Why are we so interested in Daniel Day-Lewis’s phone?

By Allan Jacob

You could be wrong to call me a fan of Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis, the three-time Oscar winner. I remember him from Lincoln and Gangs of New York. The roles he essayed failed to make an impression on me.

In fact, I’m embarrassed for often mistaking him for Jeremy Irons, that raspy-voiced actor who I believe is in a league of his own, with stage presence that few can match. I’ve been watching Irons in Margin Call (for the second time) on Netflix, and that confused image flashed again.

My subjective view of Day-Lewis takes nothing away from his prowess on screen, but I’m not a fan, so I’ll call him by his first name, Daniel — I like the name. And I like his flip phone. I also admire the fact that he wants to be known as a nobody when he’s not making movies. He embraces ‘retirement’ after his last big performance with grace, only to return wrapped in another meaty role of a lifetime.

So he was out and about last week, flip phone in hand, left to his own devices, leaning on the wall of a New York City subway coach on his latest rail trip to anonymity. Looked cool if you can afford to be an ‘unknown’ in disguise. I wondered if he was preparing for a new film. Fame has a way of making people look ridiculous, I thought, as I began this piece. ‘Smart actor flips opens his flop device,’ would have been my click-and-bait headline.

He didn’t appear distinguished like Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis, but it was him if you believe bit social media actors who have grown up watching his body of work or have heard of him. They confirmed the incident and said it was ‘widely reported’. I disagree, unless you consider clumsy curating of tweets to be worthy of great coverage.

When did actor-spotting become an art form, or even journalism? A colleague wondered if I had read or heard about the scene on the metro when Daniel showed up appearing ‘normal,’ according to social media followers. The look on my face had stupid written all over it, and I answered in the negative, but to my surprise she suggested I expound on the starry event and the subject of celebrity normality. Let the masses know, make them aware of his love for anonymity and humility, she egged me on.

A brilliant actor peering into his ageless flip phone was a class act (he’s been using it for more than a decade if you believe the Twitterati) which makes for some flippant reading. Yeah, why not? I fancy Daniel’s phone more than his acting skills. The device brings to mind another era when those gadgets were the rage. So, I took a closer look, a first take, enlarged the image and figured it was a Motorola Razr which the star was gazing into. Memories came flooding and I recollected that a friend had loaned the Razr to me once. Okay to use, it wasn’t as easy as the Samsung flipper that I owned back then. “Doesn’t beat my shell-shaped Samsung device,” I said, as I returned it to him with thanks. The South Korean company called their device the ‘clam shell’; it looked cute, but the battery didn’t last long and I had to deploy my rugged Nokia 9910 to keep the conversation going. I also had trouble finding a Samsung charger and carried one in my bag those days.

Some guys loathed me for the shell-shaped gadget in my possession. It was for women, they proclaimed, while I remained faithful to the device. I was of the view that it was stylish and suited my personality well as I indulged in smooth conversation with my (then larger) social circle. I talked longer to my wife during those pre-WhatsApp days; it brought us closer, our love grew stronger when gadgets or apps didn’t gag us. It helped that she had a similar phone — albeit an upgraded model. “It fit in my palm… was easy to use with one hand… was quite sturdy. Once it fell into water and still survived,” she recalled with glee when I asked her about it.

Just when I thought she was done talking, she continued: “And, it had this nice blue display on the small screen window when you closed it. They called it a clam shell design.” I know, I said. “Then why did you ask me when you know it all,” the missus countered. End of conversation as we went back to peering into our smartphones.

Flip phones were sleek, you could go to sleep in peace. They were a style statement. App connectivity on modern smart phones comes at a price. The personal space is declining. Billionaire investor Warren Buffet still uses a flip phone and refuses to give it up despite Apple’s CEO Tim Cook’s entreaties. He even flashed a Samsung flip during a CNBC interview in January. According to reports, 510 million flip phones were shipped in 2016. I searched for last year’s numbers but couldn’t find them. However, Samsung Convoy, LG 450, Samsung GT-C3520BLK, Motorola Razr, Samsung Gusto, Samsung Intensity, Blackberry Style and the Nokia 6350 still remain on the market.

These devices work well if you want a semblance of simplicity and sanity back. Sitting here, I envy Daniel the Hollywood icon for being normal, for being distant from the virtual madness that has taken over our world and has possessed us. Maybe I’ll simply clam up and go into my shell.


Allan is a history buff and a news hound. He loves a good debate

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