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.