A week ago, I was one of these people. If I was calling or texting (or sexting), it was being accomplished via a scratched up Motorola Razr V3 that I’d been using for something like five years. No, I was not ashamed.
The old thing still fit neatly in my pocket, slim, unobtrusive, a matte black classic of the form factor wars, once so desirable it was given away in gift bags at the Academy Awards and bought by 50 million people. Yes, that was in 2006. I'm aware that the Razr is not so desirable these days. Still, I loved mine—it was my first real cell phone love—and it worked just fine, provided I kept fresh electrical tape strapped across its back to hold the battery in place.
So I accepted the laughs, the pity, the reminders that "resistance is futile." I accepted the constant archeological interest in my “ancient” device. I accepted my iPhone-having boyfriend’s running Razr impersonation, spoken in a raspy voice: “Please… Just let me die… No more electrical tape… My back’s been thrown out too many times… It’s broken… I don’t want to live… Do… Not… Resuscitate… Let. Me. Die.”
I understood this to be the price of Razr-clinging, and it was a price worth bearing because the Razr-mockers were wrong. They were embracing a culture that had far too quickly tossed this perfect, uniquely pleasing design out the window while speeding off in pursuit of some new, more expensive phone with new, more impressive abilities.
I did not consider myself to need a new, more expensive phone with new, more impressive abilities.
It was so thin! (But you know what? The new iPhone is actually a bit thinner.)
I was doing just fine with e-mail at my desk rather than in my pocket—suspected I might actually be living a better life for being only semi-technologically-tethered, actually.
No, I did not need a better phone-camera. I already had a camera that was better than the Razr’s “1.3 MP / 8xZOOM.” It was called a camera. It traveled with me in my shoulder bag while the Razr rode around in my pocket, each performing their functions quite well.
People acted like living this way was a huge sacrifice (when they weren’t acting like living this way was something close to self-harm). I didn't agree.
Yes, I still had to tap out texts on T9. In 2012. Yes. And I will repeat, because everyone is always so incredulous: I was willingly on T9 in 2012 (and in all relevant post-T9 years previous). So what?
I liked that T9 offered fewer illusions about what could be accomplished simultaneous to texting (very little, don't even try). I also liked that each letter was work. It gave me a little more time to think.
Beyond the T9 situation, the Razr met all real needs—calls, voice mail, an alarm clock, a calculator every once in a while if I could remember the right button progression to get there.
I did sometimes think about getting a smarter phone. But then I weighed having to buy the occasional $2 roll of electrical tape against having to spring for an upgrade and a monthly data plan. The answer was easy: There were better things to do with my money.
Plus, as mentioned, the Razr was perfection.
It had delivered on the promise Star Trek made to me when I was young, flipping open to allow instant communication with anyone, anywhere. I was grateful for this, and intended to express my gratitude through loyalty. (Q: What kind of person receives everything he has been promised and then demands more? A: A horrible person.)
Not only did the Razr open with the action of a promise kept—it also closed.
Phones do not do this anymore, so maybe there are some people out there who are unaware, but:
This is a phone that hangs up properly, as depicted in the mural ringing the ground floor of Coit Tower in San Francisco. Coit Tower, which was built in 1933, sits on the former site of the first western telegraph station, which itself was built in 1856. Now, in 2012, I can go to Coit Tower and use my iPhone to tell a blog what a telephone used to look like. But I can't slam down my receiver afterward. Progress!
Back in pre-history, a person hung up a telephone. It was extremely satisfying. You can yell, “I’m hanging up on you don’t ever call me again!” all you want into your smart phone, but you’ll still have to pull the phone away from your face at some point and press a button on a screen to enact an approximation of the ancient art of hanging up.
It is not the same. The Razr, showing far more respect for its heritage and purpose, closed with a soft but definitive smack, the beveled earpiece nesting perfectly in the beveled mouthpiece, the tiny screen coming flush against the T9-enabled keypad, the conversation unquestionably over.
I don’t know how many times I closed and opened my Razr over the years we were together, but another part of the device’s perfection is that my Razr still, to this day, opens and closes with that same perfect smack.
This wondrous smacking is the hallmark sound of “clamshell” phones—the species of phone from which the Razr comes, and over which it unquestionably rules. Other clamshells fail to compete because they are way too literal about being clamshells: fat on both sides, with two roughly equal hemispheres coming together to form a bulbous whole. The Razr's genius was that it nested within itself when it clammed up, becoming thin and sharp and ready to either hide or do communications battle, whichever the next moment required. And because of this unique design, it had that unique smack, one I could probably still pick out among the rest of the smacking clamshell crowd: more metalic, sturdier, declarative in a way that leaves no wiggle room. (All of which probably contributes to the Razr remaining, to this day, the best-selling clamshell phone in the universe.)
In further praise of that no wiggle room: When you think about it, it is really quite an achievement to have produced zero wiggle on a complex electronic device whose success or failure hinges on a hinge. The Razr, of course, accomplished this in the most sensible way possible: by having a great and lasting hinge. It is a hinge that, continuing with the theme, respects its purpose and delivers on its promises.
You can’t do this anymore. You can't buy a new cell phone and expect it to live in a long-term relationship with you and not once come unhinged. You can't have Razr-style dedication and duration. Instead, people now buy phones expecting the relationship to last only 17 months before they face either structural collapse, technical obsolescence, or peer mockery. Who does this most benefit? Not people like me.
So what happened to cause me to become a person not like me?
It wasn't that my Razr finally died. It was that I finally got on Twitter.
I can theoretically Tweet from a Razr V3, I know. But it would be a bit like using a stick to beat whipped cream instead of an electric mixer. And believe me, I tried Twittering from my laptop. That is not what Twitter is about. What Twitter seemed to be especially about, in my case, was reminding me that the demands of the ever-present interface had leapt ahead of my interfacing abilities. Once I'd decided I wanted to Tweet like a real Twitterer, that was it: my Razr resolve started to crumble.
Also, apparently all that iPhone stuff is contested so it's fine to get one now?
Also, I'd begun feeling a little less zen about T9 when, all around me, phones suddenly began taking dictation. Also, smartphone cameras were becoming just as sharp as my camera camera. Also, I was going to visit San Francisco, a city whose layout has always confused me, and having GPS and Google maps and transit apps in my pocket was kinda irresistible. Also, and speaking of my pocket, it turns out the new iPhone is actually slimmer than my old Razr.
So now I have an iPhone 4S.
Now the Razr sits, dark and uncharged, in a place of honor (I will not allow it to be recycled, sorry Umicore). Now I walk around dictating little notes to Siri—and the boyfriend, unable to tease me about the Razr anymore, calls me “the dictator.” Now, to pass boring moments, I ask Siri a lot of questions.
“Siri, where is my boyfriend?”
“I do not know who you are, and I do not know who your boyfriend is.”
“Siri, how do you feel about the Motorola Razr?”
“I am well.”
“Siri, do you know what the Morotola Razr is?”
“I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Siri, do you appreciate what I’ve given up for you?”