Ever upward

Today’s Photo Friday theme is “Best of 2011,” which gives me an excuse to revisit my photo archives for the past year. As it happens, my favorite photo from 2011–an image of Jonathan Borofsky’s “Walking to the Sky” from the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh–also illustrated one of my favorite blog-posts from 2011: a July entry titled “Out of reach,” which I wrote after joining Google+ and feeling more than a bit of ambivalence about social networking and the Instant Information Age.

Upwardly mobile

Revisiting that post today, I find myself chuckling and nodding in agreement with the things I said nearly six months ago:

In this era of smart phones, texting, and Twitter, I feel like a dinosaur when I admit that sometimes I don’t want to “be in touch.”

Just this month, after comparison-shopping to replace J’s dying cell phone and switch my New Hampshire cell phone plan to a Boston-area one, J and I made a conscious decision not to get smart phones like nearly everyone we know, opting instead for basic devices I immediately dubbed “dumb phones.” J and I already spend an inordinate amount of time online, plugged into our laptops for both work and pleasure. Had we gotten ourselves smart phones, I’m sure we would have enjoyed the luxury of being able to check email and surf the web when we’re away from our computers…but at what point would that convenience become confining?

Toward the clouds

For J, the deciding factor was the realization that if he had a smart phone, he’d feel obligated to check work email when he was away from his laptop, like the folks we see texting and checking email from their front-row seats at televised sporting events. “Put down your phone,” we shout at the TV screen, “and watch the damn game!” For me, the deciding factor was the monthly cost of a phone-and-data plan versus the basic bare-bones coverage we’ve always had. No matter how cool and convenient it might be to be able to check email, Tweet, and surf the web from anywhere, I don’t travel far (or frequently) enough from my laptop to make those features anything more than a luxury.

Now that I’ve revisited my July post, J and my choice to get “dumb phones” doesn’t seem so dumb after all. I still enjoy unplugging from the Internet and getting away from constant online contact–this past week, for instance, J and I took a whirlwind day-trip to New York City, and one of the most relaxing aspects of the getaway was the fact that we didn’t check email the whole time. And now every month when we pay our bare-bones cell phone bill, we can remind ourselves of what we’re saving by not paying for a mobile data plan when we have perfectly good Internet access here at home: a gift that keeps on giving. During a year when workplace budget cuts have inspired J and me to tighten our belts at home, saying “no” to smart phones might have been among our best decisions of 2011.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, “Best of 2011.”