This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Choosing smartly

I was a late adopter to having a cellphone. Even my grandfather owned one before I did.


It was my last year of college when I figured out that a cellphone plan would be cheaper than calling cards to reach my parents back east from my adopted home in the Midwest.

As most of us do with new technology once we give it a try, I got used to it as years passed. But when smartphones began to proliferate, I said I didn’t need one. I didn’t need to check email or lookup information online at any time. I held out as more and more friends got one, and finally my pastor and then my husband.

Now, my dumbphone is nearing the end of its capacity to function, especially its battery.

I went to a storefront and asked about buying a new battery. The company representative informed me it would cost more than a new phone. (Ah, the built-in obsolescence of capitalism.) I’ve had bad luck with buying cheaper batteries online, but I may try that, at least as a stopgap.

Living simply and adopting new technology aren’t necessarily at odds. One simply has to be careful how one uses technology and to watch out for potential abuse. I have found that taking an occasional sabbath from electronics is essential.

And all of that is true of dumbphones as well as smart ones. The time has come to make a decision.

I made a pros-and-cons list. The former included being able to use maps from any location. Also, I could check in with colleagues and contact them by email when out of the office during work hours. Further, my husband and I have found a joint online calendar to be a quick and easy way to see each other’s schedules. I didn’t always remember to copy items out of my paper calendar, so I stopped using one. But I have to print out pages when attending church small groups and other meetings at homes in order to plan our next meeting.

The cost is something of a con, though not a lot. I also wrote, half in jest, that I’d lose the respect of two friends who are adamantly anti-smartphone.

So it came down to the benefits versus a sense that I wasn’t a smartphone person. (I’m not even sure how I was defining that.) Was that enough of a reason to forgo something that could be useful and even enhance my work and relationships?

I used to fear that if I got a smartphone, I’d constantly be checking and responding to email. But then I learned how difficult it is to type on a smartphone as opposed to a computer. (Although maybe I’m just too used to typing on a keyboard.) And if I can’t respond easily, I wouldn’t want to check email as often.

During the week in which the decision was most weighing on me, the text in church on Sunday was Rom. 12:1-8. Was I being conformed to the ways of this world?

I reckoned that just as “because everyone else has one” is not a good reason to acquire something, neither is it a reason to refrain from it. And I suspected that the challenge of discerning God’s will would remain whether or not I had a smartphone. So I decided, tentatively, to buy one.

But I’m still open to arguments against it. My dumbphone may last a little while yet.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a hospital chaplain, editor and community gardener in Chicago.

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