Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cell Phones

Worst idea ever. I hate cell phones. They are terrible little things. Capable of so much good…and yet they do so much evil…

A couple years ago I got bit by the cell phone bug. All I could think about was getting a cell phone and being able to talk to anybody I wanted, whenever I wanted. I imagined myself walking down the street in my khakis and Birkenstocks, talking to beautiful woman after beautiful woman. At dances and parties, I wouldn’t need to carry around my little black book to take down numbers—I could just whip out my cell phone, impress the lady with my technological prowess, and record the number digitally. The cell phone, I thought, was my key to popularity and coolness.

You see, that’s how both cell phone companies and beer makers get you to try their product. They advertise these beautiful people at the beach, having a party. Everybody has a beautiful counterpart, and all is right in the universe.

But it’s all a lie.

I ended up purchasing a really snazzy phone and a one-year contract from a large provider, who is now defunct—gone the way of the merger. I couldn’t settle with a normal phone, so I ended up getting a flip-phone, with a camera. Or, if you prefer, a flip-camera-phone. I opened up the packaging and the smell of new electronics took away my guilt at having spent $150 on something so trivial. This was my key to success. With trepidation, I charged the phone, and patiently waited to try the phone out. Oh, how the excitement flowed through my veins! I was giddy with joy.

An hour or so later, I returned to find my phone ready. I flipped it on, and waited…

The screen came on to a beautiful picture of the beach. Oh, the beach! This is where I belong! I waited for the bars to appear on the side. “More bars everywhere” or some other slogan ran through my head.

I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

Wait a minute. Why isn’t this working?

Wait a second. I’m in the basement…do you think?

I ran upstairs. No luck.

I ran to the third floor, barged into my sister’s room, stood on a chair and held the cell phone up as high as I could. Like Arthur of old, I held my Excalibur above my head, triumphantly. In a moment or two…my arm got tired.

But I kept holding up my Excalibur, waiting for the clouds to break and the light to stream down on my head, endowing me with enormous powers of communication and coolness. I could hear the soundtrack in the background, building, in a crescendo, almost exploding with power until…

It happened!

ONE BAR!

The familiar beep let me know that my phone had service. I saw the bar on the side, and my heart swelled with pride. “Today,” I said to myself, “I am cool.”

My little sister walked into the room and stared at me. She’s used to strange occurrences—being the sixth of eight children, and sandwiched in between four boys, she’s come to expect the unexpected. Still, though, she was confused. “What are you doing?”

“Ummm…hey look, I have a camera on this phone!”

“Great.”

With that she went back to studying.

After a few days I came to realize my phone would only work in two spots in the house. I had to be standing in those exact spots, with the phone at the exact altitude, for any signal to arrive. Now why exactly are cell phones cool?

A few days later, I returned to college where the reception was a little better. That was comforting, at least, and I felt cool with my nifty new gadget. Unfortunately, I came to realize the fleeting promise of cell phones.

You can get a cell phone, which will allow you to communicate anytime, anywhere, but cell phones don’t come with people who will call you. Or, better put, cell phones don’t come with friends.

So I started counting the days between phone calls. Sometimes a week would pass. Gradually I realized, “hey, I’m getting ripped off.” I got the same amount of phone calls as before, which is essentially zero. Except now I could answer those anywhere I wanted. Cool. If you boiled it down, I was paying a very high price (the first six months equaled out to about $65/month, which was probably 70 cents a minute, given my level of calling) for my dream. I could’ve gotten a phone card and called at pay phones for much less money.

But alas, I was stuck. Whereas alcohol, tobacco, and drugs all have the chance of addiction to keep their victims stuck after they realize the falsehoods they’ve been told, cell phone companies keep you addicted by extorting you into hellish contracts.

Well, I managed to get by with this for a few months without going bankrupt. No, I never did meet any beautiful woman because of my cell phone, and very few people actually took to noticing it. My biggest bout of notoriety dealt with a ring tone I downloaded, which ended up costing like ten bucks. But at least I was cool for that.

After about six months my phone stopped working. It turned off at random occasions, and wouldn’t start up. I called my phone company, and what did they have to say? “Not our problem.” So not only did I pay millions of dollars for this thing, now they expected me to just suck up the gizmo breaking down after five months. There’s got to be some law against selling crappy things that work for five months.

I didn’t want to cancel the contract, and I didn’t want to pay for something I didn’t use, so I stepped into phase two of the addiction. I signed a two-year contract to get a deal on a new phone. This one was definitely NOT cool, but it worked. In fact, it worked well, and never gave me problems. It lasted for a year.

So a few months ago I moved to California. I stayed at my Aunt and Uncle’s place until I could get an apartment. I called the phone company to have them switch my calling area to California. Well, after talking to five different employees on four different phone calls, I was told I couldn’t switch my phone to California until I had a permanent address. So they continued charging me roaming fees.

I got an apartment a few days later, so I called them with my new address. But then, if I changed calling areas I would lose all of my previous benefits. I would be stripped of all of my minutes except 150 anytime minutes. And then I wouldn’t even get free long distance. Pretty much the lowest blow a man can be dealt. Lousy phone company.

So I switched to a different, more expensive plan so I could get the excessive sum of 250 anytime minutes. After the phone call to switch areas, I made a bunch of phone calls to let people know that yes, I was alive, even though I hadn’t answered my phone in days. Turns out, after I switched calling areas, it didn’t go into effect until the next day (even though I had been told it would be immediate). So I got a hundred dollars of roaming charges for my phone calls that day.

Now for the funny part. When I changed my address to get the different calling area, they didn’t switch the address where my statement went. So the statement went to my previous address, hundreds of miles away. I didn’t bother getting online to check my bill (a stupid mistake). When the bill finally wound its way to California, I discovered their tactics, and called them up. My automatic payment had been processed a few days previous. The customer service representative was most helpful in informing me that because I had already paid the bill, I had already accepted the charges, and they wouldn’t refund anything, even if they DAMN WELL KNEW THEY ROBBED ME.

It’s not in my nature to take revenge, so I don’t want to name the company that dealt with me in such a manner, but in the off chance you hear someone talking about “Raising the Bar”, please raise the finger. In their direction.

My current cell phone (with a different company, I might add) allows me to use my phone on my balcony. That’s a nice feature, because I can listen to the sounds of traffic during my phone conversations. This way, I don’t get tempted to walk inside and have a quiet conversation, because my phone doesn’t work there. You see? They’re very kind about making sure I have fresh air during my conversations, and that I don’t bother my roommate with my talking. Also, I can sooth my conversant with the sounds of sirens, honking, and the occasional Harley.

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