Dumbing Down


Dumbing Down

“Could you repeat that, please?”

I was having trouble believing what my wife was telling me. She repeated her comment.


“People are returning to their dumbphones. They find their smartphones too expensive.”

Naomi was relating to me something that she heard on the radio. CBC Radio 2 has a policy whereby radio announcers cannot really just simply present music. They don’t say, “You just heard Adam Cohen’s new song Fall Apart (recommended, by the way) and next coming up is Melt My Heart to Stone by Adele.”

That would be too easy. Instead, no matter whose show it is, the announcer must tell a story, some anecdote, some titbit of information that relates, in some way, to the song, or at least, the title of the song. I don’t know what record was being presented when Naomi heard about reduced smartphone usage and popularity (Call Me Maybe? (Carly Rae Jepsen) nah, Call Me (Blondie) no, don’t think so, Call Me (Shinedown) possibly, Call Me (Serena Ryder) maybe, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High (Arctic Monkeys) ???) ; somehow, it seemed relevant to mention that people are leaving their smartphones to return to dumbphones, you know, those flip-up phones that were the only things around not too long ago and where you can only do one of two things: talk or text (OK, you can take pics and videos, too, though of questionable quality).

Naomi and I each own a dumbphone and pay what someone might pay for one smartphone – sixty bucks a month. It’s not about the money, though. Although most people might vow to never become one of those types who walk about town with their face in their smartphone, I know that if I owned one it wouldn’t take long before I was one of those types, barely avoiding hitting other pedestrians while I tried to pick up emails or glean other very important information off the Internet, all the while walking down the sidewalk with hundreds of others with their faces in their phones.

But it’s not about that, either.

Personally, I enjoy the silence of walking in the city. The busier the city, the louder the silence and more intense the enjoyment I experience when I’m up and about. There’s very little that I need to know on the Internet that’s so important that I have to know it while I’m getting somewhere. I do talk on my cell while walking and enjoy it very much; I even envy those people whose devices allow them to talk while wearing earbuds; they don’t have that ugly black thing in their ears. It’s like they’re listening to music, the only difference is, they’re chatting away as they walk, no cellphone held up to ear.

I also don’t often need to know something when I’m at a restaurant or café while just sitting around (err, I do usually have a newspaper or at least my e-reader to keep me company). It’s true that sometimes I will want to know the name of a certain actor I have in mind whose name I can’t remember (I hate when that happens) and wish that I had a device on me in order to look it up. I might be watching a movie like I was last night and want to know how old Nick Nolte is (73) because he’s aged so much and used to be good-looking, in a rugged kind of way, in his earlier days. In this case, in the middle of the video, I have to go upstairs and get my laptop and look it up.

No, Naomi and I are happy being “dumb”; we’re addicted to our computers, sure, it just hasn’t extended to every other moment of our lives, which happens to those with smartphones.

But why was I so surprised to hear that people are turning away from their smartphones? Maybe it’s because this trend doesn’t seem to have hit Montreal yet. Maybe in very hip Brooklyn people are flipping their phones open again. But in Montreal, every other person’s face is aglow with the white luminosity of their smartphones; it’s amazing how a person can swerve away from hitting you at just the last second. And I’ll be just as surprised, no, stunned, if I should walk down Queen Mary Street and see people talking on their dumbphones.

But happy, too.



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