A Pearl in My Clamshell

By Janeen Lewis

Flip Phone

I like to remember when a phone was just a phone.

When I was ten years old, I called my best friend every day from the rotary wall phone in our family’s kitchen. Stretching the long, curly cord around the corner into the hallway, I sat against the grandfather clock and shared about my day. Grown-ups predicted that one day people would phone each other on computer screens, but I didn’t believe it would happen in my lifetime. TV phones were too futuristic, more like a prop on Star Trek.

Today phones go way beyond anything I imagined as a little girl. But as much as the world has changed, I have not changed with it. It feels like I’m the last person left in the universe who still has a flip phone. Okay, I’m exaggerating.

My husband has one, too.

Out of curiosity I asked, not Siri, but Google (the old-fashioned way, on my laptop), “How many people own a smartphone?” According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans reported owning a smartphone in 2015, the latest year for which I could find data. That means my husband and I are one of the 28 percent who don’t. And I’m sure that margin has already narrowed.

During my research, I learned my flip phone is now called a “dumbphone” because it only talks and texts. Unlike a smartphone, it doesn’t tell me how to navigate my car, let me surf the internet, e-mail my boss or play hot new tunes. If I want to know what the weather is, I have to find out the complicated way, by looking out the window. I know this sounds like a hard life, but I’m managing.

What my flip phone lacks in features, however, it makes up for as a conversation piece. This is not necessarily a good thing. Listen to the exchange I had recently at our local barbecue pit:

Me: Innocently waiting for my food at the take-out window and deleting texts (admittedly at the same speed grass grows).

Comedian Drive-Through Guy: “Oh, you have a flip device. That’s cute. My Granny has one of those.”

In all fairness, Jokey Barbecue isn’t the only one who has ribbed me about my phone. While substituting in a fifth grade class, I checked the time on my phone. First I heard crickets, followed by snickers. Then, one brave voice:

“Ummm. . . your phone is really old.”

Another time, one of the nicest, most polite moms I know said (in a lowered voice, so as not to embarrass me), “Would it offend you if I told you it’s time for a new phone?”

Then there’s my Sunday school class, a class full of compassionate, Jesus-loving people. They chortle at my phone, as does pretty much every other person on the planet.

Most people don’t understand why someone would want a phone that is just a phone. I’ve heard advice on how to get a good deal on a smartphone. I’ve listened to dissertations on how convenient it will make my life, how helpful it will be for my job. The most pressing question all these well-intentioned smartphone enthusiasts seem to have is this:

Why don’t I trade in my geezer phone and embrace my inner smartphone desires that surely everyone has?

I could point out the practical reasons I keep my ancient, three-year-old phone. It’s affordable. It’s also durable. Clumsy person that I am, I’ve dropped my “clamshell” (the nickname I prefer over “dumb” or “flip”) probably a hundred times, and its sturdy design can take it. And talk about stellar design features, I can leave my phone unattended in my back pocket, and my derriere won’t dial a soul.

Yes, I could point to all the practical reasons, but the truth is startling in its simplicity, and the pearl I’ve gained from my clamshell.

I am content.

I suppose my satisfaction with a phone that is just a phone has something to do with my children, Gracie, six, and Andrew, ten. When I became a mom, I simplified my life as much as I could. I believe the saying “love is spelled T-I-M-E,” and I wanted as much time with my kids as I could get. Fleetingly, I’ve tried to slow time down, but my children insist on being the only things that are growing faster than technology.

The world around me keeps tempting me to squander precious time with my family with busyness, Facebook feeds, Twitter talk and enough Internet information to make my mind explode. So many times I have turned on my laptop to get a dinner recipe and 30 minutes later found myself recipe-less and on a bunny trail reading about “28 Celebrity Plastic Surgery Nightmares.” I don’t want to think about my life if I was joined at the hip pocket with a phone that had data.

It’s not that I dislike the Internet or social media. They are beautiful tools that connect people all over the world and help us share our lives with loved ones that live far away. But I am trying to teach my children to embrace people more than LCDs. How can I lead the way if I’m constantly looking down, swiping my thumb across a screen? I want to look up – up at her turning her first cartwheel at gymnastics or him sinking baskets on a court. I want to teach my children to play outside, to talk face-to-face and to feel the spine of a paper book in their hands. I want them to be able to rely on their own knowledge and, just once, maybe even a paper map to navigate their way in this world.

I’m not naïve. I know one day I will trade in the clamshell and buy a new phone.

But for now, I am holding on to the pearl of contentment I already possess.

And I’ll hold on to my phone that is just a phone a little longer.

About this writer

  • Janeen LewisJaneen Lewis is a freelance journalist​, part-time STEM teacher and mother of two. When she isn’t spending time with her family, she loves writing about them.

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One Response to “A Pearl in My Clamshell”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    A delightful read. I came into the world of telephone tech in 2000. My husband bought me a flip phone and surprised me by putting it in my purse. When it rang, I thought it was a grand child’s toy, yanked it out and tossed it. I”m better now.

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