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SmartPhones Versus Lesser Phones: The New Digital Divide?

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I just got my first smartphone. That's not to say that I haven't had my share of Palm and iPad hand-held computers and plain-Jane cell phones. At work, I have part-time custody of (and long history with) an iPhone that was just upgraded to iPhone 4. But on my own dime, my new Droid is my first personally-owned smartphone, and I'm a bit surprised at how powerful it really is after having it with me as a permanent accessory. In all fairness, the iPhone is also powerful, but I never felt good about schlepping the "work iPhone" very far from the office, and I'm not a fan of iTunes. Before I continue, let's be clear: what I'm about to say is in no way a Droid versus iPhone testimony. I'm talking about smartphones in general, from the perspective of someone who's just taken the leap after always keeping his cellphone charges low by staying with "free" phones and no data plan.

As a Verizon customer, I just hit the "new every two" milestone, and heard the siren song of the Droid. Given the responsibilities I have in various professional roles, uber-connectivity was an easy sell among the voices in my head. Having learned that a la carte plans can burn you pretty bad (I'm the father of three texting teens), I sprang for the unlimited monthly data plan. So that's the back story, and now to the point.

The de facto expectation is that almost everyone has a cell phone of some sort. Whether it's pay-as-you go or a big family plan, we are a society of texters, and I have largely all come to rely on being able to call AAA or a relative when we break down on the highway. But I'm currently living the techno-epiphany that a smartphone takes all of that up a big, big notch, and I've fast come to realize the division between those who have them and those who use "simple" cell phones. With a "regular" phone, you can certainly communicate with anyone who's willing to acknowledge your call or text. With a smartphone, you hold worlds in your hand.

I have yet to pay the first monthly bill for my newfound capabilities, but already I have used the device to navigate into the boonies of upstate New York to get to my son's bike race in unfamiliar territory. I have received a tornado warning alert, and I instantly pulled up a map that showed where the storm was at its worst. I was able to show the Best Buy employee where an online price didn't match what the store was selling a given item for, to my advantage. I have eavesdropped on my daughter playing a song in her room, and used the Shazam app to identify the song and artist because I liked the music, but would never admit it to her. I have found that I have a custom radio station in my pocket, will never be lost, and I always have my office email at hand. I can avoid speed traps, connect to WiFi networks, and listen to streaming feeds from the local fire and police dispatches. Oh yeah, I can call home to see if we need milk on the way home from work. I am Lord and Master of a powerful new universe, and I've only had the Droid for a couple of weeks.

At the same time I upgraded to the Droid, I replaced my daughter's ancient Razr with a new Dazzle, a nifty phone with a generous screen and a keyboard and camera setup that are great for the sorts of things that she does. But as cool as its swivel-in-the-middle form factor is, the Razzle is "just" a cell phone. My girl can't wield the power that I have under the hood of my smartphone, and a part of me feels a bit guilty.

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