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Off/Beat

An ode to entering a cellular frontier

By JAN GLIDEWELL
Published February 8, 2004

I looked up from my coffee at the tiny shop where old men like me bore the captive audience owners with stories about how it used to be, and saw a young, technologically gifted, former colleague walking in.

"Hey," I said, "are you busy?"

"Not particularly," she said.

I swallowed hard and then, just above a whisper, said, "I need you to show me how to work my cell phone."

Even with her back to me I could see the muscular movements of a broad grin and a repressed chuckle.

"Your what?" she said, "I didn't hear you."

I knew that she had.

"My cell phone."

"Again?" she said, "I just want to hear you say it."

I had it coming.

I've had a lot of mean things to say about cell phones and the people who use them and pride myself on never once having used one (or a beeper or a laptop computer) during my entire career in journalism. I have ridiculed people who can't stay off of them, even while driving or in restaurants, people who constantly interrupt live conversations to take calls and yuppies wearing those headset things and wandering around airports looking like they are talking to themselves.

Then I found myself with the flu, en route to my doctor's office, broken down on a busy highway and with a back injury that makes it impossible for me to walk more than 50 yards without going through a series of complicated stretches. I could imagine the attention I would get if I suddenly flopped down onto the ground (my van was full of camping equipment) and began flopping around and alternately thrusting my legs and pelvis to the air.

So I walked, with a lot of rest stops, to a real estate office where the folks were kind enough to let me use their phone and even offered me a glass of water.

My wife said I could have her cell phone, which she never uses, if I bought a new battery for it. But three tries later I learned that apparently nobody has that battery anymore.

"But if you want to upgrade and change providers," said a friend who has a Radio Shack franchise, "I can give you a great deal on that phone right there."

I explained to him that I didn't want an upgrade, and had begged the first company I dealt with to leave off as many bells and whistles as they could because I am techno-challenged.

Things have gotten worse. This one has games you can play, different "wallpaper," you can use on your screen and a whole bunch of other things that I can't figure out, although I am reasonably sure that it doesn't take pictures.

"Okay," said my techno-guru, "let's test it. What is your number?

"Uhhhh . . . " I answered.

It is a sad thing to watch a young woman sneer and giggle at the same time. And it didn't help that when I found the card in my wallet on which I had written the number, I had written it down incorrectly, it turned out.

More sneers and louder giggles.

But I mastered it and can now retrieve voice mail . . . if I am dumb enough to give anybody my number.

I felt tired after a full day of getting my phone to do the things I wanted it to and not to do the things I didn't want it to.

Wrung out, I got home and poured a very un-electronic, and very strong, martini and looked at some recently opened but not fully examined Christmas gifts: a new drum, a pair of castanets (so I can get in touch with my inner flamenco), a tambourine, and, from some of my close new-age friends, a set of wind chimes.

Just what I needed, I thought. Something simple, primitive, wind-driven.

But the box said, "indoor" wind chimes and, when I looked, I found they were mounted on a stand above a small electric motor which turns on and off at intervals . . . which the user has to select and set. Select and set.

As in "Program."

Sigh.

[Last modified February 8, 2004, 01:45:41]


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