Confessions of a flip phone user: What’s old is new

by | Jan 20, 2019 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 0 comments

This happens a lot. I’m visiting with someone, or having a meeting, and for some reason I need to make a call, and I reach in my pocket and take out my phone …

And the person breaks out laughing.

“No way,” they chortle.

Or, “Oh, please.”

This is because I use a flip phone. The same flip phone I have used for years. I cannot tell you when I first got it, that’s how far back it goes. It is small and black with some red trim on the front, and it says “Verizon” near the bottom, but I don’t know anything else about it. Not its model. Not its serial number. Not its memory or its gigabytes.

I just know it rings and I answer it.

Sue me. I don’t care about phones. To me, they are there for talking and for hanging up. I don’t need to carry the world in my pocket. I don’t need to post my life. I don’t need to play “Clash of Clans.” (I don’t really know what that is, to be honest.)

I just want to talk.

For this Luddite approach to what many consider the most important appendage since the foot, I have, for years, been mocked, dismissed, called “Grandpa”. A recent online tech magazine likened folks like me to “cows in the countryside.”

But suddenly, that’s changing.

Suddenly, I am cool.

The flip phone is coming back.


Here’s what my flip phone can do

Motorola reportedly is reviving its once wildly popular Razr flip phone as a smartphone, with a full display and state-of-the-art capabilities. This has created a buzz in the tech world.

Even Apple, who sets the bar for phones the way Anna Wintour sets it for women’s fashion, has filed for patents for a foldable device, sparking rumors of a flip-like iPhone on the horizon. This is like whispering that LeBron James is coming to your high school.

Suddenly, people eye me differently. They wonder what I know. Who I’ve been talking to. Suddenly, once hopelessly behind the times, I am ahead of them.

“Whoa,” they’ll say reverently, when I whip out my old Verizon, “Flip phone. Yeah.”

To be fair, I don’t deserve the attention — good or bad. I just wanted a phone that fit in my pocket. I found one, years ago, and I stuck with it. Friends tell me I am someone who gets used to things and sees no reason to switch. This would explain many parts of my life, including my sneakers, my car, and my haircut.

But none of those have ever bothered anyone (well, maybe the haircut). The flip phone has. People get upset. They say, “You can’t text the way you are supposed to!” (They are right. I have to press the 7 key four times to get an “s”, and if I want a comma I have to switch screens, etc.) They say, “You can’t surf the internet.” (I think it’s possible, but I never have.) They say, “You can’t save files, or FaceTime, or scan a document!” (All true.)

But let me tell you what I can do. I can fit the thing in my pocket. Any pocket. I can drop it without panic — since it has no big glass display. I can charge it overnight and use it for days before recharging.

Most iPhone users I see spend half their time looking for an outlet.  As a flip-phone man, I have never demanded a table in a restaurant that is next to a wall plug. I don’t care if a place has Wi-Fi. And I don’t have to keep buying new accessories to allow my headphones to fit, because I don’t use my phone to listen to music, podcasts, YouTube videos or online radio.

It’s just a phone.

Plus, and I know this sounds simple (I think that’s the theme), it feels right against my ear.

Phones should feel like … phones

This goes back to growing up with actual telephones, which had something called — pay attention, young people — a handset. The handset had two distinct parts, the receiver (for hearing) and the transmitter (for talking.) These two elements were couched beautifully — and practically — in two round ends. One went to your ear, the other to your mouth (I can’t believe I am actually explaining this, but I recently showed some kids a photo of a 1950’s phone and they said, “What’s that?”)

The thing is, you got used to the feel of two parts to a phone, something for your ear, something for your mouth. And to be painfully honest, that’s the whole appeal of a flip phone, at least to folks like me. It feels like a phone. I know where the parts go. When I hold an iPhone to my head — especially one of those massive new ones — I never know where to put it. It’s like pushing a door panel against my face.

So I never got into them. I had my flip phone, and years ago, when my first one snapped off its hinge from overuse, I bought two more just like it for insurance, so I would never have to change.

And that is how I have the same phone yesterday, today, tomorrow and next year — when the whole world may be using flip phones again.

And if you and I are sitting somewhere, and you pull out your new Motorola or Apple flipper for which you paid $1,500 dollars, and start bragging about how hip it is, I won’t laugh. I won’t gloat. I’ll simply tap my thigh pocket, think of Al Pacino in “Scarface,” and wait for the moment to say hello to my little friend.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out his latest best-selling book, “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven,” available online and in bookstores nationwide. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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