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Taking care of an aging smartphone — until the end

by Amy Chavez

I thought I had bought a smartphone, but I ended up with a dumb phone instead. It’s probably my fault for not asking for documentation showing it had passed an IQ test.

My phone is not smart enough to pass university entrance exams, the American SAT’s, the Japan Language Proficiency test, the Eiken test or the TOEIC test. It could pass a spelling test, but even then only with the assistance of yours truly, standing over it like a parent to confirm whether the proposed spelling is the right one or not.

I admit there are frustrating times, but it doesn’t mean I love my phone any less than the smarter smartphones. I get great joy from the things my phone can do, such as downloaded apps, play podcasts and belt out music, even the oldies.

When I first bought my phone, it was the brand-spankin’ new, touchpad, GPS-enhanced, slimmed down, vegan, gluten-free version. I hadn’t much of a choice regarding the provider, which would lock me into a two-year contract. There was the Hard River, the Do Cow Moo or the Hay Sheep provider, each with their own telephone calling, Wi-Fi using, text messaging, data providing plans. I went with Hard River, which became my exclusive carrier.

But after three years, my iPhone started showing signs of Alzheimer’s. I ignored the warning signs, mistaking them for senility. After all, there was still plenty of memory left in the old girl. At her age, it was only natural that her reaction time would slow down.

It took her longer to open her camera aperture and I was begging my friends to “Keep smiling, a little more, a little more, chiiiiizu, chiiiiiiizu, keep smiling!” My friends endured as my phone took its time to snap a photo. They were patient despite developing carpal tunnel syndrome in their fingers from holding up the peace sign multiple times for each photo. They acted like they understood.

When we all exchanged photos via email later on, my pictures were just as good as theirs. Probably even better since my iPhone was more experienced. She’ll be all right, I convinced myself, as I tried to remember when exactly I had bought her and started that contract with Hard River.

Yes, my phone was fine. For a while. Then one morning, her aperture stopped working completely. I transferred all the photos to my computer’s hard drive, thinking the photos might be too much of a burden for her remaining memory. It didn’t seem to help though. Next it took longer to download email. Perhaps it was time I take her in for a checkup at the iPhone store.

But first I had to find my car keys. I looked through my jeans, my jacket, yesterday’s jeans and yesterday’s grocery bags for my keys, with no luck. I eventually found them, though, in my purse.

I made an appointment to have my iPhone evaluated by a qualified nerd technician. I arrived five minutes early for my 10 a.m. appointment, checked in with the receptionist and sat down. There were no glossy magazines to read, not even a Reader’s Digest in big print. Just screens that fed you the same Apple advertisements over and over again.

I waited. And waited. I hooked up my phone to a docking station to recharge her. I had been charging her twice as much lately as I used to. Hooked up to that docking station was like hooking her up to life support. I couldn’t believe that at just three and a half years it had already come to this. If one iPhone year is worth 25 human years, my iPhone is 87 years old. And on its deathbed.

At 10:30 a.m., I approached the receptionist again, who gyrated his hands in a certain way that prompted a nerd technician to suddenly appear. I handed him my phone which he laid on the sterile, white operating table. “A 3GS!” he said, looking astonished, although I swear I could detect a hint of nostalgia. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these” he added, but not very tactfully. “Let’s see,” he said, gingerly fingering her sleek body, running his thumb up her smooth back and X-raying her seams with his naked eye.

His finger stopped at a scar along the seam on one side. “You’ve opened her up before?” he asked. “Just to replace the battery once,” I said, referring to an illicit operation in the Philippines, where I paid a guy in a street stall with improper tools to pry open the skeleton and insert a new iPhone battery.

I told the technician the phone’s problems, including all the symptoms. I started with the camera problem and moved on, quite smoothly, I thought, into the problems syncing it with my PC. He answered most of my questions by saying “I’m sorry I can’t give you any advice on that. I don’t use a PC.” Or, “I’m not an authority on PCs so I couldn’t really tell you.” Or “It’s been years since I’ve used a PC (hint-hint, if you had just bought an iPad, I’d be happy to help you with your problems!).

“And the camera?” I asked. “We’ll have to take her into the back and take a better look inside to see if it’s a hardware problem,” he said, disappearing behind a curtain with my phone. But I had a feeling I already knew the answer.

It was a nervous 10 minutes while waiting in the lobby. What could be wrong? She’d never had a virus. Was it all those apps I downloaded? Was it my bad music that contributed to her steady decline? Or perhaps it was a diet of unhealthy podcasts that did her in. Maybe I should have bought that iPhone insurance after all. Even a Tamagotchi can be kept alive by feeding it. No iPhone biscuits? No apps that can extend the life of your iPhone? Surely there is something I can do.

OK, I admit that a part of not letting her go was because I knew I’d have to pay another ¥80,000 to replace her. I think everyone realizes that you’re not really paying ¥80,000 for a new phone, but paying for a funeral for the old one. You can bet I was going to extend my phone’s life as much as possible before parting with her and ¥80,000 at the same time!

The nerd technician came out from behind the curtain and handed back my iPhone. “It’s in the hardware,” he reported. “There’s nothing more we can do.” I knew he was implying that her problems were terminal. Just when I thought I detected a tear in the corner of his eye, an indication that he was understanding the depth of my loss, he tried to sell me on the next iPhone model. How crass, so soon after the dismal prognosis on this one! She wasn’t even cold yet.

He continued on the road to mental destruction. “I’m afraid you’re going to start having more and more problems with your phone,” he said, abandoning the “i” in “iPhone” this time.

Fine. I took my baby in my arms and left the store. I didn’t need nerd technicians preying on the human instinct to have the latest and greatest. I could make my own decisions. My iPhone wasn’t going to end up in a pile of wasted plastic, semiconductors and rare earth materials just because she was geriatric.

After all, she still made phone calls, played bad music and did most everything else I asked of her. I could live without the camera. She just needed some palliative home care and a new set of swaddling clothes. I wasn’t even beyond taking a trip to the local shrine for a blessing and a prayer for technical miracles from the Shinto priest.

I’ll take care of my iPhone until the end. iKnow iCan.

Now, if I could just find my car keys.