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Doug Wrenn

Sometimes A Cell Phone Is Not Just A Cell Phone
By Doug Wrenn
Jun 30, 2010 - 8:03:15 AM

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Noted shrink, Dr. Sigmund Freud once allegedly quipped, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." A sage observation, indeed, but had cell phones existed in Freud's day, I doubt he would say the same of these profoundly diverse, yet bizarre little electronic gems of wizardry.
 
To speak intelligently of any subject, one should first try to define it. As an aficionado himself, I doubt Dr. Freud had much confusion over what a cigar was, but as an inhabitant of a far more modern and allegedly more sophisticated era, impeded by still having one foot and four toes firmly implanted in the stone age, I just can't quite get my head around this whole cell phone phenomenon. For starters, are they tools, toys, or some kind of enigma?
 
Recently, on the last work night of the month, in a tired and exasperated state, I could not get my mileage log to total up correctly after several attempts. To make matters worse, I didn't have a calculator handy. Using my work cell phone, I called my boss (a "techie"), who, without missing a breath, told me to use my cell phone's calculator. "Huh?" Yesterday, while lunching with friends in a restaurant, I had no sooner put my shoes back on after counting on all my fingers and toes to square the bill when I noticed my buddy's wife using her cell phone. I thought she was making a call until she announced that she had just figured the correct tip percentage from her tip calculator. (My fingers and toes were still faster!) This of course took place long after several cell phones were passed around the table as everyone but my buddy (another cynical stone age sycophant) and yours truly, shared stored photos in the cameras of their cell phones. At about this point, my cynical stone age buddy wryly quipped that when he sought to buy a cell phone, that was all he intended to purchase, as I chuckled and nodded in agreement.
 
This is actually the second cell phone I have owned. The first one used to constantly ring with not only wrong numbers, but wrong texts. Not only did I not know who these people were, I had no idea how to even text back and tell them they texted the wrong person. When I purchased this phone, I noted that it was marked at $19.99. The next one in price, which looked identical other than color, was $59.99, and the prices went well into the three digit range from there. I pointed to the first two models and asked the clerk what the difference was. She explained that beginning with the $59.99 model and up, all those phones contained cameras. I then instantly knew which model to buy, and voila! I have not received an erroneous text yet. Much like ignorance, frugality can also often times mean bliss!
 
My honey (another "techie") recently noted that she almost texted me, but then realized what she was doing and stopped herself, knowing me and my limited "techieness" as well as she does. She insisted my cell phone can receive texts anyway. I don't know if it can or not. What I do know is that I haven't received any yet, and even if I did, I still would have no clue as to how to respond. A female friend (and yet another "techie") recently opined at work that my personal cell phone has a girlie ring to it and insisted that I allow her to reprogram it. I chuckled, gently tossed it to her and told her to have at it. Some time later, when this lass's fair complected face was fire engine red, she finally threw it back to me, and not at all as gently. At $19.99, needless to say, this manly man's phone still has the same one girlie ring, and that's just "dandy" with him!
 
As I questioned my buddy's wife yesterday at lunch regarding the tip calculator, she told me to look in my tool box. Well, Bob Villa I'm not, plus that's home, and it only contains five tools, and three of them are hammers. She then elaborated that she meant the "tools" section in my cell phone. Ah! Then, after her direction, I finally found the wonderful world of electronic gadgetry for the first time. (It is probably noteworthy that I have now owned this cell phone for exactly one year this month!) In my (cell phone) "tool box," I found "Bluetooth," (which I'll thankfully never have because I have excellent dental coverage through my employer), "Today," "scheduler," "task list," "Countdown," memo pad, "world time" (Who really cares?), "update phone" (not if it's going to cost me more than $19.99), alarm clock (I require at least three!), and yes, my boss was right, "calculator." I never did find a tip calculator, but as long as I know how to tie and untie my shoes that isn't too much of a hurdle for me, and no, as I am proud to admit, no camera exists in there, either. As for the other functions that don't sound like programs on NBC‘s television networks, don't they still normally come in some type of paper form?
 
I caught stand-up comedian Lewis Black's recent tour on TV last night. During one of his few calm moments, he held up his cell phone and noted that this little wireless thing in his hand is actually a tiny computer, and will allow him to call just about anywhere in the world at just about any time from almost anywhere. He's right, but with technical advances also come increased problems. As law makers and law enforcers continually write and enforce new laws against driver distractions against simultaneous cell phone calling or texting, how does the poor, ever challenged cop on the beat really know just exactly what the driver in alleged violation is truly doing with that little computer? In my limited little 20 dollar "tool box" alone, a driver could be doing any number of tasks while not even communicating with anybody. How many more laws (and tickets) are we going to write?
 
What really makes a cell phone so special? I am one of those remaining dinosaurs who still also has a home phone, and for all the extra and supposedly special features Ma Bell bangs me for on my astronomical bill every month, all the stupid thing can still do is just make and receive calls. Why doesn't my home phone have a "tool box"? Not that I suddenly feel the need for a camera, but you never know when an extra hammer could come in handy!
 
For that matter, who made the rule that a cell phone needs to contain all the extra wiz bangs and gizmos? And if cameras can't make phone calls, why then do cell phones have to take pictures? And why stop at cell phones? As long as we're consolidating appliances, I would just love an HD flat screen TV (which I don't even currently own) that can also do my laundry and fetch and pour me a delectably cold and frosty adult beverage from the frig while I contently settle into my recliner, watch CSPAN and holler like a deranged fool at the TV, but of course, only if the spin cycle doesn't interfere with the reception or spill my beer!
 
During that same lunch meeting yesterday, we reminisced about previously owned vehicles, and I mentioned my first car, passed down to me from my Dad (may God bless his soul), a very austere '72 Ford Torino, with no power steering or brakes, a six cylinder engine, mats instead of carpeting, no air conditioning, a standard shift "three on the tree" transmission, and the car's only luxury, much to my Dad's frugal chagrin, an AM (only) radio. I remember when Dad first bought the car. He had to do some stubborn negotiating and by time the deal was closed, it was the salesman who had most of the chagrin! My Dad believed and preached that a car was for transportation, period. Oddly enough, he actually did own a cell phone in his final and physically failing days, but only for in case of emergency, and even then, he never used it. I don't think he even knew his own phone number. And while my Dad had workshops chock full of tools in both the cellar and the garage, somehow I doubt he had one in his cell phone, nor hardly the need for one for that matter, either.
 
Now the little "computers' Lewis Black spoke of are fruit flavored. There are blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and just about everything but mango and watermelon. The covers no longer flip open; now they smoothly slide, exposing a vast array of more buttons in front of you then what you would see in a prosperous high end tailor shop. And I bet not a single one of those buttons will still do your laundry, let alone precisely and neatly pour your beer with a perfect head, an art form even I have yet failed to perfect!
 
As my cynical stone age buddy retorted to me yesterday, and to which I agreed, "There just aren't that many people I really want to talk to!" Truth be known, I think such is quite the same for many other folks, too, and for that matter, who really even has the time nowadays? So why are we forced to buy all this additional crap we don't need or want in a device desired only for making and receiving phone calls, and not even many of them at that? And why do we need all these added features to supposedly enhance our phone conversations? I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I don't need or want "enhancements" to my conversations. I just don't typically say anything all that complicated, nor do I particularly want to hear anything that may require such deep and intense thought that I might bust a spring in my already overstressed head that actually has more limitations than my 20 dollar cell phone.
 
Whatever cell phones were meant to be, have become, or are destined to be in the future, at the end of the day, I think we have all grossly over thought what we perceive they should be, and/or what we expect of them, kind of like fixing what‘s not broken or reinventing the wheel. I then question why, and what that says of us, but Dr. Freud also had a lesser known quote that succinctly resolved that conundrum, "A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist."
 
Right on, Siggy.

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