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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Front Porch: Husband upgrades to smartphone

Nothing can cause rising terror more – for a sweet technology troglodyte – than learning that your old flip phone has become obsolete and will no longer be supported by your carrier.

It’s taken you years to get comfortable living with the darn thing, and now the romance is over. You’ve been jilted.

That was the news my husband got several weeks ago, but I have to note that I was more distraught than he was. Sure, he could have upgraded to a newer model flip phone, but since more and more of his customers are communicating via text, our sons text (to my smartphone) all the time (and I show Bruce the messages at night) and because there are smartphone apps that would be useful to him – weather and map functions, for example – he knew what he was going to have to do.

And I knew who would be his coach through the process.

This would be a matter of the acutely near-sighted leading the blind.

First, what to get. The super simple smartphone advertised in all the senior citizen publications won’t work with our carrier. So, android or iPhone? Our sons and I have iPhones, so if I was going to be any real use to my husband, we should stick with an Apple product. Which one? Which kind of case? How to adjust our plan to provide sufficient data for both of us? Temples throbbing already.

But before even all of that, we decided Bruce should practice using my phone for a week or so, with – heaven help him – me providing him guidance. The first issue, I know just enough to get done the things I need to do, but no more. The second, Bruce is pretty much an analog guy and kind of ham-fisted when it comes to lightly tapping, swiping and keyboarding. When he presses the start button on my smartphone, he rams it like he’s using his roto hammer to drill through concrete.

“Gently tap,” I say. “I am gently tapping,” he says. This is not going well.

We’ve kind of solved much of the keyboarding issue by him using the mic function when possible. And his hearing issue – speaker phone turned all the way up, good solution. But there’s so much to learn and to retain. And I am not a natural teacher. We’d go over how to make a call by using the contacts list (which I input) and also the keypad, and then learn how to see what calls have come in and how to listen to voice mails. Simple as that may seem, it’s not if the whole technology is foreign territory for you.

We practiced texting by keyboard and also voice-to-text, reading texts and how to use What’s App, which is how we communicate with our overseas son.

I’d work through a task with him, get him up and going and then leave the room so he could work on it himself. There’s no better way to “get it” than by working the problem yourself and try one thing after another if you get lost. If all else fails, find the wife and ask for help.

Sometimes I’d look at my phone after he’d been practicing to see how things went. One of the funniest things – we have to find a laugh when we can – has been his adventures with the mic, not realizing that, once initiated, the mic is live until he takes the step to stop recording or just sends the message. Early on, he was preparing a sample message to a friend, at the end of which he’d forgotten how to send it. So, he continued mumbling, “how do you send this %!*& thing?” And then he remembered and sent it.

Before he figured out how to punctuate in a verbally prepared text, he sent a rather garbled and nonsensical text to a man in Idaho who I served with on a board. His name is in my contacts list. “Why did you send a text to Jim?” I asked. “I sent Jim a message, really?” Bruce replied, bewildered.

So I’d follow up with the unintended recipient – more than once, I might add – promptly throwing Bruce under the bus with words to the effect of please disregard previous message, student driver, steep learning curve, etc.

Then, two weeks ago, Bruce got his own phone. A representative with our carrier spent an hour with us, setting the phone up and going over some basics and answering our (mostly my) questions. And off we went.

It has been an adventurous time, filled with frustrations and successes. We have a number of online tutorials, which Bruce is reviewing. The lingering issue is getting a handle on that soft touch matter. Most problems occur from him trying to ram his forefinger or thumb through the phone. (He still jarringly slams the door on my car like he’s trying to close the creaky door on his old 1987 Chevy truck.)

The latest funny message came the other day when I was out at the store and decided to send him a couple of messages for him to practice receiving and responding to. And in one, I may or may not have texted some slightly flirty verbiage. I received this back: “And nice dog for hoops weighty.” I can figure out most misprints, but this one stumped me. Using the mic, he had tried to say, “Nice talk for a young lady.”

But there he is now, out in the world with his smartphone, looking as up to date as any tech-savvy septuagenarian he encounters. I’m proud that he would make this leap, albeit reluctantly, something which is in no way intuitive for him. He can MacGyver anything mechanical, but this kind of technology is a mystery.

I do acknowledge that if this phone of his is ever taken out of service, the screaming you’ll hear will be from me. Not sure I can guide this uphill climb again, assuming I’ll still have enough functioning gray matter by then.

I signed on for better or for worse, but not for cellphone technology upgrades.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at

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