The occasion of taking out my cellphone has provoked considerable mockery in the last 18 months or so.
"Zack Morris wants his phone back," I have heard more than once, in reference to the "Saved by the Bell" preppie's bricklike mobile (a late-model Motorola DynaTac, the first cellphone sold commercially, in 1983). For the sitcom's run from 1989 to '93, Zack's early adoption was a totem of his Los Angeles affluence and his wheeling-and-dealing scampish streak.
Were Zack still prank-calling Principal Belding these days, he would surely have an upgrade over my calling-and-texting device. It's a bulky clamshell phone selected for its military-grade ruggedness, as intimated by its name, the Samsung Convoy. It came free with my two-year contract. The only time it has Internet access is when I accidentally hit a button that launches a primitive Web browser (out of which, fearing usurious charges from Verizon, I exit immediately as if from a burning building).
Though my phone elicits stares in the soigne precincts of New York, I'm just one member of a small but hardy contingent (a convoy, if you will) of smartphone holdouts, people who seem like the ideal iPhone owner (under 40, urban, professional) but shun it and its app-friendly cousins for a low-tech "dumbphone."
According to a Pew report published last year, 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone as of May 2011. As might be expected, ownership is higher among the young, the wealthy and the nonrural. Fifty-eight percent of 25-to-34-year-olds (my own demographic) own smartphones. And in certain social strata, to not own one is the mark of an outsider.
As Kristin DiPasquo, 33, a second-grade teacher in Philadelphia who dislikes the distractibility and expense of smartphones, said: "A group of four of us was hanging out, and none of us had a smartphone. It was definitely like, 'Wow, look at us!' "
I understand the advantages of smartphones: I've received important messages too late, become lost in the hinterlands of Brooklyn and spontaneously wanted to look up how many episodes Zack's DynaTac appeared in. I also fear my own susceptibility to an e-mail-checking addiction, like the character Ryan on a recent episode of "The Office," who panicked when his phone was taken away during a bar trivia game.
Nicholas Carr, author of "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," argues in the book that because of the brain's neuroplasticity, Web surfing rewires people to be more adept at perfunctory multitasking, but diminishes the ability to sustain focus and think interpretatively.
Smartphones are especially pernicious because they "increase the ease of access to the Internet far beyond anything we've had with laptops," Mr. Carr said in an interview over his land line (he also owns a dumbphone, as do the other family members). "You see a similar type of compulsive behavior" to computer-assisted Web surfing, "but it can go on continuously from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep."
Such constant online status, Mr. Carr said, means that "we stop having opportunities to be alone with our thoughts, something that used to come naturally."
"Anytime we have a spare second," he said, "we feel compelled to check what's going on outside of us."
He has found an acolyte in the writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who jettisoned his smartphone after reading "The Shallows" and "finding myself checking my phone while giving my kids a bath," he wrote in an e-mail from his computer. "It can be nice to stay in touch, but smartphones necessarily redefine 'being in touch' to mean something that has almost no value. (What was I checking for? Tossed-off e-mails from people I barely know.)"
Has Mr. Foer noticed a change in his attentiveness when writing? "Without a doubt and dramatically," he wrote.
And would he allow those children he bathes, if they were of smartphone-owning age, to have one? A resounding no.
It's not surprising that writers, historically technophobic and requiring either sequestered mental space for composition or greater proximal awareness for gathering material, would recoil from smartphones. But what about other professions?
My friend Andrew Epstein, 32, an oncologist and palliative medicine fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, has resisted smartphones despite their ubiquity among doctors. Computers are in adequate supply in hospitals, he said, and doctors can text or beep one another.
Moreover, in a field often entailing meetings with patients and families about serious illness or end-of-life issues, Dr. Epstein has observed how smartphones can endanger bedside manner. "I've occasionally seen younger doctors surreptitiously checking their smartphones, hopefully for work purposes, during those meetings," he said.
As for his personal life, he said he doesn't require "an application to tell me where in the city I am or what restaurants are near me." The entertainment value also holds little appeal. "A game like Fruit Ninja, where you wave your index finger to chop up foodstuffs as they fly across the screen - I don't need to do that, or to slingshot a bird into various targets," he said, referring to the best-selling phone app game Angry Birds.
Dr. Epstein conceded that he would probably have to convert to a smartphone when his medical training ends and he receives more work-related e-mails, and that he sometimes depends on the kindness of loved ones. He recalled: "My wife and I were on vacation, and she had her iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and laptop, all of which she needs for work. I said: 'You have many different devices with which to access the Internet. Can I borrow one of them?' "
There are also a number of contraptions that gesture at the technocratic defiance and the retro cool of flipping open a spartan phone.
The corporate-countercultural purveyor Urban Outfitters sells the '80s Cell Phone Case ($20), a 7.5-by-2.5-inch plastic chassis that chunkily protects fragile iPhones. The armature bears a close resemblance to the DynaTac. The Aesir Copenhagen by Yves Behar phone, meanwhile, favors Old World craftsmanship over frills. The 18-karat-gold-plated phone with a sapphire crystal lens and ceramic top retails at 42,000 euros (about $55,430); for bargain hunters, the stainless-steel version can be had for 7,250 euros (about $9,570). In the middle of the spectrum, the designers Hein Mevissen and Diederiekje Bok, of John Doe Amsterdam, have created the streamlined John's Phone. The $100 device, which has an integrated address book in the back and a hidden pen that stores phone numbers, has only two functions: calling and hanging up.
A good candidate for these stripped-down phones might be Jim Harig, 24, a senior evaluation analyst at Ernst & Young in Chicago. He bought his waterproof and shockproof Casio flip phone four years ago. Mr. Harig said he worried about distractibility and regarded most applications as time wasters instead of productivity boosters. "I don't want to end up falling victim to the smartphone, where I dive in and get lost for hours at a time," he said.
Like Dr. Epstein, he holds particular scorn for Angry Birds, which he played once on his fiance's phone. "I felt like I lost a half-hour of my life," Mr. Harig said. "I said, 'Never again, just take this away from me.' " And he also appreciates maintaining the distinct spheres of office and home. "It's nice to disconnect myself once I shut my computer down at the end of the week," he said. But he, too, thinks he will eventually have to succumb to a smartphone for work.
"I think I can hold out for at least another year," Mr. Harig said. Until then, when colleagues deride his antique device, he said, "I come back with the fact that it's waterproof.
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