The Oldest Millennial: Entering the 21st Century with a Smartphone at Age 23

According to the Pew Research Center’s report on Smartphone Ownership released this month, 91% of all American adults own some kind of cellphone. Of that, 56% own smartphones. It’s becoming a rarity to see people with anything but a smartphone, especially in my age group, where 79% are smartphone owners. But there is still a good portion of people who have yet to give in. Until two weeks ago, I was in this minority. I’ve gone to the dark side (or the bright side, depending on how you look at it), on the virtual coattail of my iPhone 4S.

Previously, I was the not-really-proud owner of a Samsung cellphone, complete with sliding keyboard. It was probably hip back when I was 14. But not having a smartphone became a great segue when meeting new people. Clearly my phone was ancient. A sliding keyboard?! Does this girl have friends?! Jokes aside, it often led to a deeper conversation on technology (or lack there of, on my end). How were these phones changing our lives? How we communicate? Connect?

My previous cell was simple. It had call and text capabilities only. Texts could only be 160 characters long. Emojis were no-go-jis. No Internet. No music. I could take the occasional picture text, but it would consume all memory and the pictures themselves were grainy as all get out. No GPS. No… nothing.

Equally frustrating and freeing, not having a smartphone would just have to work until it was time to upgrade my (family) phone plan. Somehow working in an industry where being “connected”—to email, Internet and social media—seemed essential, I managed to survive without a smartphone.

The day I headed to the AT&T store was an anxious one. As I waited for them to transfer over my contacts, I could feel that I wasn’t really breathing. In about 15 minutes, my whole life was about to change. Then they handed back my scratchless rectangle of magic, and I became terrified. Without a case, the paranoia of dropping it (and dropping $200 to replace it), flooded me. I put it back in the iPhone box it shipped in. I asked the guys helping me what I should do with my old phone, and they said that they usually buy back or donate old ones, but that I should just hold onto mine. Ouchhhhh.

I immediately drove to TJ Maxx to buy a semi-cute case, and sent the first honorary iPhone text. I spent the afternoon frenzied figuring it out. Where did I silence it? Add apps? What apps did I need? How did I link accounts to social media? Spotify? SO MUCH TO DO AND SO LITTLE TIME. The urgency of owning a smartphone was already kicking in.

And I was right about knowing my life would change. It has. I have 4G. I have an Instagram. My phone is also my iPod, and I stream music constantly. I am notified whenever I get tweeted, Facebooked, emailed… the list goes on. It has happened. I am fully connected. I look cool.

But I miss my old cellphone. Pressing actual buttons. Longer battery life. Not worrying about the Samsung screen shattering in a million pieces if it hits concrete. Simply proclaiming “I can’t…” because with an iPhone, I can.

I can do it all. Look up directions. Find out if you read that text I sent you [that you never responded to…]. I can Shazam a song I hear on the radio that used to require a pen and notepad on the dash to scribble down lyrics to later look up a song. In essence, my life is easier. But it worries me.

I used to be an observer to heads tilted down, phones glued to palms, earphones plugged in. Blocking out the outside world, and others. Now I am one of them! I worry that by being consumed in my smartphone, I am not being consumed with the present. Who is around me, what is around me. And ultimately, I worry that my already small amount of patience will become minute.

This blog started with the statistic that 91% of Americans own cellphones. The remaining 9% do not own a cellphone at all. I really think about what life would be like completely without. How is life different for those people? Part of me thinks I couldn’t be without a phone, and part of me is envious. Envious of being less connected, consumed with “what’s going on” in the world. Instead, content with a more simple concept… the present, right where they are.


Teneshia Jackson Warner is an award-winning multicultural marketing expert, purpose-driven entrepreneur and author. She is the founder, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of EGAMI Group, a leading multicultural marketing and communications firm in Manhattan with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Target, Verizon Wireless, My Black is Beautiful, U.S. Army, Hennessy, Major League Baseball and Toyota.

In 2013, Teneshia founded The Dream Project Symposium, an annual empowerment conference that helps thousands of entrepreneurs, creatives and career Dreamers plan and achieve their goals. Based on concepts from The Dream Project, Teneshia’s new book, The Big Stretch: 90 Days to Expand Your Dreams, Crush Your Goals, and Create Your Own Success (McGraw-Hill Education, November 22, 2019), is a fully customizable self-evaluation and empowerment program for jumpstarting a new business, career or big idea.

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