • WE used to rely on Internet cafés until 2009, then we bought a tiny laptop (bad choice, pretty crappy), then I started to bring my own. I do work when I travel so it’s worth it to me.

  5. Yes, I rely on it a lot. I’m this kind of person who has everything in her smartphone. Both daycare and school use apps to contact us (except for emergency, but they would call on our cell phone numbers anyway). I use WhatsApp with all my friends, both here in Canada or in France. I have a lot of group conversations too via WhatsApp. Some of my friends also use Fb messenger, which I have to for this reason. The only thing is that I don’t necessarily take it with me if I can do without it. If a friend has its own cellphone for example. I would send a message to my partner before leaving, to mention who I am with or where I am if there is a emergency. If I had to choose between taking a good book or my cellphone, I would always go with the book.

    • WhatsApp is super popular in Latin America but I don’t know anyone using it here in Canada (or in France). I use Skype but I wish I could use WhatsApp, looks easier… I should get my French family to adopt it.

      Your daycare and school have apps?? I’ve never heard of that. We get a million of emails from Mark’s school, I’m almost happy they don’t have an app…

      • Oui des apps! Honnêtement j’aime assez, ça permet d’avoir un endroit centralisé. L’école envoie aussi des courriels, quand ça concerne l’école au complet, et je passe mon temps à les chercher.

        • Je trouve ça incroyablement moderne! Nous, on est spammé par l’école, 99% de courriels qui n’ont aucun intérêt et qui sont souvent incompréhensible sans contexte (genre, ça s’adresse aux élèves plus grands, donc forcément nous on fait “gné?”). Et les appels incessants à se porter volontaire pour X ou Y :-/ Toujours pour l’école, hein. Pour la classe de Mark, je le ferais.

  6. Unfortunately, smart phone is an essential part of my life. I organise almost everything with my phone – communication with my family, friends and parents groups (Whatsapp), reading news, emails, work and banking. Some banks are phasing out the use of internet banking but introducing app for all transactions. And for logging into almost all government administration, it has to be verified via sms code, including booking an appointment. Sports clubs etc are using app for members to sign up for classes. So somehow people are ‘forced’ into using smartphones!

    • I don’t think it’s “unfortunate” and I don’t feel better than everyone else just because to me, it’s not my main tool 🙂 I think it might have become my top device if like you I had been “forced” to use it. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I find most websites are hard to access on my phone. For instance, I download my bank app, but I hate it, so I just use my computer to make payments and transfers.

      You probably also type faster and better than me on your phone : writing a full email would be torture for me!

  7. For my job (physiotherapist) I find it easier using a phone rather than a computer. I can do stuff like payments, organising my agenda etc etc between patients, if I had to use a laptop each time, it would not be practical at all for me. Plus, as now I live abroad I use the telephone more often to communicate with friends and family back in Italy, with a laptop it would be much more complicated for me.
    I also think I tend to use more the telephone because I don’t like technology that much and I hate spending too much time in front of a computer XD

    • That’s funny, I’m the exact opposite! Professionally, a phone is pretty useless to me, except to read my emails and accept/decline assignments when I’m not at my desk. This is probably because there’s no way I can write (and edit, proof, etc.) on a phone, and this is pretty much my job 🙂

  8. I wish I was less addicted to my smartphone, but I use it a lot… Especially whatsapp (easiest way to communicate since I don’t like to call people), Instagram (since I love photography, I love being able to share some of my pictures there) and Youtube (I watch videos while washing the dishes… or… eating, when I’m alone). BUT I do not have Facebook installed, AND I disabled notifications for most apps (except for Whatsapp and my e-mails).

    Right now, I wish I could go and live in a cabin in the middle of the woods for a few months, with no smartphone, no tv, no internet. But I doubt this is possible.

    • It feels good to disconnect but Internet does make life easier! I’m not anti-technology, I just don’t find my phone super practical. I’m realizing through the comments that it really depends on much much your work/friends/contacts use it. Like, I’d love to use WhatsApp but none of my friends use it. There’s a “community” effect, you join in and use what people around you use. My group is mostly addicted to emails 🙂 (… most of us are writers/linguists/translators, it may explain why!)

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