back to the future

I am sorry to report, but there’s no going back to 1985. I already tried. And my effort went down in flames. Let me explain.

Since moving to Austin my AT&T phone service has been anything but. Usually the person on the other end sounds as though they are standing somewhere on the moon. After about two minutes the connection drops and I am forced to ring the individual back and apologize. This seems like a strange arrangement to pay over $100 a month for. I feel AT&T should call and apologize to me.

It got to the point where I found I was no longer listening to the person on the phone, but rather for the telltale quiet that occurs just before the line goes dead. Sometimes I would step outside the house and into the street, pretending this made a difference. It doesn’t. It just requires me to always wear pants. I hate that. So today I decided I had enough of this abuse. I stood in my neighborhood Verizon store clutching a phone that is not a phone and inquired about their coverage plans.

“I want to regress,” I told a sales person at the door. “I don’t want Internet. I don’t want apps. I want to go back, way back, old school style. To 1985. Basically, I am hoping for one step up from holding a tin can up to my ear. I want to call my mum and not hang up on her. Can you do this?”

In short, my answer was no. And yes. That is because Verizon doesn’t sell telephones anymore. They hawk mini computers with telephone capabilities. Even if we did carry simple phones in stock, you still have to pay for the data included in the service plan, the sales associate explained.

Deep down I already knew this. And I knew how this conversation would inevitably end – with me swiping my credit card and signing on a dotted line for a new smartphone and two-year plan. He knew this too, but was polite enough to pretend that I actually had a choice in the matter. As we chatted, I rummaged around the bottom of my purse in search of my iPhone as if showing it to him would somehow make him understand: Look. I come to you from the future. And it’s not good.

I wonder if Martin Cooper would agree. He invented the mobile cellular phone for personal use in 1973 while working for Motorola. The first models weighed close to three pounds and were about the size of a ukulele. They also took about ten hours to charge. I could never lose one of those suckers in my handbag I assure you and no one would argue the design hasn’t improved over the years. But what about cell service? And should today’s cell phones even be considered cell phones anymore?

When Mr. Cooper demonstrated his device actually worked, he dialed his rival at AT&T and the two held a conversation on the streets of New York City. Things have changed a bit since that inaugural call. For one, the number of cell phone users has increased by upwards of five billion.

In 2010, the United Nations released figures showing more people in India have access to cell phones than basic sanitation. Like toilets. Now I am not sure what that says about our priorities as a species, but that’s another discussion altogether. At least it means most folks there don’t experience that truly awkward moment in public restrooms when the woman in the stall next to you insists on talking on her cell while she pees. I bet Mr. Cooper never envisioned that scenario when he filed the first patent. I wonder if he ever imagined people using their cell phones to take pictures, send email, stream video, surf the web, or Snapchat. You know. The things people actually do with their cell phones.

While lamenting how no one uses landlines anymore I gauged Edgar, the sales person helping me, to be about ten years my junior. So finally I just shut up. There seemed to be no point in reminding him that there was once a time where you could pick up the phone, usually it was found hanging on the wall in the kitchen, dial 10 digits, press the speaker to your ear, and magic! you were connected to another individual down the street or across the world. And you could speak, uninterrupted for hours, until someone decided I am done talking to you right now. Then you said mutual goodbyes and placed the phone back in its cradle. I figured this would just make me sound old and curmudgeonly.

So I did what we all do. I broke up with AT&T and went back to my ex-boyfriend Verizon. It seems like he’s grown up a lot in the last five years. I did, however, decline the free (only $30 a month!) tablet that came with the new phone. I also opted not to purchase the mobile hotspot for an additional $50. But after leaving the store with my new cell phone and two-year contract I realized what I should have said: I want to go back to 1973.



5 thoughts on “back to the future

  1. I sometimes want to go back further than 1973, when we did not have cell phones! A simpler time, but that is another discussion. So glad you broke up with AT&T and made the switch; looking forward to our long chats, have missed them. Miss you too, but at least we will be better connected! 🙂 xoxo

  2. I love it. Wouldn’t we all go back!? In 1976 Mother Hen and I got married with me wearing my grandpa’s Bell Pioneer pin on my lapel. He had passed away that year but was the Bell Telephone linesman without an education past the 8th grade who taught himself enough electrical stuff to INVENT the dial system in Boston, MA. Because he was a good company man, he never thought of patents. They gave him a Gold pin for 50 years of service. Gotta love the phone company.

  3. I love that story Dinosaur. I admire how he taught himself what he needed to know and rose up through the ranks. But I am wondering what it says about being a company man. I guess it depends on the company?

  4. The company was loyal to all employees way back. During the depression, they kept their workers on and paid them 4 days to work 5 so they really didn’t suffer the poverty that so many did. In return for the days work without pay, Bell gave the workers stock. When they retired they did so with their pensions and all that stock. Really not shabby.

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