Need New Phone.. Really?

My current smartphone works…why do I feel ‘pain to attain’ a new one?!

An ad for Warba Bank by We Plan. It is shows a VW bus going on an expedition "into" a larger-than-life smartphone.
Old car..New Phone! Source: WePlan- Warba bank

Dear Ms. Smartphone: It seems to happen every Fall. I see the ads for the new phones and I want so badly to get one. Since my current phone works well and it is compatible with the ones my friends use, I am conflicted about the real need for one! Zack, San Francisco

Dear Zack: With all the phone buzz (no pun), a lot of us are feeling that same “pain” to “attain.” Since I began this column on mobility, I wondered if there were parallels with the car industry.

Smartphones are in their infancy, so when we get a new phone there are step-up improvements. Cars used to be like that, and it made sense to reach for a safer, more efficient model.

But, over time, cars became more standardized and reliable. The two or three year trade in cycle for cars was done in by the recession and other factors.

That said, people need to be sold a reason to get a new phone.. or car. That’s where advertising comes in. For autos and trucks, advertising in the US is about $18 billion annually. It’s considerably less for smartphones: they live within the environment of mobile ads, if that makes sense.

You mention in your post that your current phone is compatible with the ones your friends use. Marketing people would call that a socio-cultural factor. There are economic issues, and psychological factors when it comes to buying or leasing a new phone. For example, which phone features do you weight heavily and pay attention to? Imagine the emotions you feel the ‘day-after’, once you unwrap the box and are routinely using the new device. In our culture, ‘the right call’ may be to try new things and keep ahead of the technology.

If you decide to get that new phone, consider donating your existing one to a senior or older person who is not tech-savvy.

I find that seniors tend to keep their smartphones and flip-phones ‘forever’. In the classes I teach, their older phones become a hindrance to being digital savvy and Internet aware.

School Ban Phones?

A mom asks whether schools should ban smartphones during the school day….

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My pre-teen asked me to write you. In her new school, she is required to leave her phone in her backpack, and not bring it into the classroom. The backpack has to be left in the hallway or in a locker. My daughter says this is not fair. What do you think? M.Casee, Bolinas

Dear M. Casee: Here we are in late August, and your daughter raises the vital back-to-school issue. There is no standard or right- and-wrong here. It’s at the discretion of the school.

Some countries, like France, Australia, and Israel institute bans during school, but other countries, like Japan, have rescinded the suspension. In the U.S., some school district use Yondr bags. There are compelling reasons to ban smartphones in the classroom: studies find that students who use them do not score as well on standardized tests; they are distracting during classroom lessons; and students can use them after class to post off-color pictures, sometimes bullying ones, from the gym, lunchroom, etc.

That said, there are also positive reasons to allow smartphones in the schools. The primary one is that smartphones are the new tool, and students need to be educated on how to use operate them intelligently and mindfully. In previous posts, I have called for provisional phones… schools, libraries, and parents must provide “beginner’s lessons.” It will take a few more years. Currently, only a few teachers have developed a curriculum that use the phone as an educational tool- for example, civics classes that explore the nature of pro and con sentiments.

None of this will resolve your daughter’s cry that it’s not fair, but you need to remind her that principals and teachers set the rules… that’s the first lesson. As a parent, you should ask why she would need to have a phone out during school lessons. It is certainly not to reach you or her friends. And, to set a good example, maybe the teachers and school staff should be phone-free too.

So Lonely with Phone

Everyone is wrapped up in their phones…except me.

This photo is opaque black with a single point in the middle. It is titled, "The Stunning Loneliness of Megacities at Night." From Wired Magazine. April, 2019.
Michael Hardy Photo. 4/16/19/ Wired Magazine.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Whenever I’m out in public everybody around me is staring at their phones. This happens out in nature, in class, and anywhere people have the opportunity to open an app. When I don’t look at my phone and just think about things I feel like I’m the odd one out. Is there a way to quell this feeling? Will people ever change or only get worse? Benjamin, Cambridge

Dear Benjamin, There is no doubt that phones have changed our social relationships; in an earlier post I noted that we are closer to those who are further away, and farther from those close by. The other factor is that smartphones are the modern swiss-army knife. We use them to snap pictures, light up the dark, record voice memos, and count our footsteps.

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