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WRY TOAST: Smartphone perhaps not the wisest investment for a nitwit



I DON’T KNOW if high schools still do this, but when I was a teen, the kids in the life skills class had to take home a mechanical baby and care for it for a week.

Much like a real baby, it would cry at all hours of the day and night, demanding food, diaper changes and other left-wing entitlements. Since each baby would record its caregiver’s responses, locking it in the trunk of your car for that week was not an option.

At the end of the scared-straight-style experiment, each student would return to class, frazzled and sleep-deprived, with a renewed zeal for avoiding teen pregnancy—and for passing life skills class the first time around.

I bring it up because I think a program like that would be similarly effective when it comes to smartphones. Spend a trial week with one of those things, responding to its every need around-the-clock, and you’re likely to develop a renewed zeal for smoke signals.

I foolishly bought one of these in October, ostensibly for work purposes so I could stay on top of the 24-hour news cycle—but mostly so iPhone-toting 12-year-olds would stop snickering at me every time I pulled my rotary-dial flip phone out in public.

Like a lot of things that fit in the palm of your hand—newborn puppies, frosted cupcakes, erasers that look like little pieces of sushi—these devices are adorable at first glance.

But then that puppy grows into a dingo that eats your baby. Or the peanut butter in that cupcake causes an anaphylactic response that closes your throat, totally ruining your sugar high. Or those adorable little erasers don’t actually erase anything so much as smear your mistakes around the page.

And that’s when it dawns on you: I’ve been had.

I was taken in by the sleek touch screen, the shiny buttons and the salesman’s confident declaration that “Any average nitwit can operate one of these.”

Well, as it turns out, I am not your average nitwit.

It literally took me two weeks to figure out how to answer this phone. I wish to God I were making that up.

When my old phone rang, I’d simply flip it open and say, “Hello.” Problem solved. The first time this new one rang, the colorful touch screen lit up all pretty-like and announced that my best friend was calling. I poked at the screen repeatedly, but try as I might, I couldn’t answer it.

So I waited for it to stop ringing and then called her back. Too embarrassed to admit that I’d been outsmarted by my smartphone, I fed her some story about not being able to take the original call because I was plucking several small children from a raging flood.

The thing is, she and I talk almost daily. So after my third or fourth flash-flood rescue, she was onto me.

“You’re a lousy swimmer,” she said. “Plus, no one does water rescue anymore. There’s an app for that.”

Of course there is.

It was my husband who patiently pointed out that simply pressing the green “Answer” button on the touch screen wasn’t enough to answer a call. You had to press it and then drag it across the screen like you really meant it, he said.

I’m sure this is self-evident to the average nitwit. Less so for the rest of us.

Also, when I try to text people, it has this annoying habit of trying to finish my sentences for me, which seems a little presumptuous since it only just met me.

For instance, the other day, I attempted to tell someone what kind of car I was driving so he’d know how to find me in a crowded parking lot. What should have been a white 2003 Corolla morphed into a white 2003 gorilla, which is absurd because everyone knows Toyota stopped making white gorillas in 1998.

And unlike my old phone, which never did anything without my permission, this one has a habit of going rogue when I put it in my pocket. A few weeks back, it deleted my top three contacts—my parents, my husband and my best friend—and replaced them with numbers for an Olive Garden, a Target pharmacy and my late cat’s veterinarian. It took me only four days to figure out how to undo the damage, which I guess means I’m adapting.

It also, unbeknownst to me, called my mother not once, not twice, but three times in one night. That wouldn’t have been so bad if each call hadn’t been after 11 p.m., which everyone knows is reserved for reporting a death in the family.

Luckily, I still had the Target pharmacy on speed-dial, so I could call in a sedative for her.

The worst part about the phone is that it’s needy—beeping, whistling, honking and vibrating at me at all hours of the night and day.

It demands constant attention, though I’m never really certain what it wants. Does it need its inbox emptied? Does it need its battery charged? Does it need to be burped?

I honestly don’t know. But until I figure it out, I choose abstinence. In other words, I’m locking it in the trunk of my car.

Edie Gross: 540/374-5428