What’s a Phone For?

To over-40 types like Kevin Drum and myself, the primary function of a telephone is self-evident: Talking to other people. Young whippersnapper Matt Yglesias reminds us, though, that mindset is so 20th Century:

Personally, I don’t like talking on the phone very much. My old Razr’s primary function was sending and receiving SMS messages. My new iPhone’s primary function is probably as an MP3 player, with SMSing as the key secondary function. Beyond that, I use the Web browser and the Google Maps function a lot.

I don’t like talking on the phone much, either, but that’s mostly what I use mine for. I was a ridiculously late adopter of the cell phone and still don’t have a camera or MP3 player built into mine; nor do I want one. For that matter, I don’t use SMS and don’t see the appeal. The handful of text messages I get are mostly spam. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t get Twitter and its variants.

I finally broke down and got a Blackberry a couple months ago to check email and do the occasional Web search, both of which are handy since I spend most of my waking hours online. The technology is still sufficiently antiquated (it doesn’t handle javascript or render multi-column pages properly) and my eyes degrading fast enough that surfing on a tiny screen is mostly a utility rather than a pastime, though.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Personally, I’ve had a cell phone for around ten years now. The first one was pretty basic . The one I currently carry has stands we more in the way a futures. It does have an NT three player, which I haven’t used much because the management software states. One of these days I’ll overcome that.

    I use it for talking on the phone, of course, but I also use it for SMS messages, when a full conversation won’t do. Usually, these are between my wife and myself. The usual “I’m on the way home, do you need anything at the store?” type things… that I have in draft form for re-transmitting at will. Saves time.

    My wife, tends not to like to talk on the phone, so an SMS message for such utilitarian purposes is ideal; She does not like to drop what she’s doing and pick the phone up immediately, she can do it when she gets to it.

    I also use the SMS messaging for status reports from my computer systems. Handy as a pocket on a shirt. When a problem pops up on one of my systems, my big monitor box generates an e-mail message to my carrier, which sends a text message to me. I’ve used this kind of thing for clients, in the past as well.

    It does have a rudimentary calendaring which is a little awkward for regular calendaring, though I have put major holidays, anniversaries, and such as that in there. Anything that saves me an “you forgot our anniversary” complaint, is worth the time.

    Finally, mine does have a camera. Not outstanding in terms of quality or ability, but goood for all-around utility. In my line of work, (IT) I have found that showing a consultant who is helping you fix a problem a picture of what’s going on saves immense amounts of description and inaccuracy. I have also found that the camera is worthwhile in accidents situations, where you want to take pictures of the accident for the insurance company. Saves you having to carry a camera for such matters. It’s surprising the number of times you find a use for it, once you get it in your hand.

  2. Matthew Stinson says:

    This is one of the things I talked about in an English forum with Chinese students on Wednesday. Asians and Europeans are a bit ahead of the US in finding non-phone uses for cell phones, and not surprisingly most of the students agreed that voice calling was a secondary or even tertiary function of their phones.

    Personally, I text more than I call. Having a smartphone like my Nokia N95 also means having a lot of computer-like features on a phone, so most anything someone uses a laptop for I also use my phone for.

  3. cirby says:

    I bought an iPhone, and use it for all sorts of things (I’m going to try and blog from it as a test).

    People are shocked when they see some of the things you can do with mobile devices now – the weather reports and traffic coverage are big hits, and street maps are pretty popular, too.

    It’s also great for idiot stoppers. When someone says something really, really stupid, you can do a quick Google and smack them in the face with it. I had a guy claim, loudly (in telling me how awful the US is) that “Finland has never had any government corruption, ever.” It took just a few seconds to come back with some really good examples of how completely wrong that was…

  4. My new employer issued me a BlackBerry. I call it an electronic leash because I know soon it will be used to find me anywhere. It’s a nice e-mail tool for when I don’t want to fire up a computer just to send off a quick note.

  5. markt says:

    Have any of you tried an iPhone?

    It is pretty amazing. I am posting this comment from mine.

    I travel a lot so I like being able to check email.

    Actually, the best part is the web browser since pages look just like you are used to. There’s no comparison – windows mobile phones suck- and i write windows software for a living.

  6. Bithead says:

    I should have mentioned this before; the issue in my view is hydra. In short, the things that you would carry anyway, in one package… and a fairly small package at that.

    I recently purchased another palm pilot, (The old one died after many years of service) and now I’m wishing I had put my money into a phone with that capability installed into it, so that I wouldn’t have to carry two separate packages. (Shrug)

  7. I use my cell all the time, but for talking.

    I would like my next one to have a camera, but primarily for blogging purposes as I often see things that I would like to be able to be able to blog about, but only if I had a photo.

    I am ambivalent on whether it ever has an MP3 player, but I can understand wanting a phone that does a lot of stuff.

    Despite my love of tech, I have basically zero interest in texting.

  8. Texting. I too can’t see the point. I barely can fumble my way to a message using typical cell phone keypad. I don’t count my BlackBerry because it has a QWERTY keyboard and I’m using e-mail. So I still remain text-free.

  9. Boyd says:

    Texting is vital for an old fart wooing “teh yung ladeez.”