Are people judging your cellphone?

W hat does your cellphone say about you?

A lot, it turns out.

The more affluent, educated and younger you are, the more likely that device buzzing in your bag or pocket is a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. (If you don't know how a smartphone differs from a cellphone, you probably don't have one.)

Nine out of 10 adult Americans now own a cellphone, compared with 64 percent nine years ago. More than half have a smartphone — an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry that allows them to check sports scores, answer emails, and get directions to the nearest Best Buy.

A group of Ashland High School girls gathered at a coffeehouse on a recent afternoon each had an iPhone sitting on a table in front of them. They say it's practically a given nowadays that all the kids have iPhones.

If they don't, it's probably not by choice, the girls say.

"If you see someone with a flip phone, you assume their parents don't want them to have an iPhone," says Sofia Baldridge. "They think it's not necessary. Or maybe they need to get better grades to earn one.

"If it's an old person, you assume they don't want to get into the new technology."

If student Marina Tacconi sees an old flip phone in the halls, she assumes the person's iPhone is broken and is in the shop.

Young people figure it's not critical for adults to have the smartest of iPhones, says Baldridge, because, while adults may do Facebook, they don't understand or use the latest social media — Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr.

"Adults just didn't grow up with all this," she adds. "But we use it constantly to do homework and basically to stay in touch with each other all the time."

"If it's an old person with no iPhone," says student Julia Senestraro, "they usually don't want to deal with all the new technology; if they're young, their parents don't get the importance of it and won't get it for them."

If she sees someone with an Android, student Lauryn Baily figures they can handle its added complications and don't mind being out of the near-universal iPhone world.

In the tech-savvy world of modern business, uSell, an online marketplace for used gadgets, recently found that about half of people will judge someone as poor, old or technologically backward if he or she displays an obsolete cellphone.

Web designer Jeff Altemus says he does notice the kind of hardware people are carrying around, "and I make an assessment, but it's not that they are an awful person or a loser. I refuse to judge status or use a cellphone as a status symbol.

"I have friends with lots of money, and they carry an old piece of (junk). One is a contrarian by nature and will not deal with the new technology," Altemus says.

Working his Android phone, an Internet-linked slider with a keyboard, in Rogue Valley Roasting Co., Alan Hewitt says he's up on the latest technology but would never think the user of an antiquated cellphone is poor or tech-ignorant.

"I just assume they're not early adapters or tech fanatics," he says.

An iPhone user who rarely carries it around, Nuna Teal of Ashland says, "It would never occur to me to judge anyone about something so shallow and trivial. The only thing that does bother me, a lot, is seeing people focusing on their cellphones rather than each other or the physical, sensual world around them. Missing a lot, I think."

Many seniors like the old flip phones because the numbers are larger and they are simpler to operate, says Ashland author Shelley Lotz. (Note to iPhone users with poor eyesight: just press the main button three times to enlarge the text.)

"I love my iPhone, but I think it's cool when people rebel against the new technology," says Lotz. "My husband hates his smartphone and wishes he had a regular phone."

Consultant Karen Jefferey, now on her third iPhone, says when she sees someone with an old "just phone," she wonders why they haven't upgraded — and why anyone these days still has a land line.

"I treasure every contact, every app, time saved, time wasted, and wonder what I did before this amazing tool," says Jefferey. "I think it's the best thing I ever bought. Ever."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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