Life without my smartphone

Technology has evolved so rapidly in the past few decades and has spoiled me by making life so much easier… but once my smartphone is taken away, even temporarily, I am more helpless than I should be.


By Karen E. Chin

I WOKE UP one morning and discovered my smartphone had died of unknown causes. I was truly unprepared for this. I rushed it to the experts to have it checked out and they gave me vague reasons, educated guesses and solutions with no guaranteed fixes with a price to pay that I would not be able to afford.


It has been less than two weeks since my phone flat-lined, but it feels like forever.


I come from a generation of people who grew up just fine with just one landline telephone and one shared basic desktop computer for the entire family. Back then, the world wide web had not yet existed. Yet today, living with such basics would feel like living caveman-style.


The smartphone has become such an essential part of us. I liken it toa bodily organ;  without it, we feel handicapped and incapable of being completely productive.


‘Losing’ my smartphone made me reminisce about the times when life was simpler.


The Evolution of Phone Calls


I got my first cellphone when I was almost done with secondary school. My family had a house phone, which had one number for the entire family to use. The phone we used back then is literally ‘vintage’ now, with the round dial-up.


Karen Telephone rsz

The phone was placed in the living room on the ground floor of our two-storey house, and whenever it rang we would make a mad dash for it (especially if we were upstairs).


Remember those times when you run to the phone and just before you pick up, the ringing stops? Those were the first world problems of the early 90s.


If I was out of the house and I needed to place a call, I would need to dig into my pocket for a sufficient amount of coins (as to not get cut off in the middle of the call) and locate the nearest working (and reasonably hygienic) public phone to place a call.


Every time I spot a public phone now, I wonder why it is there.


Thinking back, it was never really a problem. We did not have a communication device stuck to each and every one of us 24/7 and we still managed to get on with our lives even in emergencies. But right now, if I left my smartphone at home, I would feel like I have disappeared for a day, unreachable and missing.


Remember when phone books were actually books with phone numbers in them and not an app on your smartphone? Right now without a phone, I can’t contact anyone because the only number I can memorise is my own cellphone number (and that is because I have had it forever).


One of the first problems when I lost my smartphone was that, I didn’t know anyone’s number (not my family’s, my best friends’ nor my boyfriend’s), therefore I couldn’t contact a single person even if I could use someone else’s phone.


So when your phone dies on you, it’s like the apocalypse.


And back in my days, video-calls were a concept only seen in science-fiction futuristic shows like Star Trek. Now, it’s just meh.


The Evolution of Texting and Chatting


I remember my very first text. It was surreal. I could hardly believe that things could be that simple. Since then, I have become everyone’s quiet and faceless friend. I prefer texting over calls. I hardly pick up unknown calls, and for those known calls, I screen.


Back then, before texting existed, we had no choice but to talk to each other, sleepy or phlegm-full voice and all.
I love texts because it gives you time to think. Sometimes when someone calls you for a favor, you feel obliged to respond immediately (sometimes without thinking it through). When it comes to text, I like it brief and straight-to-the-point.


With the ease of smartphone applications, we are now living in an era of mindless and redundant chatting. When I say ‘chatting’, it is not talking but I am referencing to ‘online chatting’.


When the chatting hype started, I was probably about 13. We needed to spend money to go into cybercafés to log onto mIRC (internet relay chat) where you can talk to anonymous people online.


When internet started being accessible in our homes, the chatting resumed there, and the programmes and applications just got better and better. Emoticons were invented for this purpose, as a large percentage of communication lies in tone and expression, not in the words. A simple reply containing the word “ok” can be perceived as hostile if it doesn’t come with a smiley.


People spend so much time chatting on their gadgets now. Mindless chit-chat or gossip, or exchanging news, photos or interesting links, it has all become very convenient. People have to come up with a new set of modern- day etiquette for phone usage now.


I remember a group of my girlfriends from school were supposed to have reunion dinner together and someone suggested that the first person to take out their phone (with the exception of important calls and using the camera function) would have to foot the bill.


Yes, the world has resorted to this; negative reinforcement for a bad behaviour.


However, this upgrade in technology makes it convenient to send quick messages and updates. Nothing is more convenient and time-saving as sending a mass message to update your friends on one thing, for example a new year’s good wish, even when your friends are in different parts of the world.


The Evolution of the Non-Professional Camera


One of the biggest loss I felt when my smartphone died was not being able to use the camera: I love taking photographs and I love editing them.


Long ago when we had the type of camera that needed film, we needed to spend money to buy the film which is able to capture about 36 photographs. After using up all the film, time needed to be set aside to send the film to the shop to get developed and another sum of money charged for their service.


We couldn’t just snap 10 selfies and keep one that looked the best; we had to be really careful to save the film for shots that were actually worth paying for.


When digital cameras came around, it was awesome. People became snap-happy. Then they made the camera phone. Now we don’t have to carry two gadgets around. Your phone is your camera and there are plenty of awesome applications now that you can use to edit the photos as you like.


Back then, having a camcorder was something only the privileged could afford. Now, we are able to take videos as freely as we like, from important things like your child’s first word, the rare once-in-a-blue-moon opportunities like spotting a celebrity down the street, to the mundane like your cat licking its bum.


With digital cameras, you can now ‘waste’ shots on things like this. Screencap of

With digital cameras, you can now ‘waste’ shots on a cat licking its bum. Screencap of


For the sentimental, the practical, the artistic or even the narcissistic, the camera is one of the most useful things attached to your smartphone.


When my phone died, I lost all my thousands of photos and memories with it. Note to self and everyone else: backup your data every once in a while.


The Evolution of Listening To Music


I started with cassettes. I remember the envy I felt when my sister got her first Walkman. Of course, I threw a tantrum and insisted my parents got me one too. Cassettes were expensive for kids back then: RM16.90. That was back in the era where New Kids On The Block was all the rage.


Another running joke: 'My generation will know the link between the two objects very well.' Photo source:

Another running joke: ‘My generation will know the link between the two objects very well.’ Photo source:


Then came compact discs or CDs boasting of a better and more durable quality than cassettes, plus you were now able to skip tracks. Pencil be gone! Of course, shortly after, the Discman was invented.


Then came the era of mp3s and downloads (mostly illegal), and then the mp3 player. Now we have it on our phones and for those music-lovers, there is something amazing about carrying thousands of your favourite music tracks with you in a tiny device wherever you go.


The Evolution of Procuring Information


The other night, my friends and I went for dinner at a restaurant that served Arabian cuisine. Knowledge was at their fingertips when they didn’t know what a lamb mendy was or what it is cooked with. So they whipped out their smartphones and Googled, and proudly made educated orders from the menu.


We are so privileged to be living in an era whereby if we want to find out about something, it is just literally a click away. Back when I was studying, we actually had to go to a library to spend hours searching for a particular piece of information. Now it is all in your pocket.


Same goes for having the availability of maps on your device. Or dictionaries. Or translation programmes. Even before going to the cinema to watch a movie, you can search the show times on your gadget and even find out the synopsis of a movie before you spend RM12 to watch it.


As for me, searching for advice online has always been a great help to me. Whether it is regarding relationships, or fashion choices or home improvement tips, all the information is available.


You can see why losing my phone feels like a big set-back for me.


Organizer / Calendar / Clock/ Watch/ Alarm Clock


It is funny how dependent we have become on our smartphones. I wouldn’t know the date or time without it. Back in the days, I had a notebook for jotting down appointments and important tasks, now they are on my phone.


Honestly, on days when my phone is not functional, there is no other way for me to tell the time as I now do not own a clock, a watch nor an alarm clock. One of my friends actually missed a crucial morning flight because of a phone malfunction.


Conclusion: Me Against The Machines


Like many, I have learned my lesson. As wonderful as having a smartphone can be, we all have to be prepared for the day when we will be left to our own devices. Be smarter than your smartphone. Upon losing it, learn to survive the initial mini-heart attack and thrive through the days until you eventually have to get a new one.


However, Technology, you have won. I hate that I love you.


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