I thought I’d never buy an iPhone, until I did. It was a Monday night and I was looking at my cheap Moto E, and realized I really didn’t like my phone. I got the E months ago because I had just destroyed a very expensive HTC One, and then a Nexus 5, and I felt a sense of regret I didn’t want to feel again. But it was a pleasant evening, so I took a walk to my neighborhood T-Mobile store, asked for an iPhone, and within 10 minutes I was on my way home. It was an impulsive decision, but it was a great decision, because I’m not as sad as I used to be.
Working for The Verge has probably accelerated my jaded attitude toward some things, but mostly, honestly, I just don’t care much about the newest version of Android or the latest smartwatch, even though I appreciate the human accomplishment in their creation. Part of that disposition is the passive accumulation of experience I’ve had, including being endlessly pitched on inane products that will ultimately fail on Kickstarter, but the other part has been an active effort to create meaningful distance between myself and the objects I use.
Do you get a lot of notifications on your phone? I don’t. I mostly get the ones I can’t reasonably turn off, like phone calls and text messages. A while back, I intentionally decided my attention should not be controlled by an object in my pocket. That means I often don’t bring my phone with me at all when I’m going out to dinner with someone. And emails, tweets, Instagram likes — these are all still things I experience, but they never alert me to their existence. I experience them on my own time. The effect of this decision is that my life feels more deliberate, and the relationships I have often feel richer and more authentic.
The story I've told myself is only half true
At least, that’s the story I’ve told myself for years. That philosophy is great and has served me in some positive ways, but it’s only half of the truth. The other half is that for a long time, I’ve been a pretty sad person. I still am (and I probably will be for the rest of my life!), but I’ve learned how to deal with it, the same way you might learn how to deal with a chronic pain in your leg. Treating it like a condition to be overcome seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t before, because that’s how depression works: you think it’s the real you (because it is!), and you become skeptical, afraid even, of being happy, as if being happy is inauthentic. It makes you fearful of love. Depression is a devious partner who you can never leave, and who will co-opt your happiness for more suffering, if you let them. And it was so easy for me to let them.
For a while, I reduced my involvement with technology, and even cut it off completely. But what I was really cutting off was people in my life. I left Facebook because I thought it was making me sad. And parts of it definitely were! There’s a lot of garbage on Facebook. But the really sad part was feeling inadequate, and never involved enough in the lives of people I cared about. Not seeing their lives play out made it easier to feel comfortable in my sadness.
I bought a cheap phone because it fit the limited world I created
So buying a $150 Android phone I didn’t have to care about felt like a bold decision — a way to keep technology at arm's length. I thought it would be one less precious object in my life to fret over, and it was. I could still do everything I wanted to do in the limited world I created for myself — listen to music, call an Uber, check my email, whatever. The fact that it did all of these things adequately but not spectacularly wasn’t a problem, because I pushed myself in a direction where there was seldom any reason to use my phone in the ways most people probably do. I didn’t have lots of ongoing conversations across different apps, and I mostly didn’t use apps at all — because most apps worth using connect you to other people, and I just wasn’t connected to many people. It was okay for my phone to be slow and clunky because I resigned myself to a social death where there is no urgency to be alive.
I bought an iPhone not because it makes me happy, though it is a beautiful object that I appreciate in many ways. I bought it because my family uses iPhones, and I haven’t been able to participate in their group iMessage conversations on Android. I can be closer to them now in a way I wasn’t before, even if that means being locked into Apple’s world for a little while. It’s also not really about the iPhone. I bought it because it’s a more capable device than what I had, and I wanted to start using Facebook again, and other things I’ve neglected, and (so far) it looks like this product is one of the best ways to experience those things.
I still have most of my notifications turned off, but that’s okay. What matters is that I want to find people again, and be found. And one small way to do that is with a phone owned by the people I care about.