The electronic remains of my childhood collected for years in a nightstand in my parents home. At some point, most of the devices had been divorced from their chargers, eternally locking them in their dead state. Still, I couldn’t call them trash; each phone remains potent with the hand motions, communication styles, and image-making it taught me. Each made promises about the future—about how smooth life could be, how limitless the technology, how beautiful the money—and generated desire around itself until the next phone came along to make it look rudimentary. I was years from any critical take on this, a perfect child consumer. Each phone further initiated me into an emerging way of digital self-making and relating, where I could configure what messages and images were received about me in a myriad of ways, always with confusion. Now, beholding the phones, I’m careful not to disturb their resting power. I don’t want them to become objects in the present too fully. When I hold each one, my body registers the relationship of my younger self to the device—they were things I held close, coveted, flipped open, talked into, documented life with. This archive contains my memory of my feelings and uses of each phone from my childhood and adolescence, as those memories resonate with touch now (images taken with my current phone).
ITEM 1: Cingular LG L1400
I never wandered far, and there was nowhere to go anyway. Nonetheless, I was given the phone so I would be locatable. My parents were still relatively new cell phone users when they handed me this LG L1400. They drove around town with their own handhelds up to their ear, and now, I had acquired part of this power. I loved the little square front screen, the reflective parentheses around it. I loved the cute little orange logo next to the “cingular”—despite the fact that this corporation was to be absorbed by another, the name and logo still evoke a sense of possibility for me, a feeling that technology could be round and expansive. We will play, we will be connected! I loved flipping it open, business to tend to. I could take photos the size of a postage stamp, mostly shots of my dog. Trying to recall whether I could customize the screensaver, I’m struck by a grainy stock image of a palm tree, blocky numbers with the time. I’d slip it into my backpack, or the small, sequined purse I’d acquired to insert the phone into, along with a wallet full of coins. The cellphone made me sophisticated, and accordingly, I enhanced its surface with turquoise plastic jewels. The record shows I turned against the jewels before moving on from the phone altogether.
ITEM 2: Motorola RAZR V3
I learned the LG L1400 was no longer cool from my older sister, who was absorbed in the self-fashioning, differentiating processes of puberty. She wanted a Razr, and she was relentless, and I got what she got. At this point my parents would drive around town with Bluetooth headsets in their ears, my dad with his slate gray Razr, so serious and suave—no more plastic bulbous thing. I was ecstatic and shocked when it became mine, enthralled by its deep berry magenta. The initial phase of the Razr was pre-recession, when my dad was on the phone all the time, when I had a level of comfort that protected me from thinking about scarcity. I was becoming old enough to use the phone to coordinate rides to unaccompanied trips with friends to the beach, mall, and movies. My friends and I migrated our AOL Instant Messenger dialogues to SMS communicating low levels of information about our days whenever we could. Many transformations happened in this time—the market crashed, I doubted my faith, I created a Facebook account, I realized at bible camp that everyone was already texting boys. I needed a good profile picture. I needed photos of my friends to post. I played more Tetris.
ITEM 3: iPhone 4
I had hardly ever wanted anything as badly as I wanted the iPhone—true I wanted badly to believe in God without doubt, the attention of my crushes, for my parents to have money—but the iPhone...it seemed magic, a device for another dimension. I wanted to be in the all-night-long line at the mall on release day. Its curved boxes nested inside of one huge screen, making little click-noises as you touched. Its endless possibility, the app store full of novelty, one synchronized place for music, photos, texts. Its glassy white surface, perfect (though, fragile, as pictured). I took pictures of my friends which often landed in a Facebook album entitled “Mobile Uploads,” and now Facebook was with me everywhere. I strained to know what angles, what jokes should be public. I remember the purple silicone case I had on this phone when I was beginning high school, how my friends tried to set me up with a boy, how he drove a Facebook Messenger flirtation, which I participated in with deep fear and excitement, and then how upon meeting him, I shut down, retreating into my phone. I knew, somewhere, that it was implausible that I had so much to do on my phone—there was no emergency or job to explain it—and yet I kept up the act. It was my escape hatch. I had no language. The iPhone had so much.