Foreign service life is never dull. It’s often a life of excitement and of adventure, and sometimes of frustration and discomfort. With its constant motion and transition, it’s never boring. Indeed, foreign service life is one of perpetual change. One might think that with more frequent change comes a greater tolerance for it, and to some extent, I have found this to be true.
Packing up our belongings and moving them to a new country? No problem.
Asking for directions with a lot of hand movements and receiving them in a language I don’t understand? Bring it.
Quitting my job in one place and looking for another halfway around the world? I’m getting used to it.
But the truth is, change is hard sometimes. It can be scary and uncomfortable. Even for me. Especially when it comes to technology.
Today, I made a commitment to change. I joined the masses and the 21st century.
Today, I bought a smartphone.
I know, it’s about time, right? Though it might seem easy, making this change was surprisingly difficult for me. It’s the end of an era, and I have some mixed feelings about it.
For years, I had been perfectly content with my flip phone. My family and friends had accepted, albeit begrudgingly, that I didn’t have text messaging. They exchanged knowing glances when I asked questions about their WhatsApp conversations. They knew that if I had taken a photo or posted something on Facebook, it meant that I was using my camera or my computer. Call me old fashioned, but I used my phone to talk to someone.
I was OK with that. My family and friends were (I think) OK with that. But the rest of the world didn’t seem to be. Doctors and dentists have texted me appointment reminders that have ended up in the black hole of lost text messages. People have rolled their eyes when they’ve spotted the road atlas that I keep in the car just in case I get lost. I’ve been met with stares of bewilderment when I calculate my share of a restaurant bill using long hand division on a scrap of paper.
For several years, it never even occurred to me to get a smartphone. I saw the commercials on TV, and though they wowed me, they didn’t woo me. Smartphones were sort of in the category of things like Rolls Royces and private planes: things that are very nice but extravagant and completely unnecessary… things I would never own. After a while, as smartphones seemed to be appearing all around me, I felt increasing pressure to get one of my own. My resistance then became a matter of not wanting to learn a new technology, not wanting to be accessible round the clock, and simply not wanting to conform. A classic case of spite, you might call it. I felt oddly comfortable in my place outside the smartphone culture and a certain level of quiet dignity when people mused that my phone belonged in the Smithsonian.
With our move to Latvia quickly approaching, we have had to consider, among other things, how best to stay in touch with family and friends. We didn’t have this issue at our first post in Matamoros, because we were so close to the U.S. border that our phones- even my battered fossil- worked just fine there. But in Latvia, our situation will be different. We will be able to talk with our loved ones on Skype, but we want to make sure that we have a way to stay in touch when we aren’t necessarily parked in front of our computers at pre-determined times. After weighing our options and considerable research, we decided that M. will use his embassy-issued phone for business in Latvia, I will use a pre-paid simple cell phone for my local communications in Latvia, and that we would upgrade my tired flip phone to an iPhone and have that as our connection to the United States. T-Mobile has a plan that will allow me to keep the same phone number I’ve had for the last eleven years. Calling us on that number in Latvia will be a local phone call for our family and friends back home. Unlimited texting and data are included at no extra cost. And, we can use the WiFi connection feature to make phone calls just as though we were here in the United States.
And so, I present to you my 21st-century debut:
Friends, you may now text me and Facetime me. I’d be honored if you invited me to your WhatsApp group chat. If there are any apps I shouldn’t live without, please let me know about them. It will take me some time to figure this out, so I ask for your patience. This is a big change for me. And change takes time.
What I don’t want to do is become inseparable from my new phone. I don’t want to become dependent on it. I want to use it to facilitate my communication with friends and family far away, not to interrupt it with those sitting in front of me at a restaurant. I want to use it to hear people’s voices when I can and to send them messages when I can’t. I don’t want to miss out on life because I’ve been too busy looking at my phone. This little piece of technology is powerful, and I want to use it responsibly. It should enhance, not replace. And for that reason, there will always be an atlas in our car.
Thank you for reading!