First World Problems – CPSDS (Cell Phone Sudden Death Syndrome)

There are few things that are more disriptive to modern daily life in the developed world than the sudden and catastrophic failure of that little device on which almost all of us have come to rely – the cell phone.

I remember getting my first cell phone in the 1990s. I have never been accused of being an early adopter, so I was never one of the guys who got a phone hardwired into my car. Do you remember those – with the little antenna that announced to the world that you were someone with clout in the same way driving around with the car windows up in the sweltering summer heat did in the early1960s? Nor was I one of the people who carried a “bag phone” – the telephone that allowed you to be hugely important away from your car and answer calls in restaurants by whipping the big receiver out of the ringing black nylon bag.

I did get in on the cell phone thing earlier than most with one of the early phones small enough to slip into the breast pocket of a suit coat, back when you still got phones from a company called GTE Mobilnet. Back when “minutes” were a valuable commodity and when “roaming” made them even more valuable – sort of like “long distance” during the glory days of hardwired telephones installed by men from “The Phone Company”. It was useful for returning calls for business during otherwise unproductive time like when you were driving back from a fifteen minute hearing that took place two hours away from the office.

I remember when the cellular carrier began hawking buy one-get one deals because the prize was another customer who was worth the cost of an expensive phone that was given away for free. One of those additional customers was Marianne, who got a cell phone out of one of those promos. For emergencies, of course. And it was not long after that I noted my Gold-Medal decadent behavior when I was in one part of the house and was too lazy to walk to another part of the house where she happened to be. Even the leisure class of a decade or two earlier had to walk their behinds over to the hardwired intercom to communicate with someone elsewhere in the house. Not me – there was not even the need to rise from my chair. But who could blame me when those clever cell providers did not count calls between those on the same plan against those still-dear minutes.

Somewhere along the line the cell phone went from “I just got one in case of emergency out on the road somewhere” to the equivilent of cocaine. At least if cocaine was actually good for anything in addition to ruining your life. Hey, I quit smoking a long time ago, so I know something about addiction. And cell phones are now an addiction.

Or is it an addiction when you really do need it to function in daily life (as opposed to just feeling good with it in your hand)? Perhaps not. Maybe the cell phone has become something like the electric light or refrigeration, which even those of us who predated the stupid things can no longer imagine life without them.

Which was pointed out to me about a week ago when I checked my own phone at the office after a lunch break. “Hmmmm”, I pondered, “I have never seen text messages on my screen covered by what looks like static on a TV back in the days of over the air broadcasting. Yes, I am older than I want to be. I did not have to wonder about the odd looking display for long because my phone helpfully decided that it needed to restart itself. Which was fine with me. Until most of the way through the process it decided that it needed to restart itself again. Something that it would probably still be doing right now if I were to charge the battery again.

I was suddenly cut off from the world. But for email, I was about to disprove that old chestnut that “no man is an island”. Because I was an island, of the kind Gilligan and the other occupants of the ill-fated S.S. Minnow inhabited on television. The kind which prohibited contact with the outside world. Fortunately I had a car so I could go home to investigate my options.

Just saying “oh well, it was fun while it lasted” was not considered for even the tiny increment of time that scientists fantacize about because it is too small to be measured by current technology. I was suddenly rushed back to those days when I was quitting cigarettes. If any of you have ever experienced this you will understand. It was unmitigated withdrawal.

Is there anything worse than having to replace a cell phone? It is probably like the process of trading a horse in for a Model T. The only things different are . . . everything. And then comes the fun of actually trying to buy one. We went to a Costco on Sunday and were met by the incredibly helpful Poor Ben. I call him Poor Ben because he spent the next hour and a half trying to work around the fact that my cell provider (yes Verizon, that would be you) was so concerned about my security that it would accept no substitutes for sending me a text message with a security code. Yes, to the phone that would not get far enough through the startup phase so that I could actually read it.

Poor Ben was at the end of his shift when we hit upon the solution – for me to go home, take the SIM card out of the dead phone I had not bothered to bring along, re-activate the 10 year old Motorola (apparently made of cast-iron everywhere but the fragile and badly cracked screen) in order to get my text messages and return the following day for a renewed assault on Fort Verizon.

Poor Ben got things handled the next day (along with a new phone for Marianne, well, because, well . . . because). Which got us up and activated in time for that delightful “Cell Phone Date Night” that a couple in love can spend by asking each other things like “Did the XYZ app download for you? I can’t find it.” and “Did you give Google permission to come into our house next Thursday to join us for dinner?” For those who do not go on Cell Phone Date Nights, you are really missing out on a great experience in which the love for one and other builds until you are snapping at each other out of fatigue and exasperation.

I once had a friend tell me that he hates having to replace an appliance because after spending all of that money, all you have is exactly what you had before. Replacing a cell phone is close to that experience. Oh sure, it may do a couple of things better (like 5G) but for the most part the goal is to get back to where I was last Saturday morning.

Fortunately, we can claim Success! Now all we have to do is find a couple of cases (and hope they arrive before one of us drops a way-too-expensive phone on the driveway. And some chargers. And some more chargers because all of the ones we have accumulated over the years and that are strategically placed all around our house no longer fit our new phones. But that is a First World Problem for another time.

Free image from istock

20 thoughts on “First World Problems – CPSDS (Cell Phone Sudden Death Syndrome)

  1. Like so many others, I carry a cell phone. That said, it is a work phone. I still have no personal cell phone. Nor does my wife…sort of. She has a Trac phone that is rarely, if ever, powered up. She only powers it up when she truly needs it.


    I can kill a cell phone in 12 to 18 months. It’s not an age-related death like yours was, but more a fusion of its innards. Typical problems have been copious heat, rapid battery drainage, unresponsiveness, and simple sudden death. I’ve killed flip phones, Blackberries, and many iPhones.

    So your Cell Phone Date Night is my Cuss At The Phone Afternoon. With the last phone swap in September, I dropped a few apps; however, a few others appeared. Genius Scan is my new favorite.

    When I had surgery back in October, I shut the phone off for three to four weeks as I was also off work. It was glorious.


    • You can’t be truly American until you regularly call your spouse who is elsewhere in the house. 🙂

      My cell phone is useful for work, but most of my use is personal – so the joy from turning it off is probably of a lesser quality from that which you experienced.


  2. My dad’s 1991 Volvo 940SE had a cell phone wired into the car, it was mounted on the right side of the center stack, and had the little zigzag antenna on the rear window. My first ever cell phone call was in that car as we drove it home after Mike Lundahl completing delivery at Lundahl Volvo. Was also the first car we had with a 6-disc CD changer, and the first car over thirty grand. His previous car, a red ’88 740 Turbo, was around 25 grand as I recall. I still have the owners’ manual and packet and window sticker for the 940, it was something like 32,500-this was in Autumn 1990. Later on that was my first car, drove it until January 2004 and sold it to a friend of my dad’s in August 2004.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A former law partner had a phone wired into his wife’s car. It was just what she wanted so she never replaced it. The provider eventually notified them that due to changes in their network it would stop being usable after a certain date, so they eventually took it out.


  3. Yes, I think we can certainly add cell phones to the addictions list. Have you ever noticed those couples in a restaurant that are both so engrossed in what’s on their phones that they don’t even speak to each other? And my adult kids would feel as though a limb was amputated if they didn’t have their phone within reach at all times.

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  4. There’s so much of this I find amusing. First, my father had a bag phone that he took into restaurants – because he was hugely important. Actually, he wasn’t. He was a maintenance and construction manager for a series of buildings, but he took his job very seriously and liked to monitor the walkie-talkie chatter of the security and maintenance crews – the bag phone picked up radio frequencies, so he could tune in. No such thing as a quiet meal with the Forman family, since at any time dinner would be interrupted by something like “Door 5b propped open; I closed it; will monitor tonight.” Very charming.

    Margaret’s Thunderbird still has the cellphone antenna from when she had a car phone in the 1990s. We no longer have the actual curly antenna on it, but the base is still there. It’s from Ameritech… I wonder what ever happened to them?

    My own cell phone history is rather short. Until fairly recently, I had a flip phone that I never, ever turned on. Margaret kept it charged for me, you know, for emergencies. And I was thankful for that once, when my Crown Victoria had a ruptured gas line, and I was left stranded. Thanks to Margaret I could call for a tow truck. But two years ago I got a real smartphone. And while I swore I wouldn’t use it a lot, I quickly became as addicted as most people. Oh well, I held out pretty long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My father actually had one of the old fashioned radio-based telephones wired into his car in the very early 70s. When I was maybe 12 I ran his battery down by sitting in the car listening to other people’s conversations. At least it never came in to dinner.

      I commend you for holding off as long as you did!


      • Nearly all of us are addicts now. I’ve found that I’m using my phone to keep track of my mileage while I walk around the house. Most of the time, it seems fairly accurate, though I was somewhat suspicious yesterday morning when it told me I’d walked .59 miles—and I had yet to get out of bed.

        My favorite line was your explanation of your wife’s getting a new phone at the same time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love the concept of tracking mileage by walking around the house. Knowing nothing else about it, it sounds like an impressively sized home. 🙂

        And yes on Marianne’s phone. I remember when we stopped doing “get the good phone and get a basic one for free” in favor of two good phones in the same way I remember when my kids stopped ordering from the childrens menu at restaurants. Everything gets better, just more expensive.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That was amusing JP. Your Poor Ben was Smart Ben and very patient. My experience last fall with upgrading my seldom used but quit anyway cell phone to a newer model with Telus was great until they received my payment, but when I returned for the free 1 hour tutorial they were not so patient, more like annoyed at this old dinosaur who could not figure out the apps/google/how to upload photos etc. Plus the new model is considerably larger and doesn’t fit into pockets. I could just as well live without it, but that is impractical these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You hit on the other great cellphone conspiracy-no matter how similar a new phone is to an old one, would WILL be buying a new case for it. I don’t think there have ever been two phone models that share a case size.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Gee, I am glad I am sticking with my flip phone for now. I will venture into a smartphone when I’m retired and no longer need a landline. My flip phone only comes out once a month for me to call the landline and discharge the battery, then recharge it … so there’s a problem … who will I place a call to when I need to discharge the battery (and use up some minutes so that I can roll over 500 when I buy the annual reload). Decisions, decisions. I remember those bag phones. An attorney who liked to golf got one so he could take calls on the golf course plus he, like you, often was on the road enroute to a dep or some small hearing – might as well be productive. He brought his new contraption into work and we all stood around watching him demonstrate it with wide-eyed wonder, not unlike Alexander Graham Bell’s colleagues might have done back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like to run things into the ground before I replace them JP, but it never occurred to me part of my reasoning might be because of the long and involved re-purchasing process. My last car trade-in/purchase took me seven hours on a Saturday… at the same dealership where I bought my last car and do all my service. My last phone purchase took at least two hours, even though I walked into the store knowing exactly what make and model I wanted. It really is amazing how long these things can take. If a given vendor could guarantee in-and-out in fifteen minutes they might actually drum up more business on that alone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I know. My last vehicle purchase lasted about three or four days. But then again, I don’t so much mind the negotiation – that’s what I do for a living. The worst part is the learning curve of the new one, which is where a car has it all over a phone. Then again, I have not had to deal with modern automotive infotainment systems, so maybe the learning curve is steeper than my last time out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Infotainment systems” – yes. I bought the exact same car fourteen years later and had to learn everything I thought I knew about it all over again. I’m sure there are features/functions I’m STILL not aware of, but maybe that means I don’t need them anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

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