Monday, May 29, 2006

Just A Phone, Dammit

I have a cell phone. I use it to make and receive phone calls. I don’t take pictures with it, I don’t play games on it, I don’t send text messages, I don’t read e-mails, or play music on it. When it rings, it rings; it doesn’t play the fourth movement of Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9 (“From the New World”) or It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp. I don’t talk on it when I’m driving (which apparently makes me unique in Miami), I try to avoid taking calls in the presence of others, and I am proud to say that I have never text-messaged anyone: that’s what a computer is for.

You would be amazed at how hard it was to convince the people at the cell phone store to get me a plain phone. Last November when I traded in my three-year-old Kyocera (an antique in cell phone terms), I looked all over the store for, as I told the salesman, a phone that just makes and receives calls and nothing else. You could practically hear his crest falling. He finally found a little Samsung model that had what I wanted — nothing — and when I told him to disable the text messaging reception, it looked like I told him that his dog had died.

Apparently I’m not the only one who is frustrated by overwhelming technology. I think anything that requires a class to learn how to use a “convenience” (i.e. a BlackBerry) kind of defeats the definition of “convenience.”

I’m not a Luddite about things like that; it certainly makes life a little easier to be able to call someone when you’re lost on the way to their house. But with it comes an expectation that courtesy and privacy aren’t to be given up for the sake of convenience, and listening to someone nattering away loudly on their cell phone in the middle of a movie theatre is just plain rude.

I don’t think cell phones have actually contributed to the coarsening of our culture any more than TV has made us more violent — after all, they are just the media — but they have made it easier to forget that the best form of person-to-person communication is face-to-face.