If I’m so smart, how come it took me this long to get my first smartphone? Well, I’m of the generation that didn’t ingest the new technology with its mother’s milk. (In fact, I’m of the generation that got its milk from a warmed and sterilized bottle of formula. When I was born, I think Margaret Mead was the only woman in America who believed in breastfeeding. But that’s another story.) I was a complete technophobe until, let’s see, 1998, when my husband got a new computer that operated on Windows instead of DOS. I can remember my First Contact with this alien way of communicating: I poked at a key and squeaked in alarm when it produced a letter on the screen. I’m no longer technophobic. I’m online all day long, and I have two websites: my author site, elizabethzelvin.com and my online therapy site, LZcybershrink.com. But each new piece of technology is still a very, very big deal.
Kids today have all these skills hardwired in. I hear them talking on the subway about switching phones and plans as casually as they buy a pair of earrings whenever a new one catches their eye. We had that first PC with Windows till 2003, and we still have the desktop that replaced it. I’m writing this on a laptop that I bought in 2004. And I got a lightweight little netbook a couple of years ago, not realizing that book tours involving physical travel were about to become obsolete.
Until a few weeks ago, I had a very simple cell phone that I’d been using for years. It was usually turned off. I seldom checked my messages, and few people even had the number. I used it mostly for car emergencies and keeping track of my husband in a crowd (“Honey, I’m in hardware—meet me at the front of the store in ten minutes.”) Everybody else’s iPods and iPhones looked like fun, but who had time for the learning curve? Also, cellphonistas who cross streets in a daze and babble all their secrets on the bus annoy me greatly. I had no desire to be one of them. So how did it happen that I finally took the plunge?
One factor was the small fortune we’ve been paying every month for our land lines. Another was finding I had trouble answering the question, “What do you want for your birthday?” I had to think outside the box—the box being mysterious but deeply rooted notions about what I “need.” So I asked for an iPhone, which meant I had to commit to taking the time to learn how to use it.
First good omen: the salesman’s name tag said “Elvis.” And Elvis was a winner: knowledgeable, patient, and informative. When I expressed my concern about learning enough to take advantage of all the phone’s features, he offered what I’m finding a terrific method of approaching daunting technology. “You never have to be frustrated,” Elvis said. “When you get it home, start playing with it. Every time you do something, write it down. Take notes of what you can do and how, so you can do it again. If you get stuck, stop. Take notes, write down what didn’t work and all your questions. Then walk away from the phone for a while, and then try doing something else. When you have a training session, you can get all your questions answered.” Both Verizon, where I bought the phone (we got rid of a land line and got its number switched to my new mobile), and Apple offer lots of free training. In fact, I’m finding that as time goes on, I’m answering a lot of my own questions without assistance.
Yep, I love my iPhone. I’m using the hands-free earpiece and texting for the first time. I’m googling on the beach and putting my songs on the iPod feature. I’ve downloaded apps for my bank and my online therapy chat room and buying movie tickets. I don’t call anyone while I’m walking down the street or carry on a phone conversation when I’m physically with someone else. But I have become one of those people you might see schmoozing to an invisible companion on the beach or texting on the bus. Now that I'm mastering an Apple in manageable bites, maybe my next laptop will be an iPad. And by the time my four-year-old granddaughter is a teenager, I might even be able to thumb almost as fast as she does.