Attention, Steve Jobs: Sometimes people just want to make phone calls

Technology can be a pleasure, or an obstacle. Sometimes it can get in the way of love.

Technology can be a pleasure, or an obstacle. Sometimes it can get in the way of love.

My wife did something that some might find astonishing: She bought an iPhone and then returned it a few days later. She simply didn’t like it.

She replaced the crown jewel of cell phones, the hot new white one, for a bare-bones cell phone. It does virtually nothing but make or receive calls. It doesn’t even have a camera.

It’s rare in my experience that people are intelligent about gadget technology. I’m proud to be married to someone who welcomes the technology that is right for her, is not overwhelmed by it, and can reject the stuff that doesn’t work for her. And not be swayed by some technological marvel it because everyone else is doing it.

We have a mixed marriage. I find technology exhilarating. I’m a romantic about it. I find passion in it.

She wants it to stay at arm’s distance. She’s no Luddite: Her work as a college administrator keeps her heavily involved in computers and all the baggage that goes with them. Once she leaves work, however, she has little love for the demands that technology makes on our lives.

There are three people in our marriage, she often jokes: she, me, and tech support. There’s a lot of truth in that.

The Apple iPod Touch 4G is more to her liking than a smartphone — think of it as the iPhone without the phone part. It gives her the wonderful services of the Appleverse: the apps, games, camera, et al. But when all she wants to do is answer a damn phone call, not turn herself into a contortionist to use the iPhone with one hand, or fight through multiple menus, or struggle with whether the phone was in “flight mode” or WiFi, she’s clear that the iPhone is not what she wants in a phone.

Like the smart, principled woman she is, she braved the potential wrath of the local phone store (there was none, by the way), and swapped her phone for something simple. Something she really liked. Something that is more “her.”

Many people thrive on a constant barrage of phone calls, text messaging, email and the like. For them, today’s multifaceted smartphones are perfect. But there’s also a large part of the public who simply want to opt out of instant communication: instant calls, instant news, living on the edge of the chasm. Technology’s magnificent obsession with “now” can be its greatest flaw — unless people think about what it is they want from today’s gadgetry and select only those parts that enhance their lives.

My wife enjoys using her iPod Touch. She’s found that reading books or playing a game of “Chuzzle" on the device is fun while she’s out and about. She enjoys connecting to our home WiFi to instantly look up whatever news or other information interest her.

We like watching ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank,” in which investors and potential investees match wits to make a good business deal. She loves looking up the investees’ websites to see how successful they are, or if their sites reflect the bump — or the boot — from the show. They’re like DVD extras that add pleasure for her show-watching. She’s living Marshall McLuhan’s vision: the extension of her senses in a beautifully designed hand-held form.

But she controls the flow; it doesn’t control her. And maybe that’s the great secret behind her returning the iPhone.

It took her many months even to decide to try bringing the iPhone into her life. But once in her possession, she found it was not easy for her to use it in one-hand operation. As a phone it wasn’t intuitive. It offered her nothing that a non-feature-laden flip-top phone couldn’t offer. She doesn’t want to think to use the phone. She just wants to reach out and touch.

And maybe there’s a lesson for all of us in that.

Not too long ago, we experienced a moment of truth that every marriage has, one of those core conversations that either make a marriage stronger or unravel it. Technology, specifically using our laptop computers in our evening time together, curled up in separate living room chairs, allowing us to retreat to our private world even while in each other’s company, was more than a small issue. I credit her with bringing it up; I take the blame for starting the deadly shutdown.

Of course it wasn’t about technology, but in a way it was the perfect, sad example of technology misused. It could have been books, or knitting, or any number of things, but the miracle of today’s technology gave us a complete Internet-ized world to live in, even as the world in our living room, in our house, our sanctuary, became populated by strangers.

That was over 18 months ago. The laptops have been banished from the living room by mutual agreement. Our iPads and iPod Touches are permissible; they’re accents to our living together, not — thanks to her intervention — our life together.


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