My kids swear that we are the last people on earth to not have a data plan with our phone service. They might be right too. Having just a regular cell phone—texting option only—is such a rarity that when I recently tried to replace my old phone, the Pink Dinosaur, as my daughter called it, I couldn’t. AT&T offered only one model of phone without data plans. I call it extortion, a phone company’s empire forcing me to comply with their money-making scheme. My kids call it keeping up with the times.
Image: Eliot Phillips via Flickr
My daughter, a senior in high school, is quietly hopeful that we will finally enter into the new millennium and get a data plan when our current phone contract runs out. Last night at the dinner table, my husband and son looked at plans available with and without smart phones. My husband asked me, “Do you want a smart phone plan or just a regular phone and plan? We can get that pretty cheap.” I think he’s hopeful I’ll continue on in my inexpensive ignorance and stick with my dumb phone.
“What can you do with a smart phone?” I asked. I'd been listening to the discussion debating if I really needed to make the costly switch. “Can I get Pandora?” My needs are simple.
“Mom,” my daughter said patiently, “You can check your email, check in with Facebook, and yes, access Pandora.”
“Does it take up a lot of data to do that?” I asked, having no idea, really, what I was asking. My son assured me the plans we were considering would probably be more than enough to cover usage such as Pandora. I began to think about always being able to check in with my email or Facebook or Twitter, not being dependent on available wifi connections. On second thought, I’m not sure that’s overly appealing to me.
I’m struggling to find a reason to switch to a data plan yet feeling like I’ll be missing out on something if I don’t. After all, all the other parents have one.
When I was a kid, our phone needs amounted to pocket change. Really. My mom and dad always made sure I had spare coins when I went out with friends in case I needed to call home. I realize if you’re under a certain age, you won’t remember the Ancient Ones’ reliance on public phones… phone booths… you know, the thing that Superman went into to change into his super tights and cape… oh never mind.
While I’m waxing nostalgic on “when I was a kid,” I still remember when we got our color TV. It was a big deal. Other families already had one, but my dad never saw the need to switch from the black and white—it worked just fine. We had a hard time convincing him the wonder and splendor of Saturday morning cartoons in full Technicolor glory was worth the financial investment. But I’m sure once he caved and bought the state-of-the-art console TV, he enjoyed the MacNeil Leher News Hour in color as much as the next dad.
I also remember his reluctance to install air conditioning. Instead, we placed box fans in the windows so that they blew outside; the theory being they would suck in the cooler night air. It was a hypothesis my pre-adolescent body knew was false from every sweaty pore it possessed. Night after night, during sticky summer heat, I lay on top of sheets, barely breathing, hoping even a light puff of air would cool and relieve my searing flesh. It rarely happened. It was stifling. But my father's conservative fiscal habits and ethics about not always having to keep up with the Joneses meant we made due with fans.
My reluctance to buy into the newest, "bigger and better" gadget is an inheritance bequeathed to me during my own exasperated youth. Do I really need a data plan? Did I really need that DVD player a couple years ago? I'm still mourning all my obsolete VHS tapes and wondering what kind of craft project I can make from them.
But perhaps the bigger point I should really be pondering is, when did I become so much like my dad and feel proud about that? On second thought, yes, I do want a smart phone. But here's to my dad, maybe looking down at me from his after-life location with a bit of satisfaction: At least I made my kids wait a year or two after it was a trend before caving.
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