Resistance is futile

In my childhood, I lived in conditions that would be considered poverty today, but were not uncommon at the time. For example, our apartment featured neither a toilet nor a bathroom or shower. The toilet was located half a floor down in the stairway, and we shared it with our neighbors. To take a bath instead of a quick wash, we had to visit the public bath. The stove was still coal-powered, and we relied on it for cooking and getting hot water for preparing coffee and tea as well as for washing dishes. In the winter, this stove was also used for heating, but the heat didn't spread far, and we had to put on several layers of clothing in the other rooms. As we had no place for a washing machine, the clothes had to be carried to the next laundromat once per week.

But we felt very comfortable, even privileged, since we enjoyed a number of household appliances that were not entirely obvious at this time. For example, we had a telephone, a huge table-top radio, and even a black-and-white cathode ray television set (which, I remember, was smaller than the radio) with three programs that signed-off at midnight. Plenty of entertainment for my parents, but I had lots of toys in addition, of course. And since my parents tried very hard to make me happy, I got the greatest gifts a boy could wish for at that time: a Märklin model railway and a Carrera slot-car race track.

Much to their disappointment, these electric gadgets held no fascination for me. I actually spent most of my spare time outside, playing soccer and swimming, and indoors I much preferred classic board games such as Mills and Checkers, and later Chess, which became kind of an obsession and occupied most of my time and attention in solitary concentration. To get me back to a social life, my parents very cleverly introduced me to classic card games, which I then started to study with three equally nerdy friends of mine. We played Rummy, Canasta, Whist and Bridge, but also the German classics Skat, Schafkopf, and Doppelkopf.

I've recently googled for these three friends, and found to my great delight that they have all made their way. A surgeon, an attorney, an engineer – and I became a physicist instead of an electrician, as my parents had planned. And I hope that for them the ability to play a variety of board and card games has been proven to be as useful as it has been for me. For example, when I arrived in Japan some 15 years later for my postdoctoral studies, I went to an English pub I knew from a conference after realizing how fundamentaly lonely I was. The time was early, long before it actually opened, but there was a girl behind the counter, waiting for the first guests, playing Backgammon with herself. It was my knowledge of Backgammon acquired 15 years ago that enabled me to play with her, earning me an invitation for a party where I would meet Susie from Kenya. But that's another story.😙

Nowadays, I keep an average household with regard to technology. It features all of the typical electrical appliances of western civilization, sprinkled with plenty of electronic gadgets, such as desktops, notebooks, tablets, e-book readers, and even a mobile phone, but it's not “smart”. In fact, so far I even didn't bother myself with a smartphone, as I didn't see any compelling reason for using a technology without having the slightest need for it. Worse, it seems that all gadgets with the attribute "smart" are essentially designed to collect as much data as possible about their unsuspecting, dumb users and send that data to various third parties who subsequently profit from it. And last but not least, I feel thoroughly repelled by the pathetic addiction of users to their smartphone, made evident by the innumerable smombies and nomophobes whose catatonic behavior I have to endure every day.

The first of these circumstances has changed very recently. In complying to the revised payment services directive of the EU, one of my banks has decided to terminate mTANs as a method of payment authorization. As alternative, they very prominently advertise an app-based authorization, although a photoTAN generator is in principle also available – but of course not compatible with any other bank. Should I pile up photoTAN generators on my desk or go for the smartphone? I pondered this question for a short time, but it was finally decided by unexpected circumstances turning up in an entirely different context: traveling in the age of the pandemic. My wife has important family business in Japan, and for her entry and the subsequent 14 days of quarantine, she will need no fewer than three apps on a smartphone, which can be either her own one, or has to be rented at the airport.

In view of this development, an attitude of denial would be donquixotesque. I decided that we would instead try to embrace the situation, and make the best out of the gadgets we are forced to acquire by circumstances. That shouldn't be too difficult, since I already knew from my experience with our Nexie that an Android device with small form factor can be great fun. However, there was no need to spend the obscene amounts of money the smartphone industry has somehow managed to establish, with price tags for the flagship phones having tripled over the last decade. Chapeau to the industry for the masterful creation of a new consumers desire leading to excessive debts particularly for the young generation. I'm quite immune to this attempt of seduction, and we consequently decided to look into the low- rather than the high-end.


Since I would be using my phone for security-critical tasks, the main criterion was the guaranteed availability of updates, which is the domain of the Google Pixel phones, a few of the top models from other manufacturers, and of phones running Android One, of which only the Nokias are left. After looking through the specifications, I settled on a Nokia 3.4, which seemed more than sufficient for the simple tasks I would need it for. For my wife, who will certainly enjoy playing an occasional game on her phone, I looked for a higher-class SoC than on the Nokia, and finally opted for the Motorola Moto G30. Both smartphones together came for less than €300, the maximum amount I had been willing to spend.

And you know what: I wouldn't have half of the fun with this little gadget if it hadn't been so affordable. I was a bit disappointed that the Android 11 upgrade didn't come earlier, but eventually it came, and the phone is currently running Android 11 with the latest patches (August 5). That's good enough for me to use it for the purpose I bought it for, i.e., as an authentication factor for my banks. But I also set it up as a general two-factor authentication device by installing and configuring andOTP for some of my most important accounts, such as the control panel of the server running this blog. Being thus an integral part of my security measures, it will securely stay at home, where it has already plenty of alternative uses. Here's one of them: I always wanted to have an HP 48, but never got it. Now I have one!