D'Souza: Hi Bixby

Teaching my dad how to use a smartphone.

by Diana D'Souza | 1/14/20 2:10am

My dad always had a bad history with phones. We bought him his first one in 2014: a Samsung Note 3, the largest phone we could find on the market. For extra precaution, we equipped it with an Otterbox case, holster belt clip and a tempered glass screen protector. Unfortunately, he put his phone on top of the car, drove away and never saw it again; even worse, he forgot to set up a password.

When my mom bought my dad a new phone, he came up with a solution to ensure he would never lose it again: The phone would never leave the house. After scrolling through the news, he would eventually leave the house to go to a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store. He would flip his phone over (apparently that is the “proper” way to turn the phone off), place it on the dresser and get in the car. We eventually stopped calling him when we heard his ringtone coming from my parents’ room.

This winterim, my dad decided to switch from Verizon to Altice, which provides unlimited talk, text and data for $20 a month for life. However, he soon realized that his beloved phone could only be used on a Verizon plan, and he begrudgingly switched to a Samsung S9. Because I was at home with little to do, I was tasked with taking my dad to the Optimum store to set up his new phone. After his phone was activated, he headed home, determined to learn how his new phone worked. I was pelted with new questions every hour:

“Diana, come here. What is my password? Where is the Google located? Why are the buttons on this phone so small?” As I patiently fielded his questions, he would bring out his Note 3 and explain to me all the reasons it was superior to the S9.

After my dad mastered the basics, I introduced him to Face ID (which still baffles him) and Touch ID (it pains me how he uses his index finger). He even experimented with Bixby, the Samsung equivalent of Siri. No matter how hard my dad tried, Bixby could not understand my dad’s accent. By the end of a couple of days, Bixby was only able to answer the same two questions my dad asked every day: “Hi Bixby, where is Goa?” and “What is the weather like today?” Then, he would flip his S9 over and go back to using his Note 3. 

Several weeks in, we noticed several problems with the S9: a ringtone that wouldn’t stop ringing, a nonexistent voicemail system and a phone number that refused to transfer over. My dad and I made four more trips to the Optimum store — two of which were on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve because my dad insisted on going when the lines were short. We eventually ended up returning the S9 and buying him an iPhone 8+, which the employee told us was the biggest phone sold at the Apple Store. The employee selling us the phone thought my dad was hilarious. My father, a 6-foot-tall man, walked in carrying a tiny bag with three phones (his Note 3, S9 and iPhone 8+) and a notebook filled with passwords and steps on how to use his phone. He then proceeded to haggle over the six-percent discount that the store offered on a sushi platter.

My dad was born in 1939, which makes him 80 years old. Even as a professor, he didn’t use a computer because his secretary did all his typing for him. Although I was initially annoyed by our weekly trips to the Optimum store, I have come to admire my dad’s willingness to constantly learn and his desire to be fiercely independent. When I see the look of fixation on my dad’s face as I explain to him how to use cellular data for the sixth time, I am reminded of our role reversal. 

When I was young, my dad and I spent many months together on a beaten-down couch, reading books about talking about animals and dump trucks. Now, I am at a point in my life where I can teach my dad. That’s a scary thought, because it means that I’m getting older. According to all the Instagram posts, this is the decade where I get a job, buy an apartment, get married and have children. Strangely enough, the process of helping my dad find his dream phone has helped me slow things down. Together, we have braved heavy rains on the highway, battled with Optimum customer service and consumed many McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salads. Spending more time with my dad has reminded me of the importance of taking a break from work and enjoying my youth. 

As for my dad, he is still figuring out how to use his new iPhone. It’s only a matter of time before he figures out how to text in the family group chat — which, for the record, we named “Bixby.”