Hey, stop tech-shaming me for my old iPhone and paper map

You don't need to ditch paper for screens and constantly upgrade your phone to be cool. Old is OK.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
6 min read

I don't care what anyone says, I'll stick with paper maps.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You're out with friends and everyone's sharing the latest viral videos. They proudly wield their brand new phones with the sharpest displays ever to watch an SNL clip from last week, but you whip out a 4-year-old phone that's half the size of theirs. They laugh, not at the genius parody of Netflix's 8 million shows, but at your "ancient" phone with its pitiful screen.

Rude, right? Absolutely. This is tech shaming. Much like that other increasingly common scourge, plugspreading, when a charger plug takes up too much room on a power strip, it needs to stop. Immediately.

The tech-shaming scourge can take two forms: shaming someone over a different brand loyalty (like Apple vs. Android) or shaming someone for not going "high tech" enough. The former is largely considered to be poor form in polite circles, but I'm not here to talk about that. My beef is with the latter: like ridiculing your friend for still playing CDs or for faithfully buying a wall calendar every year (guilty) even as we live on our phones. Such behavior is not condemned enough, but it's as ridiculous as fanboy wars.

Let me explain.  

Loving paper maps in the age of GPS

See all photos

Paper maps and a skill we're losing

Five years ago, before taking a road trip through France, I bought a paper map of the country when we rented our car. I've always loved maps -- beyond just telling you how to get somewhere, they have a rich history and make great souvenirs. Though I dropped only a few euros, or about what you'd pay for a pan au chocolate and a café au lait, a friend questioned why we needed it when we had GPS in the car. Fair point, but "you never know," I replied.

A few days later, we did know. While driving from the Loire Valley to Lyon, the car's GPS directed us on a longer route across the central Auvergne than the map suggested. Looking more closely, we discovered that while my good old paper map showed a new motorway that had opened three months before, the GPS showed blank space. Avis hadn't kept the system up to date, but my map saved us an extra hour of driving and got us to Lyon by wine o'clock. There was never a better moment to say, "I told you so," except for the next day and the day after that.

Knowing how to read paper maps is also essential to keeping a valuable skill alive: plotting directions. Relying on that little GPS voice telling you where to turn is convenient, no question, but it also keeps you from cultivating a natural sense of direction. To get that, you need to study a map and really think about the best route to get somewhere. Then, as you make these decisions and see the street names and scenery unfolding in front of you, you memorize a route faster. And when you've been to a place a few times, you also get to catch a greedy taxi driver from ripping you off. (This happens every time I go to Las Vegas.)

There's a reason London cabbies have to study for years to memorize "The Knowledge," or the layout of the city, without relying on a digital device. London's labyrinthine streets get enmeshed in their brains to the point where navigation becomes instinctual. They know the major roads that GPS usually sends them on aren't necessarily the fastest or shortest way between points. Not everyone needs to find their way across London from memory, of course, but we shouldn't permanently fold up maps just yet (even though folding one can be difficult). They have their place, so don't shame others for using them.


Sure, there are some phones that are too old for anyone to have, but you don't need to upgrade every two years.

Kent German/CNET

You can (not) upgrade if you want to

When I first started reviewing phones for CNET more than a decade ago, we had a new phone in the office almost every week. But as we've settled into an Apple-Android world, new phones come along far less frequently. That's especially true for the most popular models: Samsung has a new Galaxy in the spring and a new Galaxy Note in the summer; Apple's new iPhone kicks off the holiday shopping season; and Google shows us a new Pixel a couple of months later. Some people divide their years by the seasons, I divide mine by new phones. 

This annual cycle, plus carrier unlimited plans that encourage customers to pay off new phones in two years, has had a profound effect on customer behavior: If your phone is more than 2 years old, you're encouraged to trade up. For people who always want the newest thing, that's fine. But with phones prices now regularly approaching four figures -- even the "cheap" iPhone XR starts at $749 -- some can't afford to trade up every year. It's arrogant and insensitive to think everyone should. Like people who have never been on Facebook, maybe the slower adopters have been right all along?

Money aside, some people just don't see the need to regularly buy the newest shiny object. I have a friend who proudly wields an iPhone 6. For him, it still works well and it's all he needs. Other friends poke good-natured fun at his "old" phone while proudly showing off their phone's new features and warning that iOS updates (if gets them at all) will slow his phone to a crawl. They're not wrong on the last claim -- Apple admits it throttles old phones to help prevent battery problems -- but the poor guy needs to be left alone even if he just rolls his eyes at their teasing (at least to their face). He's choosing a less rampant brand of consumerism and keeping one fewer phone out of the landfill. He should be applauded, not ashamed.


My bitcoin blackmail letter, which came via snail mail.

Kent German/CNET

Support your local post office

Remember letters? Those things you write on paper? They still exist! I got one earlier this year. Sure, the sender was trying to blackmail me for bitcoin, but it was still nice to know someone out there was thinking of me. Bills, form letters and your school's plea for a donation aside, there is something wonderful about opening your mailbox, seeing a letter from a faraway friend or relative and tearing it open. Charlie Brown knows the feeling, or at least he imagines that he does.

After I wrote about my blackmail, though, it was clear not everyone shared my love of letters. I received a couple of comments from readers poking fun at the whole idea of snail mail, the post office and even stamps. Then in a New York Magazine story about millennial non-voters that went viral in October, respondents complained they didn't know how to use the post office or where to buy stamps. (One person even said that mailing things gives him "anxiety.") Honestly, it's a marvel they're able to get up in the morning and choose their socks.

Shaming over mail is completely unnecessary and any confusion about how to mail things is inexcusable. We need to support the post office. From big cities to small towns, it provides an invaluable service that connected families, friends and businesses before we could simply press "send" on our phones. It carries our Amazon packages to the most remote places in America at a scale that even FedEx and UPS can't match. If the post office goes away, what will replace it?

Just as important, the ease of electronic communication has also undercut the value of communication. Texting and posting to Facebook have almost become reflexes. But sending a letter, a postcard when you're on vacation, or an actual greeting card (I still do all three) takes time, effort and much more thought. Try it next time your mom or friend has a birthday. You may be surprised at the reaction. And, no, you don't need to share it on Instagram.

CNET's Holiday Gift Guide: The place to find the best tech gifts for 2018.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET's newsstand edition.