2009-04-16 / Sam Bari


You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

Two years have gone by. I can't believe it. How did that happen so fast? My cell phone contract ran out and now I have to get a new phone.

That's not quite true. I don't really have to get a new phone, but if I don't get a new one, the phone I have will probably stop working. I think it was obsolete before I bought it. That's what happened the last time my contract ran out, and I hadn't even figured out how to use the one I had, at least not all of it.

Who am I kidding? I hardly knew how to use any of it. I could barely make a phone call. I figured out how to store numbers, but I could never get to the number I wanted and I forgot who the numbers on the speed dial represented, so I just dialed every call I had to make. I know . . . it's ridiculous. I have phoneaphoblyitus or some such disease, and it's makin' me crazy.

After I got over the anxiety attack, I jumped on my trusty computer and Googled "the best cell phone" and literally 62,000,000 sites came up. This is nuts, I thought. Which of these websites am I supposed to believe? So I went to my cell phone company website and clicked on "shopping - phones." That was a mistake.

Page after page of cell phones came up with explanations of their capabilities. I was shocked. They offered NASCAR Cup Mobile, GPS, Web, email capable, built in camera, video, bluetooth, WiFi, group connect, with TV and interactive videos, voice activation, touch screens, and broadband speeds, just to mention a few of the features.

However, I found a couple of important things missing. Not one

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . phone offered to make excellent phone calls, and not one said that it was easy to use. Maybe something is wrong with me, but I would think those features would be important to the average customer. Apparently, I am wrong.

Everybody on the planet except me knows what all of the aforementioned esoteric terms mean. And when I asked my friends to explain it to me, they just looked at me as if I had three heads. The world is filled with insufferable phone snots.

I suspect that nobody else actually knows what any of this stuff means either, but they don't want to admit it, so they just look at me and shake their heads. At least I'm brave enough to ask.

The only people who know how these phones really work are the little geeks at the phone stores. You know the ones I'm talking about. They have a minimum of 100 body piercings, most of which are on their heads, tattoos on every appendage, and spiked hair in colors that would make the NBC peacock look as if his plumage needed a paint job.

There is no way I am going to go to one of those stores to be humiliated, which brought me back to the 62,000,000 websites purporting to know the best cell phones. I had no choice. I was desperate.

After perusing 45 pages of websites all promising to tell me to buy their product, I went back to the first page and found this really helpful site that said, "Let us help you find the right phone for you." I passed over it the first time because it just seemed too good to be true in this virtual world of predator sites, each threatening to devour any unsuspecting consumer who appeared to not have the foggiest idea about what he/she was doing. That fairly accurately described me.

The site began with a comforting message that said: "Choosing the best cell phone or smartphone is a complex process, because there are so many different factors to consider. But you don't have to do it by yourself. Simply answer the following questions about features that are important to you." At last, I was saved. I was going to find a phone suitable for the technically challenged.

The questions were reasonable. Do you want GPS? Then it gave an explanation about how global positioning satellites work. In simple terms I found out how this feature would allow me to listen to voice activated directions so I could zip through traffic changing four lanes at a time, and if I avoided causing a major traffic accident of catastrophic proportion, or manage to keep from getting killed, I would arrive at my destination. Sounded good to me. So I clicked, "yes."

Then I proceeded to answer an additional 20 questions or so that described the features I didn't understand, and I liked all of them, so I just answered every question with "yes." At the end, a dialogue box opened that said: "We have found your phone. You will have to change phone companies, get a top secret clearance, and apply for a job with NASA if you want to use it. A mortgage is involved if you have excellent credit."

That is not what I wanted to hear. I still do not have a phone. I'm just going to use the phone I have until it quits working. Cell phones are a big reason why we live in a system we can't understand.

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