I realized that the communication culture and digital life of my age demographic was changing, and I wanted to be a part of it. I owned a red plastic flip phone, dinged up from constant drops, the fake metal veneer peeling off the front. The audio was so bad I had trouble holding long conversations. Pulling it out always embarrassed me a little bit. In a sea of glowing touch screens piloted by light caresses, I still had to push buttons. Friends would dictate texts by voice, directing Siri to pass their messages along. I didn’t even use T9. It was time to get my first iPhone.
I got to the Apple store that evening at 8:25, which was, according to the red-shirted staff woman who became my technological guide informed me, just in time. They stop selling phones at 8:30, so I got the last one sold that day. I felt briefly like the parents of the first child born on New Years Day, entrusted with some special thing for no clear reason. The woman went through the motions of activating the phone on my Verizon account, but at the first input prompt she paused, as someone hesitates when they expect something from you. I was to take the lead on entering data, a troubling prospect given that I had only ever tried typing on friends’ phones and was still terrible at it. “I like to let the customer be the first one to touch their phone,” she said.
“Is that so it becomes imprinted, like a baby duckling?” I asked. I’m not sure she heard me.
I lifted the phone gingerly and made sure it knew that it belonged to me now, and could leave its embryonic cardboard box and glassy birthing ward.
The adjustment from 1998 to 2012 has been easier than I expected, though for the first few nights I kept my old flip phone’s alarm clock on because I couldn’t bring myself to trust the iPhone. A month in, I can still survive a polite conversation without my hand jerking like an addict’s automatically toward my pocket. The phone helps me find my way in New York; I no longer have to hand-draw tiny maps of where I’m going on scraps of paper before I attempt to find an unfamiliar place. I sprinkle my text messages with emoji (it’s the future) and have a custom ringtone that I never use since the phone’s always on vibrate. I like that it’s there, though.
Now, I feel less awkward getting to bars before friends show up. I frequent coffee shops without wireless since I can still check my email. I walk around my Mac-stuffed office and hipster Brooklyn strangely proud of the technology contained in my pocket because it’s still a novelty to me. I imagine it will slowly wear off and I’ll take the ability to take a picture at any moment and publish it to the world at large for granted. It’s a small miracle that inevitably becomes mundane.
My old phone still sits on my bedside table, lying dormant for some unknown future date when I will suddenly find a need for it. It stays there like a faithful pet, aging but not entirely useless, unused but not forgotten. Picking it up, I can feel a spark of life (there’s still some charge left in the battery) and sense the patina of memories that it developed over our time together. The old phone makes me nauseous, in a way. It’s weighted with the first year I spent in this city, pitted and familiar like the surface of the moon seen over tall buildings or on a long walk home in the dark.
It could be that one day we’ll all be nostalgic for flip phones and push buttons and lo-fi screens and they’ll come back into vogue with a ringing chorus of staccato claps as we snap them shut and stuff them into our bags and pockets, unworried about scratches and shattering glass. Right now, though, that sound is the only thing I miss.