December 18, 2016
For years I listened as my hiking buddies bragged about their smartphones. But I didn’t care. My antique flip phone did what I wanted it to at the time: call and text people. Besides, if I was careful it could hold a charge for a five-day backpacking trip while my friends scurried for ways to power up almost daily. They shelled out hundreds for their high-tech gadgets, plus more for high monthly service charges, while I spent only 19.99 for my phone and pay about 15 dollars monthly to TracFone.
Pretty smart, I thought.
But time—and a couple other things—eventually caused me to consider upgrading. Maybe a built-in camera wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to carry my phone and camera. Anything that eliminates weight on the trail is a thumbs-up. And I could email my hiking pictures to my family, saving them the wait for the slideshow. Wouldn’t they be happy.
Having Google readily available might also be helpful. I could immediately find the proper response to chigger bites, poison ivy blisters, and other hazards of the trail. Maybe I would even investigate sites that try to explain why backpackers leave a comfortable home and cozy bed in the first place.
Finally worn down by exposure, I purchased an “entry-level” smartphone from TracFone. Now I could brag too. Or could I? I was too humiliated to tell anyone that I couldn’t figure out how to answer a call on it. When it rang, I’d tap the green phone icon. Ring! Double tap. Ring! I tried pressing it lightly, then pressing it hard enough to leave a permanent fingerprint on the screen. Ring! Ring!
For three weeks, I had to let the rings run out, then call people back. Finally out of frustration, one day I swiped at the screen to stop the obstinate ringing. Hello . . . CW, are you there? How was I supposed to know that it wanted a swipe all along?
I was a little quicker—only took a week—to figure out how to enter contacts into my phonebook. Then I lost no time in pocket-dialing my friends. That skill took a mere three minutes to acquire.
I felt the phone vibrate. Why was Tom’s voice coming from my pants pocket? I took the phone out and sheepishly apologized for unknowingly calling him. He graciously said it could just as easily have been him. I called him two more times that day, not at all surprised that he didn’t answer the third time.
New day, new vibration. I pulled out my phone and saw I had pocket-dialed a hiking friend. Uh-oh. He and I were busy giving each other the cold shoulder since a major fallout months before. I was tempted to hang up but he was already on the line saying, “What’s up, CW?”
A quick decision was needed here. My flesh said to just turn the phone off (I did know how to do that) and go dig out my old flip phone. But the pesky spiritual side prevailed and I found myself saying, “Not much. How ‘bout you?”
We caught up for 15 minutes, and you would never know we’d had a problem. I hung up happy to have communication restored. So what if he thought I had made the first move. That’s probably what I should have done anyway. My smartphone was looking smarter than me.
Still, I needed to buy a case to protect the call button on my phone. People might start to think I was becoming outgoing, or worse, warm and relational. I moved the phone to my shirt pocket and hoped it would behave. Over the next week it made only a couple of random calls. Harmless. . . . But then it called George.
I felt the vibration, pulled my phone out, and saw who I had called. George didn’t answer. Good. I didn’t know what I would say. We had just been on a three-day hike together and had covered every subject imaginable.
A few minutes later, George called back. By now I had figured out how to answer, but I soon wished I hadn’t. George explained that he had been T-boned while reaching for a call. My call. He would get back to me later when he finished dealing with the police and the other driver. Before he hung up, at least I got assurance that everyone was OK. Within ten minutes I was on my way to the store to find a case for my phone.
I had another learning curve when it came to texting. I wasn’t used to getting help from my phone—though I’m not sure I would always consider the assistance it gives me to actually be helpful.
A little backstory for this. One of the topics George (who was still getting estimates to get his car repaired) and I had covered on our recent hike was politics. We are on opposite sides of the fence, but thankfully we both can have a discussion without name calling. It’s usually low-key bantering, even in a highly charged election cycle. We work hard to avoid stereotypes.
We were about to embark on a trip to Maine to climb Mt. Katahdin, and I texted to say I had purchased four new “boots” for the car. Clever, I thought. But my corrective text fired out the following: I just got 4 new bigots for the car. We both laughed long and hard about that one.
But the absolute scariest was the text I almost sent to Chris. He had helped me the day before at East Fork where I maintained a piece of the Buckeye Trail. I texted “Thanks for coming.” But my smartphone decided I wanted to say “Thanks for cuddling.” Luckily I checked it first. Chris and I are good friends, but really.
So here are some things I’ve learned about my smartphone:
- It isn’t a simple phone. It likes to keep me guessing about how to make it work right.
- It is playful and requires my watchful eye—and a protective case—so that it doesn’t endanger my friends or their vehicles.
- I need to always edit my texts, unless I’m prepared to do a lot of explaining.
- On occasion, my smartphone really is smarter than me and can help me do the right thing, even when I don’t mean to.
I used to think my hiking buddies were playing with their phones for enjoyment. Now I know they are just trying to figure them out!