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If you weren’t lucky enough to own a LG Chocolate phone, I should probably start by describing it for you. The Chocolate’s rectangular face was filled by a screen, a circular dial, and some top-of-the-line touch-sensitive, glowing-red controls. With a quick flick of your thumb, the phone slid up, revealing a numerical keypad. The Chocolate was part-phone, part-MP3 player, and the first edition was launched in the U.S. in July 2006. It came in black, white, red, pink, and green, all colors which all allowed for a convenient extension of the phone’s confectionary theme—you could pick between Dark, White, Cherry, Strawberry, and Mint Chocolates.
It’s hard to put it better than this delightful 2007 review in the Canadian edition of PC World: “The phone’s namesake is kind of fitting for it, given how it looks like a piece of dark chocolate that someone might eat with a knife and fork. When you first open it up, it appears so pristine that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there actually did try taking a bite out of it.” And who could forget the iconic LG Chocolate commercial featuring Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman”?
I was the proud owner of a Mint Chocolate VX8500, which my great-grandfather won in a contest. (At the time, he spent much of his time entering mail-in or online contests, and won things quite frequently.) It was my second phone, and I was probably around 11. I got my first phone shortly before, when a different grandfather passed away. It was earlier than my parents had planned to get me a cellphone, but there it was, ownerless and being paid for in their Verizon plan … so what the heck. That first phone was a basic thing, bluish-silver, a small antenna sticking out at the top, and I wasn’t able to do much with it beyond make calls, send texts, and frequently change the ringtone in accordance with my mood. The Mint Chocolate, though, was like a portal to a different world. It was slick, beautiful, and full of possibilities—great photos (for 2009), a music library, Bluetooth … the list goes on.
More than a decade later, I still think often about my LG Chocolate phone—the moments it got me through, what it meant to me. For me, what made the LG Chocolate so special is that it stood as an intermediary between what phones were and what they might be (and now are). It was also as an intermediary, for those of us who grew up half with cellphones and half without them, for what technology could mean in our lives.
I was born (on this day!) in 1997, the first year marking the start of Gen Z, according to the Pew Research Center. Still, I generally prefer to think of myself as a millennial, because a) it seems more fun and b) most of the people I went to school with, and now interact with, are millennials. (Maybe if Pew had opted for iGeneration, another option it apparently considered, instead of the boring “Gen Z,” I would feel differently.)
Those of us generational borderliners, elder Gen Z-ers and baby Millennials, grew up in a before-and-after moment. My ugly flip phone was the before, my iPhone loaded with the Facebook app was the after, and the Mint Chocolate was my in-between, there with me in the middle school years, when many of us do our messiest growing up.
The Chocolate was the first and last time I felt I had a phone for me. I liked looking at its soft green color. I don’t remember if I ever loaded music on it, but I liked knowing I could. I liked the independence it gave me—I could finally go to the mall after school with a friend without my parents hovering around. I liked teaching my grandma how to text and then seeing the Chocolate’s screen light up with a notification from her.
In contrast, these days I feel my phone’s primary function is to make other people’s lives better—for colleagues to email me and get a fast response, for Mark Zuckerberg to cash in on my scrolling, for the person calling about a survey to reach someone who feels too guilty to hang up. When I bought a new iPhone last year, I chose a mint green that I thought would be similar to my Chocolate. It was not.
You may feel like I’m being dramatic with my emotional attachment here, or looking for greater meaning where it doesn’t exist. It’s just a clunky phone! Still, it’s not hard to find people who feel the same “strange passion” for the Chocolate—it’s a common protagonist when you ask someone about their cell phone lineage, and you can find recent unboxing videos on YouTube or Chocolates being sold on eBay. And indeed, this sentimentality was baked into the DNA of the Chocolate. “Just as Apple’s iPod created a new culture among users of digital music players, Chocolate connects to emotions of its users,” Cha Kang Heui, LG’s chief handset designer, told NBC News in 2006.
In the U.S., four versions of the Chocolate were eventually sold, though the original was the most iconic—reportedly selling 21 million units, making it one of the most popular phones in LG history. The Chocolate was also a global phenomenon. It was first released in Korea in 2005, and later in Europe, before coming to the U.S. and elsewhere. I recently found out that my partner, who grew up in Mexico, also had a Chocolate phone and felt on top of the world when he got one, around age 15. “It was the sensation,” he remembered.
It’s easy to feel nostalgic about things like the LG Chocolate. I often feel the need to lecture my 18-year-old brother, whose primary form of communication is Snapchat, about “simpler times”—the same way people 20 years older than me love to say “we used to have to …” followed by some description of a character-building activity like “print a map” or “remember phone numbers.”
But that nostalgia isn’t always useful or well placed. Neither is the judgy tone we often use with people who have grown up with technology differently than we did. (How much can it really bother you that the youth use Snapchat and Instagram DMs to talk to their friends instead of picking up the phone?)
More fundamentally, this ode is a hypocritical one, because if I really wanted to, I could change my iPhone back to a Chocolate. But alas, I would never do that—the constant connection of a smartphone exhausts me, but the thought of the absence of that connection terrifies me. And as great as the Chocolate was, it certainly couldn’t handle my Google Photos library, or my earthquake alarm app, or WhatsApp.
Besides, it’s more fun to reminisce about a phone that by default allowed me to have a healthier relationship with technology than to get to work fixing the screen-life relationship I actually have. So, for that luxury of denial—and so much more—thank you, LG Chocolate.
P.S. Do you have an LG Chocolate story? You know I want to hear it! Tweet @FutureTenseNow and help me feel less ridiculous.
Here are stories from the recent past of Future Tense.
Future Tense Fiction
It’s the best Saturday of the month! Our newest story is “Furgen,” by Andrew Silverman, a hilarious tale about a retriever, his owner, and his A.I.-enabled minder. After you read “Furgen,” check out the response from Clive Wynne, author of Dog Is Love, who asks: Could a dog truly love a robot?
Wish We’d Published This
“El Bus TV: el periodismo en Venezuela que vence la censura,” (El Bus TV: the journalism in Venezuela that overcomes censorship), by Liz López, Gatopardo (in Spanish)
(P.S. if you want more of Gatopardo’s great narrative storytelling, check out Symbiosis, a new journalism training program brought to you by Gatopardo and the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Full disclosure, I worked on it.)
Future Tense Recommends
I’m about halfway through Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road, which follows the Galvins, a family of 12 children, including six with schizophrenia. Kolker documents the family’s deeply personal journey with the disorder and the abuse, loss and pain it manifested, as well as the larger significance of the Galvin case for medical research on the genetic roots and potential treatments for schizophrenia. In introducing us to the Galvin siblings, Kolker portrays mental illness as part of who someone is, not who they are, an important distinction that is often absent from coverage of schizophrenia and similar conditions. I picked up the book hoping to learn more about the disorder after my uncle, who had schizophrenia, passed away earlier this year. (I wrote about his death for The Marshall Project.) It’s a hard book to read—but, I think, a necessary one.
What Next TBD
On this week’s episode of Slate’s technology podcast, guest host Seth Stevenson talks to Eric Budish, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, about how bots have ruined regular people’s ability to buy hot sneakers (and buy tickets to Broadway shows, and much more). Last week, guest host Henry Grabar and Bloomberg reporter Patrick Clark discussed iBuying and why Zillow is pushing pause on buying houses.
Time Travel to 2071 with Smithsonian Researchers: How can portraying the future help us prepare for it? As part of the Smithsonian’s upcoming FUTURES exhibition, the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building (AIB) collaborated with Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination to bring together museum experts, cultural and research centers, writers, and artists to help answer that question. They asked eight research teams to imagine potential futures for Smithsonian institutions, their areas of research, and, most importantly, the communities they serve. Might children be able to vote in 2071? What would it take to make human life in space sustainable? Then award-winning artist Brian Miller and acclaimed sci-fi writers Tochi Onyebuchi and Madeline Ashby created exhibition posters and short stories based on those visions.
Join us, AIB, and the Center for Science and the Imagination on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at noon Eastern to discuss the exhibit, the pieces, and the roles museums play in depicting future narratives. RSVP here, and read Tochi’s and Madeline’s stories on Future Tense here.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.