Remember when Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine ran the entire phone company single-handedly? From her little PBX switchboard she efficiently dispatched installers and repairmen while simultaneously providing harried customer service, challenging delinquent bill payers and dispensing unsolicited advice to business and world leaders. I actually worked for the phone company in those days and understood her loyalty and determination, not to mention her romantic crush on Vito, her favourite repairman. Back then, I too had a favourite repairman. In fact, I married him. But that’s another story.
Then, along came new technology, a.k.a. cell phones. I’m not a complete Luddite; I bought one of the early ones—the size of a brick—in the nineties. Over the years I’ve tried to keep up as new ones came along but I’m rapidly losing ground. In fact, I’m ready to revert, and I don’t think I’m alone. It requires far too much time and effort (not to mention money) to keep on top of all the newest features and apps, and still have time to pluck my chin hairs.
Jake Howell of The Globe and Mail is on my side. His recent article Dumb, but happy perfectly summed up my position when he confessed to giving up his iPhone 5C in favour of one of the old no-frills, basic phones. When he found his addictive use of the smart phone “akin to a glorified fidget spinner”, he went cool turkey—not completely cold, but severely curtailed. When Candice Bergen produced a ‘flip phone’ on the first episode of the new Murphy Brown recently, it was the source of much laughter and derision, but Jake (I presume) and I empathized. We know a good thing when we see it.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids in school or a cheating husband whose emails and browsing history I need to monitor, but give me that old-time phone service any day. I’ve gone entire weeks without using my cell phone and the sky didn’t fall in. I never have to worry about exceeding my data plan. I’m baffled when I see groups of people sitting together having lunch or dinner and everyone’s looking down thumbing their phones. Young people are going to entirely miss out on the art and joy of unencumbered personal conversation.
I’ve had a smart phone for awhile now but I’m seriously thinking about tossing it and digging out my simple old flip-phone that I bought at Walmart for $14.99 back in the aughts. I’m never sure if my so-called smartphone is on or off and just last week I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off in the dark at the movie theatre. Maybe it wasn’t even on; I can never tell. And, I can never figure out how to access WiFi in public places (my problem, not the phone’s). I haven’t set up the voice mail because the phone’s never turned on and frankly I don’t know how. I keep the phone only for emergencies. Imagine that! My monthly cell phone bill from CARP (Canadian Association for Retired People) costs me a whopping $18.31 including taxes.
Many people have ditched their land lines in favour of cell service only. That’s fine if you want to carry it around in your hip pocket 24/7 (which it seems most people actually prefer), take it to bed with you, into the shower, into the hospital labour room and while having sex. I just don’t get it.
I expect smart phones will soon be implanted as a microchip into our wrists. Until then, if you need to reach me, you’ll probably get no answer. Whether or not I respond immediately is not crucial to world survival. I’m probably on my lunch break splitting a six-pack with Ernestine. And if this is the party to whom I am speaking, then I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready, after our break.