This is the Modem World: You Use THAT?

Joshua Fruhlinger
J. Fruhlinger|12.20.12

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This is the Modem World: You Use THAT?

Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

That's what she said to me.

"You use THAT?!" she repeated, pointing at my humble iPhone 4.

"Is that even a 4S?" she stepped back as she glanced for backup.

"Aren't you some techie?" her friend joined in. I felt like I had been caught with my pants down. I had to prove my tech worthiness to these girls. I had a reputation to protect.

I explained that while I was, indeed, a "techie," my iPhone 4 was working just fine. I continued that I felt it was fast enough, that it did what I needed it to do and that I was waiting for the 5S.

I didn't believe any of this. I wanted an iPhone 5. I just hadn't ordered one yet. I was busy and stuff. I fully plan to get one and revel in its big screen and faster processor. My 4 was showing its age and I was out of room for new apps. But here we are months into the iPhone 5's existence and my 4 is still trudging along crankily as software updates conspire to remind me that it's an aging calculator bestowed upon me by the ancients.

I asked them what phones they were carrying, hoping to get out of this bind via hypocrisy. One had an iPhone 5 and the other had a shiny, new Galaxy S III. Drat. I, the "techie," was outclassed by these two lovely ladies, and I didn't like it. I ordered an iPhone 5 right there -- right in the Apple store on my iPhone 4 -- as they watched, mocking me, laughing at me, telling me I was a silly little man. It was horrible.

I wanted to call my mom.

Smartphones are symbols of our tech know-how, our fashion sense and our economic well-being whether we like to admit it or not. Just like the scene outside a club as people parade out of cars that show how much of a man -- or woman -- they are, our smartphones show how savvy and well-off we are. And for whatever reason, we care.

Keeping up with smartphones, of course, is an economic and mental nightmare. Most of us are locked into contracts that only make it money-smart to buy a new one every two years. Some smartly time this with the launch cycle of their favorite brands, but of course this isn't always realistic. In fact, had I kept up with iPhones, I would be stuck with a 4S under contract. My 4 is completely upgradeable with subsidies aplenty at this point, but now I am stuck asking the same question that I am asked on a virtually daily basis.

Do I buy the 5 now or wait for the 5S as I suggested I was doing to the judgmental girls?

And, most importantly, why do I care?

We all know we check out each other's phones, judging, feeling jealous or vindicated, keeping tabs and planning our next upgrade like LA residents time car leases with vehicle refresh rates.

Then there are those, the enlightened few, who have held onto their older devices until they become retro-cool. One of my colleagues still carries her white iPhone 3 around like a '60s mod tricorder, and I love it. I want it. Heck, I think I might even eBay a StarTAC. That'd be cool.

Here's hoping that whatever goodies you get this holiday last you well past their technological expiration dates. Cheers!

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.

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