Flip phones and avoiding the perils of technology

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Does it work? How long have you had it? Why do you still have it? Isn’t it an inconvenience? Is that your phone?

These are some of the first questions people ask when we meet. My flip phone is an object of wonder. Let me begin by answering these questions.

Yes, my phone works; I can make calls, send and receive text messages, and even set my wake up alarm on it. My phone does everything that a cell phone did in the late ’90s and more. I’ve had this phone for about two years, though I’ve had a flip phone of one kind or another since I started high school.

I wanted this phone. A few years ago, when my family switched providers, my parents asked me what kind I wanted. Now, I am the only one of my siblings still sporting the flip phone.

I don’t see it as a burden or an inconvenience or a sacrifice to have a flip phone — a hundred years ago nobody had as much computing power as I had in my pocket. To me, it’s always been this way and so I don’t feel as if I lost something.

My phone is not a statement about technology, but it gives me a unique perspective on technology in general, in particular, social media.

There are, of course, positives and negatives to having a flip phone: I’ve never been lost in TikTok, but I have gotten lost while driving around. My personal information is not floating around on Facebook, but that makes it harder for prospective employers to see who I am. My phone is a familiar thing to me, but I can’t ask someone else to send a text on it.

I get my news from news sources that I intentionally seek out and podcasts that I regularly listen to, not from my feed. I judge for myself whether a claim is true or false without a little popup telling me that something is false. 

From my perspective, you have something in your pocket which, with a gentle touch, can tell you almost anything you want to know. This has, however, created an overreliance on the internet to communicate and disseminate ideas and the idea that big companies get to regulate the public square is scary. Their power reaches far beyond their users, controlling the public discourse even for those who do not use their services.

It’s frankly funny to see people decry censorship just because they can’t tweet. Censorship, to me, must rob someone of his ability to speak or print. I can’t tweet either, but I don’t feel censored. 

I am far more worried that bad actors can use social media to harm others than I am that some people can’t use it. In an extreme example, ISIS used social media to share propaganda, recruiting films, and even videos of executions.

I have never had to endure the harm which social media is known to inflict on children. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an investigation which found that Facebook, now rebranded as Meta, had knowledge that its application Instagram was having harmful effects on teenagers. According to the report from the WSJ, Facebook failed to substantively address these problems.

Downgrade or dumb down, but don’t expect the problems to go away. I won’t tell you that you should get a flip phone or quit social media, but my experiences have mostly been positive.

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