Wednesday, May 16, 2012
A few years ago, I was excited to sign up with Hell Canada (via their Unympatico unit) for a pair of LG phones -- the "Chocolate" model, which was brand-new, and something else, I forget what. This was my first cellular device, and I felt as though I was finally joining this century, even though I am no slouch when it comes to technology (cheap, yes, always waiting for prices to come down, but no slouch).
My son and I used the phones for approximately three months. From the geto-go, we -- or should I say I, as the account holder -- experienced non-stop customer-service issues.
The first was pretty obvious. Although we lived in a 450 area code, we were given long-distance numbers for each phone. As a brother in Ontario pointed out at the time, "Hey! That's my area code!" So I called Bell, whereupon I was told I couldn't make the change over the phone (!) but had to go to a Bell service outlet. Well, there wasn't one in our small town, so son and I hitched a ride with a neighbour into a nearby city, where we waited the requisite 20 or so minutes for organic service. Got our local area codes and off we went.
Invoice comes in: $20 charge for changing phone numbers.
Thus began a montly ritual that involved several hours each time around -- in other words, whenever the bill arrived. Not only was waiting on hold involved, but the routine always seemed to be hold-transfer-calldrop-redial-hold-hold-hold-wait-while-rep-breathes-and-searches-records-transfer-disconnect. Each bill came with unforeseen and unwarranted extra charges.
Finally, around the fourth month or so, I was late paying my bill, and was promptly disconnected. All calls in or out would be rerouted to the collection department.
That's when I pretty much lost it. My son and I simply dumped the phones back in their respective boxes and never used them again. I also ignored my obligation to the remainder of the contract.
Eventually, I bought an inexpensive pay-as-you-go flip phone, but regularly forgot to top it up by a certain date -- thus losing whatever balance remained from the previous month. Finally, I decided that I didn't really need a cell. Yes, it was handy when I didn't have 50 cents to use a public phone to call a cab to get my groceries home. Yes, it was useful for texting my son. But it didn't feel like a necessity.
And it still doesn't. I can live without it. I have a book (sometimes even my eReader) when I know I'll be spending time on a bus, a subway, or in a waiting room. I don't need or want to bring Facebook, Slate, Mashable, The PBH Network, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Time, Cheezburger or Words With Friends everywhere I go. If I need directions somewhere, or a bus route schedule, I look it up beforehand. I still carry pen and paper, which made me laugh the other day when I offered them to my son so that he might write down a phone number posted on a car for sale; he shook his head and whipped out his phone.
THING IS, I LIKE TO DISCONNECT.
I do not really like being accessible at all times. Never did. Always cherished the ability to be able to unplug, be incommunicado. And anyway: my friends with cell phones don't call me any more often than they used to; in fact, they call less. I have one friend who hasn't returned a phone call in more than eight months, and she occasionally uses Facebook to write, "Miss you!!!!!!!" (Really?)
Now I watch people walk around, heads down, texting, reading email, gaming. They do it at the gym before and after the class. They do it on the public transit system. They do it whilst with friends in restaurants. They do it with one hand while pushing a baby stroller or walking with a toddler. They do it in movie theatres and concert halls and nightclubs. They do it while sunsets blaze gloriously in the western sky, while flocks of geese honk overhead, while tulips sway precariously and briefly in the spring sunshine, as the moon rises into a sky of blue so deep and pure it almost hurts.
Last week I looked at the lady next to me on the bus. She had her smart phone clutched in both hands in her lap. It was off, but she kept staring at it, glancing down at it. She held it as one would hold a rosary, or worry beads. As though perhaps a god might speak to her through it, reveal the meaning of life.
I'll get a smart phone when I am not locked into a three-year relationship with an electronic device. When upgrading to the newer, faster, sharper and most likely less expensive model doesn't involve forking over a month's rent.
I saw beta recording devices come on the market for $1,000; now they are obsolete. I saw pagers that weighed two pounds. DVD players, home fax machines, microwave ovens... all were large, cumbersome, and expensive when they first came out. But time and technology did their work, and everything is smaller, more affordable, more easily upgradable. So I'm waiting for smart phone plans to follow suit before I succumb.
It might be another 30 years, mind you -- the approximate time it took to make a tiny microwave you can install under a kitchen cabinet and MP3 players to be scarcely larger than a grain of rice -- but I can wait. On the other hand, by then the cell phone might be a subcutaneous implant, so I'll still look like a dinosaur.