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And I Enter the Age Of the Smartphone

I’ve always lagged about five years behind everyone else when it comes to technology. I blame it on my upbringing.

I was born to much older parents who could have been my grandparents, a Gen Xer raised by two people straight out of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation." Modern technology always lagged in our house. My dad owned a 78 record player and a reel-to-reel movie projector that he had bought during the Great Depression, and he thought they were modern technologies.

When I was at my parents' house gearing up to leave for graduate school in the 1990s, my mom called me into the kitchen. I walked in to find a very large, cardboard box sitting on the kitchen table. The letters "IBM" were plastered on the side in big, black letters. "We thought it might come in handy for school," my 70-something mom said proudly.

"Well don’t just stand there, go ahead and open it!" bellowed my very hard-of-hearing dad with a smile on his face. He never liked to wear his hearing aids.

I walked over to the table and flipped open the cardboard lid. There it was, staring back at me: A shiny, semi-used IBM Selectric typewriter. "Isn’t it nice? Fancy," Mom said, smiling. Apparently, one of her old friends was getting ready for a yard sale and Mom had managed to snag this find before it went on the block. "Take good care of it because it’s a damn good typewriter," my dad shouted. "It’s electric, too!"

I was typing away in my college dorm room (yes, I actually used the thing) when the RA knocked at the door to say my neighbors were complaining about the loud tapping noises. That was the beginning of the end of my very short IBM Selectric typewriter phase. Besides, the eraser ribbon had already run out and I was buying my weight in White Out at the student bookstore. Long story short: I found the computer lab with its sleek but tiny Mac Classic IIs and I was on my way -- only about five to ten years behind my peers. Could someone please explain "cut and paste"? Who is this weird girl?

I’m remembering this true story today as I sit here looking at my new smartphone. It's my first one. I'm about five years late (or more?) catching the whole email-and-web-on-a-phone trend, which is right on par with my personal technology history. My new phone has a lot of features, and I've already initiated my emergency plan (shut down and reboot) once when I’ve gotten lost using it. With any luck, I’ll master this pocket-sized piece of technology – at least enough to be able to send an email, pull up a website, or answer the phone. Everything else is gravy.

I'm feeling mixed emotions, though, because I've spent the last few years being either annoyed or amused by other people's smartphone use. I swear, I’d never, ever do that I would think to myself as I watched other people totally zoning out on their smartphones in public places. I’ve already taken a few sneak peeks at news sites while out and about, so I’m totally busted. Still, I’m putting some ground rules in place for myself. First, the phone goes in my pocket whenever someone is talking to me or I'm standing among a group of friends, family or acquaintances. Second, conversations with the people in my immediate, real sphere of existence will always take precedence over conversations with people pinging me on my smartphone – no exceptions, unless someone is trapped underneath something heavy or there's some other true emergency. Third, this smartphone is just a piece of technology that I will control, and not the other way around. We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck.

And if you’re wondering whatever happened to the typewriter, I returned it eventually to Mom for her use. She was very excited but curiously, I never saw her use it. She kept right on sending me long, handwritten letters at school urging me to get a haircut and a boyfriend. Maybe she was tired of White Out, too. C’est la vie.


  1. Chris, this is so funny -- I am a good bit older than you, and I remember the Selectric very well -- I loved it. In fact, it almost scared me because it was so fast compared with a manual typewriter.

    I hope you like your smart phone as much as I like mine!

    Robin Shea

  2. Thanks, Robin! It was a fast typewriter, but it was loud. It's a funny memory. Thanks for commenting.


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