I am not looking forward to picking out a new cell phone.
I do not like cell phones. They do not work, at least not for me. No matter what phone I have or what “provider” I am signed up with, there is no signal actually provided for me. I think it’s a sign from the universe that I was just not meant to be in constant contact with the rest of humanity. The world clearly needs a break from me.
The thing I hate most about cell phones, though, is not that they’re unreliable little backstabbing menaces – you don’t survive into your fifth decade on this planet without developing coping skills for that sort of thing – it’s that they’re not just phones anymore. They are multitasking unreliable little backstabbing menaces. Even the basic and outdated model I have now has enough computing power to run a small business, and every year they come up with new phones that can do even more. There really isn’t much anymore that a cell phone can’t do, and I find that disturbing.
The reason for this pernicious mission-creep is because these phones were designed by engineers, and engineers don’t think like the rest of us. I’ve known a lot of engineers in my life, and they follow roughly the same percentages of “good people” vs. “wastes of space” that most other occupations follow. But they definitely do have their own mindset about gadgets, and it is not my mindset.
When an engineer looks at a gadget, the question they ask is, “What can I get this thing to do?” Whereas when I look at a gadget, the question I ask is, “How can I get this thing to do what I want?”
These are two very different questions.
You can see the difference if you ever try to read through the manual for any gadget you own. Manuals are written by tech writers, people who work with engineers every day and therefore absorb their way of thinking. And these manuals are laid out by feature.
“Look at this button! Look what it can do! And it can do this too! Isn’t this great? And look – over there! There’s another button! And it can do all these things! Why, there isn’t anything you can think of that this thing can’t do!”
What I need is a manual that’s laid out by task.
“Oh, you want to do that? Really? Are you sure? Well, okay. Go to this screen. Push that button three times, spin that knob a quarter turn and then push the first button again. When the screen turns red, push the second button from the left, and there you go.”
And really, the only task I want my cell phone to accomplish is make and receive calls.
I have a camera. I have an Internet-capable computer that can send emails and browse the web. It even plays games. And we own a Wii, which the girls tell me can also be used to play games, though I have no personal evidence to support that. In short, I have any number of gadgets whose function need not be replicated on my phone.
And this always comes as a great surprise to cell phone people.
The last time we switched phones Kim made the mistake of sending me out on my own to do this. Kim is a gadget person, and she often makes the general mistake of assuming that what seems obvious to her will be equally obvious to me. It makes health-care a lot more interesting that way, for example.
This is how I found myself in the Cell Phone Store, surrounded by tiny little gadgets of gargantuan capabilities that would surely be of use to other people. Eventually the twelve-year-old girl behind the counter noticed me and asked if she could help me.
“I’d like a new cell phone,” I explained, showing her the desiccated remains of the one I was currently using.
“Yes,” she said. “I can see that. What would you like your cell phone to do?”
“I would like my cell phone to make phone calls.”
There was a short pause while this registered.
“How about texting? Surely you want texting?”
“No, I’ll just write.”
“Ooooookay,” she said. “Would you like that made out of wood?”
Eventually I left and Kim took care of it. But that was a while ago, and now it is time to start that process over.