Archive for Thursday, July 19, 2007

With mobile phone evolution, single-cell will do

July 19, 2007

I got a new cell phone last week. It's my fourth. The old reliable that I've carried around the past two-plus years went into a drawer with the two I used before it, an impromptu museum to a decade of cell phone evolution slowing learning to stand upright.

Like its predecessors, the new cell phone is not a buy up but a basic that came free for the service. But it's noticeably advanced.

But all this engineering is lost on me. It's often said we only use 10 percent of our brains (although I've heard some scientists dispute that as a myth), but the truth is I use about 1 percent of my cell phone.

I've never sent a text message, wouldn't have a clue how to connect to the Internet with the phone or why I'd want to and downloading music seems absurd when I don't listen to music on the radio.

No, what I want is a reliable mobile telephone. That I can have that seems pretty miraculous given that I was raised in a community with crank desk telephones that connected to the local telephone office and was so immobile it stayed with the house when people moved. Our number was 55, which was assigned to that particular phone and also immobile.

The phone sat on a desk in the corner of the living room, attached to the one and only phone jack in the house. It didn't alert us to calls with Christmas carols, university fight songs or alarms of ever-increasing urgency, but with a deep, business-like ring.

I know this really dates me, but it really wasn't so long ago. That antiquated system served the town of Woodbine until dial phones finally appeared in the late 1960s. When change came it was a brush fire with the circular dial phones that replaced the crank ones made obsolete by push button dials in less than five years.

But in my teen years whenever I made a call, someone at the brick telephone office had to pick up the 55 plug and place it in a socket. Because every call meant you were bothering someone, they weren't made casually. That was particularly true after Hazel, who ran the telephone office out of the front room of a brick storefront home, went to bed at about 8 p.m.

This early conditioning has stayed with me. I don't make a lot of calls and really view my cell phone as something that would be very handy in an emergency. I don't want to walk around with a phone at my ear, yakking away in stores, restaurants and other public places. And I certainly don't want all its other bells and whistles. I don't want a bad camera to take forgettable images that others have no interest in seeing or play games on a screen hardly bigger than the face of my watch.

I want a phone that is reliable with a battery that won't run down after two calls.

Yes, I like the memory feature that allows me one-touch dialing without having to recall 10 digits in the right sequence. But so what? The old crank phone had a memory feature, too. If you couldn't remember the one- or two-digit number you wanted more often than not a name would do for Hazel or one of her part-timers (One of my best friend's older sisters worked evenings at the office, and I remember of interest other than the antique exchange was the collection of Indian arrowheads Hazel's husband had on display under glass in that front room). They duplicated another function of modern phones, too, by alerting you to an important call from out of town you may have missed when out of the house.

Of course the other side of that was everyone was concerned about what the busy bodies at the telephone office might be listening in on. That concern seems quaint in an age when it is hard to avoid hearing at least one side of a phone conversation in any public arena.

Regardless of the annoyance of cell phones in the hands of others that don't have the grace to leave them 99 percent untapped, I'm glad we have them. It's just that I'd be happy to stop where we're at and not add to the progress of my drawer museum to the point I'm replacing implants once a year.

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