The day my mother gave in and bought the two of us iPhones was surely the day part of her soul died as well.
Before we even talked cellphone models and prices, my mother made a case for landlines. “I’m still fine with phones that hang on the wall and are attached to a cord,” she assured our Verizon salesman. But she felt having a smart phone would help her to be closer to me once I left for college in Kansas. Soon enough, we were talking with the salesman about the iPhone 6.
Although I did not come from a completely tech-free home, like the kind where they don’t even have a TV, I did come from a “go play outside” home. I can’t tell you how many times I would be playing Club Penguin or Webkinz, or watching YouTube only to have my mother warn me that I had “five minutes of ‘internet time’ left!” I often felt the contrast between my access to technology when I was with friends who could text or had slide phones.
It comes time to choose the color and size of the iPhone we want and, of course, I know exactly what I want. The white one with the gold backing and nothing lower than a 64 GB. My mother tells me, “I’ll take the same thing you have but larger and more simple. I don’t need all that extra stuff.” I reply, “They’re all the same except the size. You can decide what you put on it.” I joke around with her about getting the iPhone 6 Plus because it looks like a tablet and she laughs but says it helps her eyes. I tell the Verizon employee our specifications and he goes to the back room to fetch the phones.
After the man brought the phones out we went through some slower dialogue about how to use them. I couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for my mother who was now being spoken to like she’d never even heard the internet existed. I told the Verizon man I could teach my mother how to use the phone and the two of us got in the car. As we drove away from the store I could tell that my mom wanted to be happy about the phones because she knew I was happy about them. But there was still some ambivalence.
Over the summer before I left for Hesston College I showed my mother how to use FaceTime, made her a Snapchat account and suggested some apps she might like. “I just want to make sure I can check WNDU, the weather, my National Geographic, and CNN on here,” my mother instructed. Although the iPhone was almost an overstimulation compared to our hand held rocks [flip phones], teaching my mother how to use it became a way for us to engage as well. Within a week she became my best friend on Snapchat. As her exposure time with the phone became more regular her stress and distaste for the thing seemed to be more at ease. At last, some coexistence with the phone and my mother gradually formed.
Parents really can be one of your biggest followers and although I grew up with a flip phone I would not trade that time for anything. That time allowed my mother to teach me many valuable life lessons like self-control, time management, and even how to work hard to get what I wanted. When my friends looked at me oddly because I couldn’t send text messages, that time helped me to own being different instead of feeling bad about it. When I was traveling to and from sports games with friends I ended up talking to others instead of playing games on my phone in silence.
After we got the iPhones I must have demonstrated good “phone etiquette” because my mother rarely picked on me about having the phone out or what I was doing with it. Sometimes she would give me ‘the eye’ if she saw it out during dinner. But at least I knew her looks and remarks weren’t because she didn’t trust my ability to have self-control. She did trust me and she was ready to start letting me go out into the world, little by little, all by myself.
I now speak directly to the middle-schoolers of today (who are probably using their phones to read this) that I used to envy for having smart phones at age 11. My transition from a flip phone to an iPhone was a marker of growing up – and you probably won’t have this experience. I know that you will have adults like me being afraid that you will not turn out because of these “fan dangled devices.” But I also know, that just like me, in the end you will turn out just fine. You just have to remember to get off the phone to receive the wisdom you need. Growing up is like switching from a flip phone to an iPhone. It’s drastic and surreal but there are many benefits. There are anxieties about the change but there are also many joys to be had. Don’t miss out on that journey because you’re looking down at your screen. It is a journey worth having.