Jessie Raymond: Redialing opinion on smartphone

As a person who considers herself (a) frugal and (b) skeptical of new technology, I have a confession to make.
I want a smartphone. Desperately.
This admission gets two reactions. The first, from people who sometimes don’t even look up from their own phones as they respond, is, “Well, duh.” The other, the one that echoed my own sentiments until a few weeks ago, is, “Ugh, no. Why would anyone spend that kind of money every month on a stupid phone whose use is causing the rapid meltdown of society as we know it?”
I’ll tell you why: Because smartphones are freaking awesome.
A month ago I wouldn’t have known that, but when my husband Mark’s old “dumb” phone stopped working, I did some research and encouraged him to replace it with an iPhone, primarily for business reasons.
He was doubtful about further testing his rudimentary cell-phone skills. He worried that he’d have to lug our teenage daughter around piggyback so she could reach over his shoulders to operate a new phone for him.
It was a valid concern. Pretty much every “advance” in technology in the past century has included a learning curve too steep for anyone over the age of 14. It’s no wonder those of us who grew up struggling to program our VCRs harbor doubts about our ability to master the latest and ever-more-challenging inventions out there.
But the smartphone is different: It is, counter to all the technology that has come before it, easier to operate than the products it replaces. Whoever came up with that business model ought to get a raise.
I’m still struggling to get the hang of my no-frills two-year-old cell phone. But compared to Mark, when it comes to technological know-how I look like Bill Gates.
So I didn’t expect that within five minutes of owning an iPhone, he’d manage to change the ringtone, a task our daughter had always handled for him. He went on to modify his message settings and download three work-related apps. He then rattled off various verbal instructions to Siri, the phone’s virtual voice assistant, who sent a few texts on his behalf, gave him a local weather forecast and all but offered to rub his feet. (For a computer that is not programmed to speak Vermonter, she understands him quite well.)
In the next 24 hours, Mark calmly and capably browsed for apps and used the phone as an alarm clock, news reader, map, GPS, weather center, flashlight, camera, video game, music player, fitness tracker, video phone, and business tool. He even made a call or two.
This was not the same man who had once had to enroll in anger management classes after trying to update a contact in his old phone. I found the sight of him confidently swiping the screen while playing Angry Birds downright sexy.
Until I tried his iPhone, I had never looked upon any electronic device without suspicion. But now I understand why people who have smartphones are so attached to them: They do thousands of things — the expression “There’s an app for that” is not hyperbole — and they do them with an elegant economy that embraces, rather than antagonizes, the user.
I was sold before I even found about what may be the best feature ever invented for scatterbrains like me: “location-based reminders.” Thanks to its GPS, the iPhone can be told to set off a reminder not at a certain time, but at a certain place. An iPhone could remind me, for instance, to buy stamps when I got close to the post office — instead of letting me drive right by three times in one week. Hallelujah.
The only thing now standing between this beautiful, sleek, approachable, entertaining and sometimes even useful device and me is the exorbitant monthly cost. I’m eligible for an upgrade next month, but that just means I’ll have the opportunity to pay a great deal of money to allow a service provider I don’t like to hold me by the throat for another two years.
Is it worth it? Can I justify the hit to our family budget just to own what is, when you get down to it, merely a shiny thing?
You bet. With the gas I’ll save using location-based reminders alone, a new iPhone will practically pay for itself.

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