I used to call my first mobile device a solephone. Humongous, heavy, and encased in black rubber, it was more akin to the sole of a work boot than the sleek, thin phones of today. My mom got it for me out of the blue when I was 12, and I could barely stop myself from strutting down the school's hallways with a pair of aviators on, brandishing my new baby in everyone's faces. As far as I know, I was the first kid in school to have a mobile phone, and being first is reason enough for a pre-teen to feel cool.
(...as cool as someone this awkward can feel anyway. The cool cat with the shades and a whole lotta swagger in this pic is my sister.)
Before I wax poetic about that turning point in my life, though, let me take you on a journey to my childhood.
Compared to my playmates' families who barely had enough to eat, I grew up relatively well off in the Philippines' second smallest city. Obviously, my friends were no computer and gaming console early adopters, so whenever school was out and I could peel myself away from my books, we'd go on outdoor adventures. Among other things, we'd climb piles of rubble, play tag in the rain and go aswang (ghouls and monsters in Philippine folklore) hunting at night.
Do you know someone who froths at the mouth at the thought of kids playing video games all summer? Well, don't let them see the rest of this piece, because things at home were immensely different.
My father's old job involved sailing across the ocean for long stretches of time, and he'd always bring back new gadgets we wouldn't have access to otherwise. That was why I could operate a Betamax player to watch cartoons every morning, and why my mom would ask me to pop in a Carpenters or a Nat King Cole CD in our sound system, by the time I turned 4. My aunt even bribed me with flan to figure out her karaoke system once -- and then threatened to take it back unless I perform Madonna's Crazy for You at a party full of drunk adults.
If you ask me to name my earliest, most vivid (and relevant) memory, however, I'd have to say it was when I met the diminutive Italian plumber many of us love. Preschool-me was extremely amused at just how much Mario looked like my dad -- short stature, stocky built, moustache and all. Taking cues from him as he controlled his doppelganger with great gusto, I soon mastered the ways of the NES controller. We took turns chasing after an 8-bit princess and her reptilian kidnapper after that, frequently playing throughout the day on weekends. It reached the point that merely hearing the Super Mario theme made my then-pregnant mother ill, so much so that she abhors it even now.
Despite all these, it was my first phone that taught me how much technology can affect our lives. That hefty, brick-like device gave me a deep appreciation for tech, most likely because I witnessed my parents' Herculean efforts to keep in touch whenever my dad was abroad. It was because of that realization that I didn't hesitate delving into the internet in high school, even if most people in my life knew zilch about it.
I sure am thankful I took the dive, because for a small-town girl who didn't even have access to large public libraries, the internet was nothing short of life-changing. I could suddenly virtually travel beyond the confines of my teensy city, find information with a few taps on the keyboard -- Ask Jeeves and AltaVista were my old cyber haunts -- and meet a diverse group of people with world views so far removed from those around me. I didn't even care that we had a dial-up connection that crawled slower than a snail.
When time came to lay my beloved phone to rest, I chose to pick up a string of Nokia brick phones. From model 3210 to 6600, I must've gone through more than half a dozen before smartphones usurped the throne. As Nokia was wildly popular back then, a lot of friends shared my enthusiasm, and it felt surreal the moment it dawned on me that everybody was a text and a call away. I feel no shame in admitting that for a few years, I was that annoying friend who'd text you several times at night.
I never thought I'd become a tech blogger nevertheless: they don't exactly tell you in high school that it's a legitimate career path. So, it would take me years, countless happy / harrowing events and attempts to find THE definitive manual on how to be an adult (surely, it exists somewhere out there, right?) before I'd get to work at Tecca. I've written for other places, but that was where I first had the chance to fully explore the world of online tech journalism, and I did so under Barb Dybwad's wing, to boot.
Months after Tecca shuttered in late 2012, I found myself dusting off my voodoo dolls -- Engadget announced a call for new writers, and I knew I had get in. The moment Tim and Darren decided to give me a shot (I didn't hex them, cross my heart), I thought of my solephone. I was, and still am, overwhelmed with gratitude that my mom made a very rare spontaneous decision that day long ago. I wouldn't be the person I am otherwise, and I wouldn't be here writing this up, wishing to remain in this industry for years to come.
Mariella can be found on Twitter as @mariella_moon, mostly lurking and creeping on other people's profiles and tweets.