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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Cell Phones for the Technology Challenged?

Is it asking too much to own a cell phone that does one thing well? For instance, act like a phone. I don’t need a camera. I don’t need voice recognition. I don’t need a word processor. I don’t need a recorder. I don’t need a Clay Aiken love song as a ring-tone. I don’t need news bulletins. I don’t need stock tickers. I don’t need a daily horoscope. I don’t need a joke of the day. I don’t need a TV. I don’t need movie trailers either. I have a boat load of technology for all that stuff.

What I need is a phone. You know, one I can carry with me that allows me to send and receive something called a “phone call”. And while I’m on the subject, it would also be nice if the phone worked in such a way that I might hear the person on the other end without having to shove the whole thing up into my ear canal two or three inches. And if this could all be done with the assurance that I’m not adding cancer cells to what already is a damaged brain, well then, that would be swell. Is that asking too much?

I just want a phone, which is derived from the Greek word “phone”, whose translation of all crazy things is “voice”! Even the Greeks got it right and they didn’t even have phones.

I think this all came to a head when I recently upgraded my cell phone to one of those RAZRs. It’s thin. It folds. It’s easy to carry. That’s enough technology for me. Now if it could just be a phone, it would be perfect. But alas, it’s not. It’s a swiss army knife for people who have to hear, read and see everything about everyone, everywhere, every second of the day. So it comes packaged with an owner’s manual as thick as a Clinton memoir, and just slightly less interesting. The handbook is so complicated that it’s accompanied by a quick reference guide—the inoperative word being “quick”.

It’s not all bad though. The phone comes with a CD that, once you skip through all the shameless plugs for something called VCAST, sends you to a website. And if you click through a half dozen more commercials, it eventually lands you at a very nice interactive reference guide on the motorola website, which I recommend you bookmark (that way you don’t need to view the CD ads every time you have a question). Like the other day I was at a baseball game. Somehow, I had pressed a secret button that sent my phone into VCAST mode. I needed to make an actual call and wasn’t sure how to get back to phone mode without signing up for VCAST for ten years. Fortunately, I had the foresight to lug my desktop PC and monitor with me to the game—ever since I bought this phone, I cart around my reference tools wherever I go. Anyway, I’d say about five minutes later, after I found a concession stand that would let me use a power source, I had my answer.

I suppose for some, the image and video bells and whistles are fun in a real self-indulging way. That’s nice when you know how to use them. But what about the cell phone challenged? Like me? I tried the camera. Big mistake. Played with the button while holding the phone in my lap. Took a close up picture of my crotch by mistake. The pants had that embarrassing bunched up thing going on too. In my attempt to delete the picture, I made it the background picture. Can’t get rid of it. Now I’m too embarrassed to lend my phone to someone. So I don’t any more, which upsets my friends, which I have fewer of now.

Although that photo and video stuff isn’t for me, at least I understand the appeal. Who doesn’t want to show off a one inch by one inch ten second video of the Grand Canyon?

What I don’t get, and yet what seems most popular, is text messaging. I think I understand the underlying principle. Instead of using the phone to converse with someone by voice in real-time, I’ll pay twice as much each month for the privilege of using a ten digit keypad to type obtuse, short messages—you know, like “U R L8”. It’s like using the phone to make vanity license plates for God’s sake. What’s next? People in networked cafes holding their laptops up to their ear and mouth to make phone calls, which is all I want to do with my cell phone?

Why would anyone want to text someone anyway, when talking seems so much more easy and engaging? Might it be because you are in a situation where calling someone would be impolite? For example, you’re at dinner with a boring date. So, instead of excusing yourself to make a call from the restroom, your head abruptly tilts down enough to let your eyes dart to the phone buried in your lap and snap back to feign attention to the witless dialogue you so desperately want to escape. You frantically press your cell phone keypad as if you are thumb wrestling it for the life of your first-born. Your lips curl with concentration. The corners of your mouth alternate up and down. A bit of your tongue sticks out to the side, as you finish the probing message that must get to the outside world, “wat u doin”. You send it off, believing your date has not noticed. Great success!

Dream on. You were as discreet as the sounding of a spicy burrito fart in a crowded elevator.

I don’t know. It must be me. For instance, right now I hear my phone playing Rachmaninoff. Don’t know why. Don’t know how to stop it either. Sometimes I go to voice mail and hear new messages people sent me weeks ago. Sometimes I get my own messages that I left other people months ago. I even get messages from dead people. By the way, they seem content. The white cotton robes breathe nicely. The food is hot and tastefully seasoned. The only complaint so far—the lines to play bocce ball are long.
I just want a phone.

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