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Gadget nostalgia in Vietnam: My trusty Nokia

Monday, September 05, 2016, 11:11 GMT+7

Do you text, Twitter, Skype or Facebook? Amazing how we can change nouns into verbs! So... do you Samsung, Oppo or iPhone? Do you lust after, long for or deeply desire the latest smartphone in silver, gray or solid gold? Smartphones are surreal, spectacular and singularly spacy... but my ancient Nokia is better!

I love talking to my students about their latest status symbol acquisitions. I’m using ‘acquisitions’ as a plural noun because I have no idea how they can afford to upgrade the weird things so often. Our conversations do get decidedly funny as my students trade comments on their ‘babies’’ abilities (the phones I mean...) and talent at doing everything except washing the dishes. 

The winning student at the moment (things change so rapidly in the land of phones) has a gold-edged phone that plays games at the same time as reading my mind and downloading the answers to next week’s test: the last trick brings gasps of awe from their highly envious fellow students...

I’m often amused during class break time when my students whip out their phones to watch the latest download of a TV series or play simple arcade games. It’s the relative speed that is funny, especially when compared to the time-wasting ten minutes it seems to take everyone to pull out one pencil, one notebook and this week’s lesson book. It’s quite odd to watch teenagers or young adults talk to each other without looking up from their screens – it’s not quite ‘village of the damned’ but sometimes a little spooky.

Occasionally during my verbal warm-ups at the start of classes, “So, what’s new?”, draws a long moan of despair as students recount their parents confiscating phones after late night movie marathons or just once in a while, the true horror... “I dropped my phone and now it’s in the shop getting fixed”. Teenage blood drains at the thought – they all know it’s going to take forever to fix. Two weeks without a phone – terrifying, isn’t it?

Belonging as I do to what will possibly be the last generation of humans who had to make our own fun by actually playing with things we found outside, I simply chuckle and pull out my battered old Nokia. 

“THIS is the phone you should have bought!” I wildly claim. “It’s nearly 12 years old and still works”. My students look at me like I’m a caveman recently emerging from Son Doong when I tell them it only has basic texting, no Internet and that the camera inside is terrible.

It’s not an idle boast. My little Nokia, with its scratched outer casing and flip screen, will be a valuable relic when I’m 105 years old recalling my life for TV. It’s been run over by a truck (twice) in Australia, dropped in the swirling floodwaters of Typhoon Katasana in Hoi An, drowned in a luxury pool in Langkawi off the coast of Malaysia and thrown against bricks, wood, roads, tables and kitchen tops in my fits of frustration at life’s impossibilities. And yes, it reads minds and does the dishes as well.

I’m sure even my older readers will be wagging their eyebrows skyward as they read this squinting at their 5x9 screen, tut-tutting me for not adapting to modern technology. I can hear the silent thought bubbles being projected at me; “But phone will call a cab, check the weather, tell me where the nearest pub is showing the F1 racing and train my dogs as well...!”

As I frequently and futilely point out to my students – gadgets have their place but shouldn’t take over your lives. Call a cab? I’d get some exercise and wave down a cab. Check the weather? What’s wrong with stepping outside the house and holding a finger into the wind? As for finding pubs, well that should be a day’s outing with friends.

People often claim that they can do their work at the beach, check the latest news and chat to their friends overseas. Well, firstly – leave your work at the office. That’s what offices are for. Although I do check the news too – it’s never when the view around me is more interesting than the Internet. Yes, I still lug around a laptop with a big screen.

So as I take my smoke break outside while my students are busy gaming their way to level 11, I take in the air, the sunshine and the energy of the world, and all the while my trusty little Nokia sits back in the classroom – a snug, compact, indestructible and un-annoying part of my existence.

Well... break time is it’s back to shouting at my students to stop emailing under the table while we learn about collocations! I wonder if there’s an app for that?

Stivi Cooke


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