Steinberg's cellphone philosophy: Use them until they break

SHARE Steinberg's cellphone philosophy: Use them until they break

Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 6S during an event Wednesday. | AP file photo

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Gary Shteyngart’s novel “Super Sad True Love Story” takes place in a dystopian future, where we all hang “apparats” — souped up cellphones — around our necks on cords like security passes. The devices share information with each other and notify us of the credit rating of the people nearby. Are they Low Net Worth individuals or, better, High Net Worth individuals?

The specs for the new Apple iPhone 6S are expected to be released with great ceremony Wednesday in San Francisco. The 6S will not include a function evaluating the financial solvency of those around us — something to look forward to — and indeed, the general insider view is that the incremental improvements will not charm and thrill the phone-buying public in the way that they expect, almost demand, to be charmed and thrilled.

A better camera, a faster processor and that’s about it.

Though lack of electronic marvels will not stop people from lining up to buy the new phones when they become available in a month or two.

Which makes this an apt moment to whisper, under the roar of unmerited Apple hoopla, a few words in support of my own philosophy toward phones: Use them until they break.


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That sounds practically Amish, and I hope I’m not tarring myself as a Luddite. But that attitude has guided me from my first cellphone, a 50-pound Motorola behemoth bolted in the trunk of my Chevy Citation in 1984 to today. If something works well enough, keep it.

My own phone is an Apple 4S, introduced in the hazy yesteryear of 2011. And why did I choose that particular phone? I didn’t. The paper issued it to me, and in my world, that consideration dwarfs all others. If Apple introduced a new phone — let’s call it the Apple 7 — that allows you to communicate with your dead relatives, I would not buy one over a lesser but free-to-me company model. Especially if getting this new cellphone involved my personally entering into one of those hellish phone agreements, which the paper shields me from — a perk I consider on par with health care.

I know, because earlier this summer my younger boy needed a new phone after his broke when he was about to go on a trip overseas and immediately required an operative phone to constantly reassure his mother he wasn’t being held captive in a cave. I accompanied him to the T-Mobile store to get one, a transaction at least as complicated as buying our house and involving as many forms. Later, my wife studied the bill — she does that kind of thing — and informed me that T-Mobile had socked us $50 for a phone case that we were told was free, a point I remembered clearly because my heart had swelled in gratitude at the gift. And as much as I wanted to take the pile of paperwork and march right back to the T-Mobile store and demand satisfaction, I had, in the sign-here-and-here-and-here whirl of getting the phone, initialed a page buying the case, and I decided it was worth 50 bucks not to ever return to their pink-tinged perdition.

I know I’ll sound like Andy Rooney passing a kidney stone, but I’ll say it anyway: I don’t want a new phone; I don’t want new features. I have a hard enough time grasping the features on current phones. I’ll give you an example. The aforementioned younger boy and his spanking new, expensively cased phone leave for college Friday. My wife has been busy equipping him with necessities. During one recent trip to Target, I was given the simple task of picking out a flashlight because she imagines the lad will need one both to guide him through the smokey halls to safety and to shine menacingly under his chin while he tells The Hook to his wide-eyed classmates at the wiener roasts we imagine these college kids are fond of holding.

So I’m standing in Target, looking at my flashlight options, and my first thought is: Thirty bucks for a flashlight? Sure, it’s titanium. But he’ll never use it. I decided to look for a cheaper flashlight that would still be adequate for sticking in a drawer.

An hour later, this thought came to me, like a bubble rising in warm honey: … you know … his phone … which he always keeps on him … already has a flashlight … built in.

I was tempted to tell my wife, “No flashlight necessary, honey, but what about a camera?”

I resisted. All this is stressful enough as it is.

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