By their phone you shall judge them

Flip phone, circa 2008
My cell phone, circa 2008

The other day, we took our daughter to the botanical gardens. There’s a spot on the way out where everyone takes a picture of their kids: the butterfly chair. No matter how many times we take Elizabeth to the gardens (which is a lot), she always wants her picture there.

As we waited for another dad to finish snapping a picture of his daughter, I caught a glimpse of the phone he was using.

A flip phone? What decade does he think this is?

Before I even realized it, I was forming a judgment about this guy from the device he was using to capture a memory with his daughter.

We tell our kids not to judge others by the clothes they wear, the house they live in, or the car they drive. But judging people for what kind of cell phone they use? Apparently that’s another matter.

According to one survey, more than half of people admit to judging someone based on the model and condition of their phone. The fact that I’m one of them worries me.

What am I teaching my daughter to value? The person or the technology they carry?


Could it be that all this new technology is eroding our sense of wonder, in addition to making us even more judgmental?

Remember 2007, when the iPhone was a groundbreaking innovation that promised to revolutionize your life?

Well, it did. Now… I get cranky whenever I leave the house and forget my smartphone. What, you mean I have to think about where I’m going? I can’t just let my phone tell me how to get there?

As my older-generation smartphone became slower and less responsive over the years, I became more and more irritable. Could you revolutionize my life a little faster, please?

And then the newer model came out. How come nothing happens when I try to talk to MY phone? What is this, 2008?

Technology that once inspired wonder and excitement gradually nurtured a sense of entitlement instead. I learned just how grumpy I can get when that technology doesn’t work the way I expect it to.

We are passing this discontentment on to the next generation, too. When my wife and I recently upgraded our phones, our daughter asked when she was going to get a phone like ours. Not a toy phone. A real one.

She’s three.


I’m not convinced the answer is to renounce technology. It has, after all, revolutionized our lives…mostly (though not always) for the better.

Still, I don’t want to the price of this revolution to be my sense of wonder. I shouldn’t forget that I was born into privilege, the likes of which most have never known. Even the old phone I recently replaced is one of the most remarkable pieces of technology ever made.

Most importantly, for my sake and my daughter’s, I want to stop judging others by what kind of technology they do (or don’t) carry.

I have no idea why the guy at the botanical gardens was using a flip phone. Maybe it was out of economic necessity. Maybe his iPhone was broken. Or maybe he’s concerned about the fact that most smartphones are made with unethically sourced minerals. Maybe he’s just not phased by the intense cultural pressure to always have the latest gadget.

It doesn’t matter. He is more than the technology he carries. We all are.

I don’t want my daughter to forget that. Which means that I can’t afford to forget it, either.

The butterfly chair

13 thoughts on “By their phone you shall judge them

  1. I definitely judge people by their phones. iPhone people want to be cool and have fun. Android people don’t know much about phones so just went with the default (there is some variation with increased respect if I can see that it is a Nexus, a Galaxy S, or an HTC One). Windows Phone people are either Microsoft fans or just wanted to try something different. BlackBerry people are all about getting things done. And dumbphones or any other platform is just clearly way behind the times. There are some truth to all of those things – surveys confirm and the feature sets do cater themselves that way – and they aren’t that far removed from how I recommend different platforms to different people, but it is definitely a problem when I use that to make somebody else inferior for their platform of choice.


  2. I never have done the iPhone thing. Was a late adopter to smartphones – my 2-year contract comes up for my Android soon. But even still, I have a friend who has the equivalent of a flip phone, and I wonder to myself how she does it. And why she does it. We’re all susceptible, aren’t we, of judging others. Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for what we have, and to spend some time in wonder. (Your daughter is looking vibrant and amazing in that butterfly chair, btw!)


  3. I used the phone pictured not even a year ago because of price, and also because talking on the phone isn’t a necessity for me. (I upgraded to straight talk when I knew my job would require me to make more calls) Sometimes I want an iphone but really, there are other things I could be spending my money on. Thank-you for writing this simple reminder that we don’t have to be conformed to this world!


  4. I recently spent an afternoon with my 80 year old parents. They have lively debates between the two of them. That afternoon, I used my smartphone several times to access the internet to research their topic of debate. Three out of four times the fact/answer was to my dad’s favor. My dad is now shopping smartphones.


  5. The picture of your daughter Elizabeth is adorable. Call me oblivious but I never notice anyone’s cell phone unless it jumps out at me in some diamond studded case, or plays a tune I either love or hate:)

    It’s sad the way society judges people on how they look and what they wear. What kind of technology they possess. Where they live and what they do and how much money they make. Lets not forget the sometimes pretentious attitudes of people with higher degrees, and more wealth, looking down on those less fortunate.

    If you are young and beautiful and drive a Mercedes guys will trip all over themselves to meet you. I know this to be true and I also know the flip side to be just as true. I once rode with a friend in her old clunker of a car. She pulled into a service station over a tire issue and was completely ignored. The guys glared at a distance with utter contempt at her old relic of a car, as we took to a fit of laughter over the irony. In the Mercedes we received more attention than we wanted, in her old car, she was shunned like some kind of incurable plague.

    I loved your piece for it’s honesty. I hope we all learn a valuable lesson from it. It’s not our superficial facade which is transitory that makes us who we are. It doesn’t matter if we wear designer clothes, drive the latest car, or own the coolest technology. What really matters is the kindness we extend to others.


  6. Techno-victim, here. My phone doesn’t even flip. It was $9 something like five years ago at WalMart. It usually makes and receives calls reliably but only texts sometimes and does not have a camera. On the plus side, it’s basically built on the Lego principle – no matter what happens to it, I can always snap it back together, and it works fine.
    It’s amazing the range of reactions my phone gets. Most people are absolutely mystified. They literally cannot fathom anyone not having a smart device for any reason at all. (Even financial reasons; their response to an update on my income is “But you have a credit card, don’t you?” as though steadily growing debt is less unthinkable than lack of omnipresent internet.) Others accuse me of snobbery, because obviously the reason I don’t need omnipresent internet is that I think I already know everything.

    I don’t think it’s solely materialism, though. In our society, the smart device is the most recent, most advanced piece of technology the common man carries, and that has made it a symbol far beyond designer clothing or a pricey car. The smartphone represents both progress and connectivity; those who carry one are comfortable with technology and able to interact with everyone they know and everyone they don’t know, all across the globe, at any time of the day or night. Those who don’t carry one, therefore, are seen as Luddites or misanthropes, or both. They have rejected the cutting edge, and they have rejected the ability to reach out to people beyond their immediate locale. That’s certainly not RIGHT, of course, but at least it goes a little deeper than the schoolchild who mocks his fellow over a case of the wrong shoes.

    It’s probably also a little bit of shame, at least for some. I know quite a few people who have a love-hate relationship with their phones. Smart devices are habit-forming, and while not everyone goes so deep as to develop an addiction, people recognize that they depend tremendously on their phones and would have a very hard time going without them. Smart devices have created independence from, say, desktop computers in the same way desktops gave independence from libraries and phone books, but they’re replaced them with another dependence, no better but also no worse. But of course, the grass is always greener on the other side. While some smartphone owners might envy me for not being chained to a smartphone, I envy them for not being chained to a computer!

    Sum of it being, people are hardwired to find it easier to spot differences between themselves and others than to spot similarities. I suppose I’d rather be judged for the state of my phone, which at least is something that can change, than for my gender or ethnicity, etc.


  7. Ben, you just provided me my laugh for the day. At my own expense! When I began reading your blog post I assumed you thought poorly of the fellow using the flip phone because he wasn’t using a camera. I’ve never taken a photo with a phone. Ever! I’m a photographer, and it took a long while for me to discover phones today are capable of taking excellent photos. But I still wouldn’t do it. When it finally dawned on me that you were talking about flip phones vs smart phones I had to laugh. I’m guilty of using a flip phone (the same one for 5 years which I got for free), and not because of poor finances. Yes, I’m 62 years old. Yes, I have a nice new apple lap top at home. Yes, I have a blog, and use the internet all the time when at home. But NO, I DO NOT WANT TO BE TEMPTED TO PLUG INTO THE WEB WHEN I AM IN A PUBLIC PLACE. I don’t want to miss those unpredictable opportunities to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I don’t want to get distracted from giving my full attention to a friend. I don’t want to see a child trying to engage me as an interruption. There is nothing on the internet that is more important then the people around me when I’m in public! That’s why a flip phone is just fine for me.


  8. my first phone was a flip phone, i got it when kids were starting to get their first touch screens. i loved that phone more than even my iPod! i cried when it broke (though later i found it it was the charger that broke). I actually have it and my first two iPods in a drawer in my room. to this day, i consider that flip phone my favourite, almost as much fun as my current iPhone.


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