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Called Into the 21st Century

You’d think I’d learn by now that my life has a theme, and the theme is: “Nothing’s ever easy”.

All I wanted to do was get cell phones for my daughters. The phones were for one purpose and one purpose only: so they – my daughters, not the phones, and that’s a relevant clarification these days – could talk.

I’m well aware that the human race has survived for many generations without being able to report road rage from the road, but my job as a parent is to be paranoid. The phones were not for fun and games, they were to be there for when the kids really needed them: To report a crime, or a flat tire, a passing moon. Maybe to call from the grocery store, to be reminded of whether we wanted cream cheese or cottage cheese. (It was cream.) I already had a cheap pay as you go cell phone, but that brings a whole new paranoia as the caller worries over how much time they have left. Also, the reception of that phone is roughly as good as the quality of Albion’s cable TV in 1975. (We didn’t have cable in ’75.)

So, I decided to gift my daughters with their very own cell phones, and put them on a family plan so they didn’t have to worry about a mechanical voice saying “You are out of time. Goodbye”. Since I already had a house phone and internet through Verizon, I figured it would take, what – 10 minutes? – to call them up and say, “Hook me up with some cell phones”.

Rule #1 of dealing with the phone company: Figure out how much time it should take, and multiply by ten.

“Welcome to Verizon. For English, press 1 –“ Beep.

“For residential service, press 1. For business, press 2. For internet, press 3. For –“ They got all the way through the list twice before I realized there was no “for cell phone” choice. It didn’t occur to me until later to listen for the company catchphrase “wireless”, so I dialed 39 to talk to a representative.

“Your call is important to us –“

Uh huh. I started doing chores around the house, one handed. I learned that more than half of Madonna’s songs have been turned into pleasant on-hold background music, along with everything ever done by Barry Manilow. Whenever a song came on that I actually liked, it was interrupted by exciting news about new Verizon services.

“This is Verizon customer service, my name is Singh, and how may I help you, Mr. Hunter?”

Oh my gosh – a real person. This was so exciting. (Later I realized I’d never had to tell him my name.) “I’d like to hook up cell phone service.” Having already done my research, I rattled off the plan and explained that I’d promised my daughters flip phones. I also thought flip phones were real neat, because of the whole Star Trek vibe, although of course they couldn’t do as many things as Star Trek’s communicators.

How little I knew.

“Of course, Mr. Hunter, and what kind of services would you like?”

“Services? Well, I’d like them to have numbers, and when people push the numbers, I’d like someone else to pick up their phone and say something, preferably hello.”

Singh seemed to think I was kidding, for some reason. “Yes, but – um, what extras would you like?”

Well, that was a head scratcher. “It would be great if, when people called you, the phone made a noise so you can tell you’re being called. Oh, and the vibrating feature would be neat, because I love to see people jump and yell when they’re trying to be quiet.”

“I see. And, would you like a full line of ring tones?”

“What, you mean like modern ring or old fashioned ring?”

“Oh, you can get songs, sound effects, famous voices, or even record your own.”

“Huh.” I thought about that, and came up with several possible problems. Your phone sings and you ignore it, thinking some jerk nearby has turned up his stereo. Or you could program it with “South Park” curse words, as if there wasn’t enough nastiness in the world. Or you could program it with the sound of sirens -- which most of the guys on my fire department have since done. It can be very confusing. So I asked the guy, “Can you program it to just say, ‘ring ring’?”

“I – I don’t know, I’ll have to check into that. Meanwhile, we could set you up with GPS tracking.”

“You mean, like always knowing where the phone is?”


My kids would hate that, I thought. “I’ll take it. What else?”

“Well, you can get internet on your phone.”

“Why would I want to do that? I’ve got internet at home.”

“But you could surf the net anytime, anywhere – no more boring waits.”

“I’ve got a low tech solution for that, it’s called a book – no battery required. Besides, giving people the internet on their cell phones guarantees you’ll have some moron surfing porn, weaving down the road at 70 miles per hour. No internet.”


“Nah. And no camera phones, my kids enjoy my embarrassing moments enough without sharing with their friends.”

“Um … the camera phone is standard.”

“You have to get a camera phone? Next you’ll be telling me they record movies and sound.”

“Oh, of course. Also, they have clocks, alarms, anti-theft devices; the newer models have a flashlight and a built in Taser for dangerous situations. They’re working on one now that can make coffee, and rumor has it the higher end model for 2009 will drive your car while you nap – or surf the net.”

“Is there anything these phones can’t do?”

“Well … they don’t pay for themselves …”

But that’s another story.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 17th, 2006 07:35 am (UTC)
OMG!! *hangs head in shame* I've got a flip phone because I thought it was a bit sci-fi... OK, I admit it - Star Trek-like. *cringes* Oh boy - am I a geek!! LOL!!

My kids both have phones - but we've upgraded ours and passed the old ones down to them. My youngest always wants the most up to date, and he was annoyed when his phone 'died', but ecstatic when Samsung replaced it with a really good upgrade! It does all kinds of funky things, and he really wanted a camera phone so he's happy. He's on the pay-as-you go though and regularly uses up credit texting his girlfriend on another network (text messages between the family are free!). *sighs* At least we can still call him... that is, if he remembers to take it with him!
Aug. 17th, 2006 10:22 am (UTC)
Hey, there's nothing wrong with being a Star Trek geek! In many ways, that's the fandom from which all other fandoms came.

One thing neither of my kids have done so far is forget to take their cell phones with them -- although I'm always forgetting to take mine! At this point I have a pager, two portable radios, the cell phone, and my digital camera that I try to take with me whenever I'm out. That's a LOT of hardware!
Aug. 17th, 2006 07:40 am (UTC)
Hee! That's such a 1999 conversation ;P

I had to replace my phone two months ago, after hurling the last one at the wall one time too many. I asked for the butchest model in the shop, and, after the bloke stopped looking at me funny, he gave me something with all the sturdy resilience of a rose petal. The angst of looking after this thing has convinced me that I do not want children.
Aug. 17th, 2006 10:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, taking care of a tiny, expensive phone actually would be good practice run for having kids. The phone even talks back to you sometimes.

I actually had a cell phone several years ago, but went through some financial difficulties and gave it up. (It was JUST a phone back then!) In a way this is starting all over again, which I suppose would make this very much a 1999 conversation.
Aug. 17th, 2006 10:47 am (UTC)
Admittedly, I'm an appalling geek, but I have just never gotten why the ringtone industry is larger than the music industry. Why on earth would anyone buy that crap when you can do it yourself? And if you can't, you're friends can probably do it for you.
Aug. 18th, 2006 03:53 am (UTC)
I never understood why anyone would want a special ringtone at all, until some of the firefighters recorded the sound of our rescue truck's "Q" siren for their phones. Firefighters being firefighters, now I get it.
Aug. 17th, 2006 11:24 am (UTC)
And this is why I have no cell phone :) Highly entertaining article :)
Aug. 18th, 2006 03:57 am (UTC)
Thanks! And pretty much true -- all I wanted was something simple! And inexpensive, but by the time they're done adding all the "necessaries", you're selling a kidney to pay for them.
Aug. 17th, 2006 05:45 pm (UTC)
I also thought flip phones were real neat, because of the whole Star Trek vibe, although of course they couldn’t do as many things as Star Trek’s communicators.

And that's the embarrassing reason why my next little treat for myself will be a flip phone. I've never really learnt to work my old one properly so why the hell I want a flip phone I have no idea, but I do! See the insidious power of technology.
Aug. 18th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC)
Both my daughters were the same way -- they desperately wanted flip phones, but neither one of them could really explain why. And, unlike me, they're not even Star Trek fans!
Aug. 17th, 2006 06:09 pm (UTC)
I feel your pain. I like nice basic mobile phones that I can make phone calls on, and get the occasional text , as a result I get treated with utter contempt by the spotty teens in the mobile phone shop * sighs*
Aug. 18th, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)
They don't understand. Why get sturdy and simple when you can get expensive and complicated?
Aug. 18th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
The sad news is, when I move next week, I may have to enlist in the cellphone hell....

being a military headcase, it occures to me, that cellphones are shit. Why build them NOT to withstand the temper of an adult male throwing the tiny thing across a room against a wall?

Why not make them to withstand a round placed from any form of 'small arms' fire?

And the Star Trek vibe FUCKING RULES! *Busts out TOS trek theme!*
So yeah, that being all said and done,
I would imagine that cell phone shops have to do something with all those turned in phones.... Why not rehash them for free, and just slap a plan to them. Since its the chips inside that do all the fraking work...

Whoops! Theres that common sense again.
If its any consolation, two years ago, I went to 'the mall' and talked to one of the gals there and I got the same spiel as you did, and creapily enough, the subject of surfing the net/ solution: Books came up, and I pointed at waldenbooks right behind her.
"Yeah, books, you know, those funny things that have paper in them, libraries have them in great numbers.... Books?

All I got was a stunned "no way."
After I determined that she was being serious, I learned that she came from an uber high tech area of california. They dont use books. Everything is electronic.
What the fuck.
Aug. 19th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)
It's a book. A book ... you know ... A BOOK.
Those "It's a book -- you read it" conversations make me nuts. If there's one sure sign that civilization's coming to an end, it's the lack of reading. Everytime someone complains of being bored I suggest reading a book, and every single time I get this look like I suggested they strip and take a public enema. Why do the schools teach kids to hate reading? Gah.

I suspect the reason they don't rehash old cell phones is that almost all the users constantly want the Next Big Thing, and would refuse to take a used cell phone. (Not *me*) I have one sitting around unused here, because of a service I had several years ago. I'm planning to give it to the local women's shelter, which passes them out to people who can call 911 on them, and that's pretty much the only thing they're good for. Still more waste in our society.

Ah, well. at least we have Star Trek. I think I'm going to go put on a soundtrack ...
Aug. 19th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
Books, society, and the decline thereof
Theres plenty of signs that things are slowly, well ok, lets be realistic, things are going right down the drain faster and faster. Like water in a drain. Or a tiolet bowl.

Its the pure lack of ethics, morals, and the human interconnection of face to face.
The net has descimated the human mind when it comes to true thought, as well as helped stagnate the genepool of thoughts, ideas and new possibilities.
(Not to sound all fogeyish.)

Honestly, I cannot say I am suprised by the 'big waste' of comercial bussinesses. They dont give a shit about what they put out, as long as there is something 'shinier' to go and replace it. I guess thats why I started collecting older shit, like old model kits that ive put together dozens of times in the past, as well as old toys.
Of course, my current obsession... Ok, desire and appetite for firearms, and all forms of weapontry. lol.

Ive heard repeatedly that the cell phone places recieve dozens of 'old' phones, which are only like a year or two old, just because its a year or two old.
Frankly, Id be happy to get a phone that was at least clean, and I could call up people on. I couldnt give a shit if I took pictures with it, surfed the net, listened to music, movies or watched TV on it.
Fuck that shit.

Its bad enough that phones are automatically GPS locators, and can be tracked, bugged, and traced within 20 seconds of use. Give me a solid land line any day of the week, and Im good, but with my soon to be lifestyle, I doubt that would be a good thing. So hence the phone.
If you happen to hear about someone giving away a phone, and it happens to be a flipper, Give a shout. Because I am enough of a geek to admit the star trek appeal is great.
Youd think there would be a sound effect you could DL to one such phone, that actually chirps like the old trek communicators.

Aug. 19th, 2006 03:19 am (UTC)
Re: Books, society, and the decline thereof
I heard that the military once, many years ago, checked into using the communicator chirping noise for their own alert systems, because it seemed to be so attention grabbing. It might be just a Star Trek fanboy story, but it's interesting.

You're right, though, I'm happy with a phone that just gets reception. I like to be able to keep in touch with my kids or respond to emergencies, but otherwise I don't give much of a shake about all the other stuff.

I'm not convinced the net has done away with true thought -- although knowing what IS true on the net is a huge problem -- but it's certainly lessened our ability to actually know other human beings. I know people in other countries better than I know my neighbors. It's good to be exposed to other cultures, but the flip side is very sad.
Aug. 18th, 2006 11:42 pm (UTC)
Once upon a time, long ago, I read a short sciFi story. Unfortunately, I don't remember the author but the story has stayed with me.

The upshot was that a scientist created a computer small enough to be worn like a wristwatch and people could access a great informational cyberspace (this was probably written in the 60's or 70's-maybe later), and they caught on like wildfire, despite warnings by a stodgy few.

More and more options were added on until the computers grew huge, but people were still wearing them--like monstrous backpacks--and they went everywhere bowed and crippled from the weight, and yet strangely frenetic and unable to rest.

One of the holdouts grew suspicious and began to investigate. You got it! The computers had become self-aware and taken over. Actually grown wires into people's nervous systems and brains, and they were zapping and fryiing their slaves, making them very twitchy.

Now, of course, I can see how ridiculous that author was. The computers have gotten much smaller instead of larger, and they are completely wireless.
Aug. 19th, 2006 01:24 am (UTC)
Heh -- but they're *still* taking over ...
Aug. 19th, 2006 12:19 am (UTC)
That's very funny! (Just because it's so true.) As a bona fide Star Trek geek, I was ecstatic the first time I saw a flip phone. I wanted to run through the house saying "told you so, told you so!". I think I refrained....
Aug. 19th, 2006 01:25 am (UTC)
As I recall, I DIDN'T refrain. Of course, I actually had a Star Trek shirt when I was about ten (blue -- I was a Spocky).
Sep. 4th, 2006 11:38 pm (UTC)
I remember the first time I sat down at a conference table with one of those phones that sits in the middle of the table so everyone can shout into the speakers and not be heard properly. One of the bosses asked, "Why does that look like something I saw in a Star Trek episode?"

Someone responded, "Because it was designed by a Trekkie."
Sep. 5th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)
Trekkie's control the world. Do you know a computer geek over the age of 25 who wasn't a Trekkie at some point in his life? I rest my case.
Sep. 4th, 2006 11:36 pm (UTC)
I feel your pain. The kids have had their own phones for some time, but we want to switch companies because #1 is on the east coast and a) our company gives crappy reception where she is, and b) they have a crappy plan for nationwide long-distance.

We cannot switch, however, until our contract runs out, unless we want to pay $600 in cancellation fees. We did manage to rearrange the fees so that we aren't paying huge fees every time #1 calls someone, though. That only took 8 or 9 phone calls. #1 was about as grateful as you would expect from a teen when I told her she'd have to wait until Christmas to get a new phone that she could actually use from her dorm room.

Add to this that I cannot negotiate with these insane people unless my husband, whose name is on the contract, authorizes me to do so every single time they transfer me to another department. So I can't even try to work out the issues unless he's home. He's just terminally bewildered now, but they keep calling him up and asking him if he wants this or that. I've just told him that no matter what, he can't sign anything, or we'll be stuck with these vultures for another 18 months instead of being able to transfer to another set of vultures. (And this time, I'm getting my name on the contract.)
Sep. 5th, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)
Now I'm feeling *your* pain, having gone through much similar abuse. I originally had a pay as you go Virgin phone, but the reception is lousy; my future son-in-law also had lousy reception on his phone, so when I went to Verizon he paid the cancellation fee and got a phone on my account. So now there are three phones on my account, none of them mine -- and any time anyone has to call about anything, I have to authorize it.

On a related note, my daughter had Verizon DSL for a year, but never could get some kind of authorization software to work on it. She paid for an entire year, mind you, but suddenly got shut off because she'd never jumped through their hoops, and all they could say was they didn't know why it wouldn't work. Then, when she made a last ditch attempt to get reconnected, they said they had no record of her ever having had service! This despite 12 months of on-time payments.

And they wonder why everyone complains about customer service.
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