An Ode to My Flip Phone

Why can’t I quit you?

Illustration of person opening giant flip phone with spiderweb and dust on green background
Tim Lahan

This article was published online on May 14, 2021.

Lump in my pocket; buzz against my thigh; beloved, clunky Kyocera flip phone, let me salute you.

I can’t remember how long we’ve been together. Seven years? More? Even back then, you were retro. The salesman in the phone store spoke warmly of your indestructibility, as if that were your prime virtue: He said I could throw you against a wall if I wanted, and you’d just bounce off. But I would never do that.

Why can’t I quit you? First, the obvious thing: You are not connected to the internet. So for me, you are a little ebony brick of privacy. And by privacy I don’t mean cookies or my Social Security number or whatever—I mean the fragile sphere of imagination in which I exist when I’m not diddling about online. I mean what’s left of my nondigital self. When I clack your two halves shut, you glorious techno-mollusk, that’s it. Sauron cannot see me.

Second, you’ve become rather talismanic, socially. You stand for something. Perversity? Willed obsolescence? Sure, why not. It’s like hanging around with a maladaptive friend: I enjoy watching people react to you. When I brandish you, flourish you, wield you in the world, I get exclamations of pity and confusion. Especially from the young. “Look at you, man,” somebody said to me the other day when I took you out to exchange numbers. “Look at you.”

We’re out of the dream, you and me, out of the great swoon. When I have two spare minutes, I don’t pull you out and stare at you, enchanted, moving my fingertips in tiny, silky swirls across your surface. I stand around like a spare part, hands in my pockets. I feel the stinky breeze on my face. I hear the caged hum of the city, the caged hum of my brain. I am present, however unsatisfactorily. Do I have the energy to send a text? I frown when I text. Sometimes I sweat. I smash your noisy little buttons; it sounds like I’m operating a telegraph. Three clicks to get to a Ctack-tack-tack—two more for an E. A decent sentence can take me 10 minutes. Anybody who gets a text from me knows I mean it.

What will I do when you go? Your name is Kyocera, king of kings. You are a black obelisk in the desert of Time.