January 31, 2020

BARAN | Flip to a Flip-Phone, the Rerun

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We all hate ourselves just a little bit every time we look at the Screen Time app on our smartphones. Every day we tend to underestimate the time we spent on our phones. Then we see the hours jump out at us from our screens, and think: “Where did all that time go?” Yet, save a select few, we continue to squander large parts of our day on our phones. Why don’t we stop this madness?

Last year I wrote a column about my mom doing something drastic in response to this screen problem. You guessed it, she switched to a flip-phone. Read it if you’d like, but essentially I covered my mother’s annoyance with the time-wasting technology and her decision to completely remove herself from it from buying a flip-phone. Although I admired my mother for making the switch to a flip-phone, I didn’t think I had the willpower to do it myself. I was wrong … kind of. Let me explain. I watched my mother persist in her flip-phone endeavor for about a month before quitting. She maintains that if she weren’t a doctor who needed to communicate with her patients constantly, she could have done it. Fair. But what confused me was another experiment.

One of my roommates, Mark “Dinghy” Botros ’22, had heard me discussing my mom’s experiment in the days leading up to Thanksgiving break. I mentioned that I was thinking about switching, too. Dinghy immediately hopped on the bandwagon. He was resolute about ditching his smartphone and urged me to join him.

He came back from the break with a flip-phone. I was impressed that he had gone through with it and was very confident in his ability to completely detach from a smartphone. If there was anyone who could use a flip-phone in 2019, it was Dinghy. He didn’t have Instagram, barely used Snapchat and never said anything in group chats. Dinghy was the perfect candidate for a flip-phone.

However, he met none of my expectations and switched back to a smart-phone within a few weeks. Why? I couldn’t understand how someone who actively avoids social connection through the phone could feel that a flip-phone is so unworkable. Was it that difficult?

So, I was a little apprehensive about going into the experiment. I steeled myself, and, during the last few days of Christmas break, I drove into town to buy a flip-phone. While I was standing at the counter waiting to be rung up, I talked to the sales rep about the phone. He told me that flip-phones are almost exclusively purchased by older folks and that he expected them to go completely extinct within the next few decades. He seemed surprised to see me purchasing one, and looked confused as I waved goodbye and walked out the door.

The novelty of the phone instantly hit me. It was so small and compact and made me feel a little retro (that didn’t last long). Texting was a hassle, to say that least, it was difficult to hear the other person when making calls and, to top it off, you couldn’t even really flip it open and shut.

However, for the first week, I did enjoy being cut off from everyone. For that last week of Christmas break, I used almost no social media and texted rarely. I came back to school a couple of weeks ago with the flip-phone and continued to enjoy the isolation. However, a few days into the first week of school (which for me started on January 14), I began to miss the old connections. I particularly missed the group chats, which were not possible to be a part of on a flip-phone. Regardless, I continued to carry it around until I dropped it in the snow, and it broke.

I was shocked. I was always under the impression that flip-phones were more durable than smartphones, but mine was completely defunct after being in the snow for a few seconds. That being said, I wasn’t exactly howling with grief over its loss. I quickly switched my number back to my old phone, which I had been using for music, and picked up where I left off: wasting time on my phone, and then getting angry at myself over it.

Through this experience, I realized that our generation — and especially the people at Cornell — is so interconnected that not having a smartphone is a social and professional handicap. That’s why Dinghy couldn’t do it, and that’s why I certainly couldn’t do it.

Not having that smartphone tucked in your pocket can be incredibly cleansing for the mind and spirit. I recommend to anyone who is stressed or anxious to try to go without a phone for a period of time. I’ve come to believe that anything is fine in moderation.

To quote one of my mother’s favorite authors, Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation, even moderation.”


Christian Baran is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at cbaran@cornellsun.com. Honestly runs every other Friday this semester.