13 May, 2009

Gadget-pox, 2009 version

Back in 2006, I wrote a very insightful, prescient, and enlightened essay regarding our culture's obsession with gadgets. The proof of its insight, prescience, and enlightenment lies in the fact that it was published on this weblog and that I had to issue a correction shortly thereafter.

I want to build on the following excerpt:

Cell phones, above all. I don't understand why anyone would want to be reached at any location, at any inconvenient time, by any fool to whom they have given their phone number. I can barely put up with people interrupting my thoughts on my land line. I don't have time enough as it is; why on earth would I want to waste it on a phone conversation? If it's that important, come visit me and talk. I'd much rather have your company anyway. If you don't want to share my company, then why are you pestering me on the phone? Write an email, which is far less intrusive — or better yet, take the time to write a letter on paper. That's a lost art, and we're much the poorer for it.
Well, I finally broke down and bought a cell phone a couple of weeks ago. My son makes a convenient target, so I'll blame him: his increased activity in sports and academics means I have to drive him hither, thither, and yon for various events, and if something goes wrong there aren't as many pay phones hanging about as there once were.

An aside. When I was a teenager behind the counter at Hardee's, people would come in, ask for the pay phone, and I could tell them. These days I walk into Hardee's, ask for the pay phone, and the teenager behind the counter looks at me as if I'm from another planet. I remember once meeting a teenager behind the counter who did, in fact, know what a pay phone was, but had no idea where I could find one that actually worked. I started to tell her about how common they were when I was her age, then stopped her when realized how I was boring her. I'd like to say that it was only twenty years ago, but for a teenager today that's a lifetime. God, I feel old—and I like it!

Back to the point. Since I'm blaming my son, I might as well point out that his enthusiasm for cell phones remains undimmed by my disdain for the same. Whenever the thought creeps into his 12 year-old brain, he searches out the phone, turns it on, plays with it—he already figured out how to record his voice as a ringtone, although it doesn't actually ring with that tone, which makes me wonder why the manual calls it a ringtone—then puts it back. Unfortunately, he forgets to turn it off.

I don't mind his playing with the phone so much as I mind his forgetting to turn it off. Consider the following not-so-hypothetical scenario. Some pimple-faced 13 year-old feels the urge to call his pimple-faced, silicone-enhanced fantasy at a time and place when her parents can't supervise the conversation, so that he can pour out in words—or, uhm, something—the roiling in his breast that he mistakes for love. Thus, at 11 pm, he dials her cell phone number. Trouble is—he misdials it, and my phone rings instead. First I have to interrupt my conversation; then I have to find the damn thing.

Hello? I grumble as unpleasantly as possible into the phone.

No answer. There are some sounds on the other end of the line, but I can't decide whether it's a bad connection or a soon-to-backfire prank phone call. (Oh, I'll have some fun, you just wait.)

Hello? I repeat. Still no answer.

I was about to close the phone, but tried one last time. My mom would surely kill me if I hung up on her. Hello? I ask with discernible irritation.

This time, a reply. Uhm… is Amber there?

It's a young teenaged boy, his voice not even cracked yet. At 11pm!

There's no Amber here,, I answer. You must have the wrong number.

Oh, he says, and without so much as an apology hangs up before I can ask him with even more irritation, What time is it where you are?

Now, on the one hand, it's a prepaid phone, so I just spent ten cents ruining a teenager's evening. Ten cents! Not bad for a night's entertainment.

On the other hand, the annoyance of interrupting the rather pleasant conversation I was having with my wife—why yes, my teen-aged friends, married people do enjoy talking to each other—and yes, it's usually about how better to frustrate, embarass, and otherwise ruin teenagers' lives, especially their own—so it wasn't really worth the money. So I will revise my quote above:
I don't understand why anyone would want to be reached at any location, at any inconvenient time, by any fool to whom they have given their phone number, and to many fools to whom they haven't given their phone number.

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