Planned Obsolescence

I was sitting in the Denver airport waiting to fly to Alabama to visit my mom in the nursing home when my “smart” phone turned dumb. More precisely, two years and one month after I bought it, my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 died of old age, leaving me scrambling to communicate with friends and family. When I finally located a pay phone (or what I thought was a pay phone. With all the lights and video features, it could have been a slot machine with a receiver), I couldn’t connect to 1-800-Call-ATT to make a credit card call and inform my husband I was heading out of state without any way for anyone—not even the NSA—to track my whereabouts.

At my hotel in Alabama, I couldn’t get the room phone to work until I called the front desk clerk and asked her to unlock the long-distance feature. When I finally managed to get an outside line, I was lucky that my husband answered the call since he didn’t recognize the number. Caller ID is great when you’re trying to avoid timeshare sales reps and political robocalls, but it’s less-than-optimal when something unusual happens and you’re making an important call to someone who doesn’t know you’re using a different phone. 

My next quest was to go out and buy one of those off-the-rack phones to get by until I return home to Colorado. Unfortunately, I had great difficulty with the activation because the 20-digit SIM Card number was just too small for me to see, even with my reading glasses. Refusing to concede defeat, I went out yet again and bought a magnifying glass at the pharmacy so I could read the numbers on the box. Finally, after many hours of frustration, I once again had a working phone with talk, text, and data.

Despite living in a world in which technology supposedly makes life easier, when you reach middle age and can’t make a simple phone call, it is no mere irritation. Now I sort of understand the frustration my parents felt as they grew older and lost the ability to navigate the world as efficiently as they once did. No wonder my father did not want to give up the keys to his truck when we were afraid he shouldn’t drive anymore. Perhaps it wasn’t so much that his driving changed. If anything, he got more cautious. Rather, we worried about someone younger and more agile running over him.

I, too, find that the world is moving faster and faster as I am slowing down, but I don’t want to give up my autonomy. I’m no Luddite, but I’ve never appreciated technology for technology’s sake. I like it because it can help me do the things I enjoy much easier. However, the more technology dominates the world, the more time it takes away from the things I love because I have to devote energy and effort to learning how to use a new device or app. Or I have to figure out a contingency plan when it breaks down in a world becoming increasingly unfamiliar. Both are exhausting prospects.

As I watch my mother doze in her wheelchair at the nursing home, I wonder how long before I no longer have the stamina to change with the times and adapt to the latest technology. Ironically, in an age obsessed with recycling, we certainly go through a lot of gadgets. Will I be able to adapt to “progress” even as long as my parents did? Or should I start planning right away for my own obsolescence?