Smart phones. Just the name tells us we’re dealing with something designed to dispel any antiquated notions we may have about telephones and their original purpose. Had we been told 20 years ago that such a lightweight, rectangular chunk of technology could do the things smart phones routinely do many of us would have scoffed, imagining a Jetsons-like future which would arrive long after we finished our earthly gig. Of course we would have been wrong.

A smart phone – be it a Galaxy, Photon, iPhone, or some other marvel with a nifty name whipped up by a marketing team intending to push our consciousness into a boundless future – is quickly changing everything about how we communicate, share data and even record our memories. Check that. It already has. Red uses hers like most teenagers. Huddled in a corner, scanning through pix on Instagram, bursting bubbles in the Bubble Burst app, and most significantly texting her friends at dizzying rates which display impressive thumb dexterity. It is not hard to see Texting becoming an Olympic sport. Like synchronized swimming the “sport” part is difficult to understand, but it is an opportunity for precisely measured competition and marginally fascinating human interest stories. The long term effects on the thumb tendons of young people remain to be seen, but one can easily imagine in a few decades Carpal Thumb Syndrome will be a common malady among the newly middle-aged.

For all its versatility, for all the reliance on and obsessiveness smart phones engender in people, especially those not yet past college age, the one thing which seems to be missing from their menu of practical uses is the actual phone. The irony is almost too precious. Young smart phoners spend hours glued to their device using everything except the phone. You are familiar with the phone feature, right? The one which allows two people outside shouting range to engage in a spoken conversation filled with vocal nuances, quick-witted responses and, you know, words actually said out loud. The only time Red uses the “phone” is when it rings. Or rather when it makes a variety of sounds designed to startle the uninitiated. From a foghorn to a samba to a Twilight Zoney wooooo-hoooooo-oooooo. And when it rings (or foghorns or sambas or wooooo-hoooooo-oooooo’s) the person initiating the call is always someone with the silly notion the main function of a phone is to be a phone. They are generally of an age where they can recall what a big deal the introduction of cordless phones was. Old people. People like parents, aunts, uncles and the occasional hungry stoner who punched in the wrong number only to have a youthful girl answer with a tentative “Hello” rather than no nonsense business owner barking, “China Garden. Delivery or pick-up?”

Soon the language will catch up to the cell phone’s true functionality and the oh-so-passé use of the word “phone” for these things will simply disappear. It is already happening. Droid, Lumia, Nexus. Undoubtedly when the Smithsonian unveils their 2076 exhibit about the history of communication anything with the word “phone” attached to it will be an old, clunky device with twisty cords and barbells for handsets. “Phone” will conjure images of a world primitive, unsophisticated, and far removed from modern life. Little children will tug on Granny’s coat and inquisitively point at these Tut-like relics. And Granny will smile before telepathically responding, “Believe it or not those are things people once used to talk with each other, sweetheart. Aren’t they interesting looking?” The child will nod in understanding, and then walk hand-in-hand with his Grandmother to the next display case without a spoken word passing between them.

  1. Mary Ann says:

    So funny! Grandma asked one of the kids if their cell phone was a phone! She must have asked since she never saw anyone talking on it! Good question, Grandma.


  2. Andrea Kelly says:

    When my nephew came to visit we got out a few of my old toys for him to play with. He had no idea what to do with the toy phone I played with as a child, because it was shaped like…you know…a phone. But once it was replaced with a plastic cell phone, he immediately put it up to his ear and started talking into it. It so weird to watch! I felt so old! Lol


  3. rangewriter says:

    That explains why the phone component of my Droid is utterly unergonomic! I wonder if we will develop longer, more agile thumbs and lose our voices.


  4. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    I miss the cords that looked like long, curling pieces of plastic. They would stretch across the room and come back all twisted up. Now, we have tricorders.


  5. I miss rotary phones……..


  6. I’m straddling the fence of old school antiquated manual devices and new fangled apple driven futuristic communication. I don’t think that was even a sentence! Part of me is rebellious and part of me thinks the Second Coming will be soon so I don’t need to learn all of this stuff! Haha!
    Seriously though, this is a great post. You nailed it!


  7. legionwriter says:

    I love my iPhone. I hate my iPhone. Or should I start calling it my i-


  8. You hit that one right on the head. I never use my phone for actual phone purposes other than to call for Chinese delivery. Or to tell my husband I’m running late or something. But even then, I usually text him.

    It’s fun to be able to have front-row seats for the final decline of civilization, isn’t it?


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