Like any child of the millennium I’ve moved through several cell phones. Each served as a safety blanket, a confidant, a sort of external hard drive for my social life.
I miss my stubby little Nokia from eighth grade that I played Blackjack on in the back of the school bus. (I’ve since downloaded a Blackjack app to my new smartphone, but it’s not the same.)
Next, around tenth grade, came the iridescent blue flip phone that witnessed the beginning of my social life. One snowy day it started to buzz, thrillingly, with shy and well-punctuated texts from Marc, the new boy in my class. Those were the first I’d-like-to-get-to-know-you-better texts I had ever received. It didn’t work out.
What really excited me about our correspondence was the moment my phone would shudder and I would jump and fling the phone open, read Marc’s text, type out an ambivalent response, and then fold it shut and wait half an hour to hit send. I thought the churning in my stomach was attraction, but it was just the excitement of possibility and the delight of having (what I thought was) so much going on. I stretched out the possibility as long as possible, until the tingle in my stomach subsided for good, and then let the whole thing fade. But his text messages still persisted. They were basically the only ones in my phone. Whenever I scrolled through my texts, any movement forward in my history eventually circled back around to him.
After graduating from high school, I replaced many of my belongings with newer, cooler versions to start college with a clean slate. When I snapped my SIM card into a shiny new black appendage with a sliding keyboard, I truly cleaned my slate by leaving behind all my texts.
This is the primary reason that I miss the obsolete pieces of plastic and circuitry that gather dust on my bookshelf. I miss the person who owned that phone, the person who transformed, unnoticed, into who I am.
In college, my social life blossomed so considerably it could credibly be described as “active.” For the first time I had to delete all my messages periodically to make way for new incoming ones. I erased even the most precious conversations. Sometimes I would forget—my phone would vibrate and the black rectangle that popped up on the screen, instead of a name and the beginning of that person’s message, would just read “Inbox full—delete unwanted messages,” which signaled a text my phone had no space to receive.
As yet there are few substantive differences between that phone and the smartphone I recently switched over to, except more storage space, how many more distractions my phone puts at my disposal and therefore how much more believably I can pretend to be busy when I’m alone, and the sometimes-cumbersome size of the thing in my pocket.
It’s easy to think of your life in terms of different periods. What kind of phone I used during a span of time is as valid a classification as any. But this choice isn’t innocent: a phone is one of the most intimate windows into someone’s past. It holds all the one-sided conversations, all the texts dignified only with a one-word answer or none at all, all the inside jokes you can no longer make because you’re no longer friends with the person you shared them with, all the I appreciate that’s that really mean I love you.