When I got my first smartphone five years ago — a shiny new iPhone 3GS — I was like a proud papa. I bragged about it everywhere I went, saying it had been the one piece of technology I’d wanted since I was a little kid lusting after Captain Kirk and Co.’s tricorders.
It played the soundtrack to sweaty walks in Singapore, kept me company with US podcasts in Prague, and helped me pass the time in many a passport control line with ease (thank you, TowerMadness). For five years it was my second brain, my boom box, and yes, I’d even go so far as to say, my friend.
Half a decade might seem an eternity to hold onto a smartphone, but personal economics dictate that I can’t toss out a perfectly solid gadget for no good reason. When my trusty iPhone wouldn’t make calls if I switched to 3G mode, however, and pretty much every new app I wanted couldn’t run on the phone’s aging innards, I knew it was finally time for us to part ways. After some research, I placed an order for a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 about a week ago.
But after talking with the saccharine-sounding T-Mobile customer service rep, I noticed a tinge of anxiety. I love shiny new tech and have a knack for “getting” any new piece of gear or software in minutes, yet I still felt a bit nervous about stepping into an entirely new smartphone ecosystem, transferring my nearly 2,000 contacts, figuring out how to sync my calendars, and generally losing access to the supportive mothership known as the Genius Bar.
But here’s what surprised me even more — I felt guilty, as if I’d just betrayed a best friend who had been by my side for years. T-Mobile’s assurances that I’d just ordered a “great phone” didn’t soothe my conscience.
My CNET colleagues Amanda Kooser and Scott Stein have shared their own emotional reactions to tech purchases before, but mine still made me curious. Why on earth was I feeling guilty? Was something deeper causing me to feel the way I did? Or was I just being my usual “why relax when you can worry” type A self? Assuming that others have surely been in the same situation as I was, I did what any (ab)normal journalist would do — I contacted someone who makes a living out of understanding the mysteries of the mind, a therapist.
I turned to John Tsilimparis, the psychotherapist who helped many an OCD sufferer overcome anxieties on AE’s show “Obsessed.” While my obsessive tendencies mainly revolve around making it to the final table in the occasional Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, I have admired Tsilimparis’ compassionate approach to people struggling with a range of anxieties. My situation was hardly comparable, but surely he could help explain my iPhone separation angst.
While Tsilimparis clearly thought I’d get over my phone-swap angst pretty quickly, he also recommended I view the ditching of my friend — um, I mean my iPhone — through three lenses: attachment disorder, bereavement, and adjustment disorder. All can lead to serious suffering, but even when confronted on a much, much smaller scale, they can still trigger our emotions.
“Clearly you’re not grieving the loss of a phone the way you would grieve the death of someone,” Tsilimparis said, “and clearly you don’t have attachment disorder in the way a little kid has panic attacks when he’s separated from his mother.” Whew, so it wasn’t so bad.
But whether we’re attaching to people, places, or things, he continued, “we identify with them and that binds the attachment even more. And then we attach emotional memory to it, meaning there are good times attached to it — times when your phone came through for you, or you really enjoyed using it, or when you had good conversations on it. It’s been a companion for you in some ways. And so letting it go can make it seem like letting go of a part of yourself. You’ve been an iPhone guy for so long, so it’s part of your identity almost.”
Regarding bereavement, Tsilimparis suggested I familiarize myself with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ famous five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Denial? Check. During the few days I awaited my Note’s arrival, I definitely pretended I hadn’t ordered it and that things would go on forever with my iPhone. “Denial is easy to go into because it staves off any pain,” Tsilimparis said. Indeed.
And, anger? Oh, yeah, I’d felt this. Like the dozens of times my iPhone would take 20 minutes to load my e-mails or refused to pick up a Wi-Fi signal even though I’d practically glued it to the router. Maybe that’s not the kind of anger Ross was talking about, but I definitely felt some.
There was also a bit of bargaining. “Bargaining is a little tricky,” Tsilimparis said. “Bargaining is like, ‘Well, at least I knew this person for certain amount of time, or at least we had a good relationship.’ It’s kind of like, ‘I still don’t want to feel feelings, but in my head I try to make it OK for myself.’” I definitely bargained with my iPhone, assuring it that it would always be kept around as my favorite music player (as I quickly turned out the lights and left it attached to the ’90s-era CD player in our kitchen).
Depression? That came more from shelling out 700 bucks for the Galaxy Note 3, but otherwise, I’m mostly good. And acceptance? Well, when the new phone arrived, I accepted the package pretty damn quick.
Creatures of consistency
Tsilimparis stressed that humans like their habits. “We take a lot of comfort in things being consistent, being solid, and having stability [in our] lives,” he said. “Human beings don’t do well with instability.”
Aha. This seemed like the right explanation for everything I’d been feeling about betraying my iPhone for a tech tete-a-tete with Samsung. But the advice Tsilimparis gave me that I found most comforting had to do with giving my emotions space to breathe.
“I would tell people that if you’re feeling anxious about a change to just let it be the change and allow yourself a couple of months to be in a process orientation where you’re not going to make judgments after one week or three weeks; you’re going to give it two months and if you still don’t like it after two months it’s OK to go back,” Tsilimparis counseled. A reassuring thought. I knew I had some time to return the Note for a full refund after getting it, so maybe I’d wind up keeping the ole iPhone in the end.
Resolution at last
But here’s what turned out to be the best therapy of all: opening the Note 3. When I got that big beautiful slab of silicon and strontium in my hands, my adjustment disorder turned into a serious case of attachment disorder and the only thing I was grieving about was not having made the change sooner. Sure, there are a few things I miss about my iPhone (I plan to write about those soon), but I’m ready to move on.
Sorry, dear iPhone, it turns out I didn’t really need therapy to get over you. All I needed was to hold the future in my hands. And it felt good.
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