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 photo.com