Monday, February 3, 2014

Better-Off-Without-It Dept.

No. Please! No discussion of Super Bowl XLVIII! My constitution is too delicate for the subject, especially at this hour.

Today's topic was stimulated by my secret love Fausta Wertz. Fausta, a longstanding ornament of the Blogosphere, is one of the ten smartest beautiful tall women on the World Wide Web...yet she didn't manage to avoid this particular wrong turning:

Last year my old cellphone’s charger broke and – since the phone was so old – could not be replaced, no matter where I looked, so I bought a Galaxy S3.

The S3 has more functions than I know how to use or need, and it’s been very reliable. It even gets good signals inside my house, which is a big deal since there aren’t enough cell towers in Princeton.

It’s been a year and now my service provider is sending me emails with tempting “free” phone upgrades, while the Samsung people simultaneously updated the phone.

Please read the entire tale. It's not unique, but it is instructive. Revelatory, even.

Everyone I know has a smartphone.
My wife has a smartphone -- a Galaxy S3, for that matter.
It's never powered down and seldom out of her hand, whether she's texting, checking email, or playing games.
That's the pattern with everyone else I know who has a smartphone, as well.
And they're all equally oblivious to the dangers.

FOOLS! You have leashed yourselves in the most convenient imaginable fashion to the Powers That Be! They know where you are. They know the names of everyone with whom you communicate. They record your conversations and text messages and scan them for keywords with massive arrays of Cray-Blitz computers. As long as the power is on to that devil's device, you cannot escape their clutches!

And what do you do with it? You play games. You send unencrypted text messages. You check TV listings. Oh, you make a phone call now and then, as well, but we've already covered that, haven't we?

But what's the Issue Of The Day? What particular government overreach has commanded the heights of public indignation these past several months? What incursion on individuals' rights currently elicits the greatest degree of outrage?


I know, I know. The smartphone is a marvel. It encapsulates more power and far more functions than an Eighties-edition mainframe computer. You can read books on it. Take pictures with it. Video, too. It will store and play music, if you like. Web access, of course. You can use it as an organizer, a mobile agenda, a portable compendium of your important documents. It's even got a GPS terminal in it. It's all the promise of the digital revolution in a single handheld device, the next best thing to Gandalf's staff. Star Trek communicators? Feh!

But should it ever get out of arm's reach, you immediately begin to feel a formless dread, an ineffable vulnerability, a nakedness of the soul. Just like that, you're out of touch. Things could be happening that you know nothing about. Important things, like the Obamas' vacation plans, or how many prostitutes were seen leaving Justin Bieber's hotel room last night, or the final score of that...that, sorry, I just can't. Forgive me.

For that, you've surrendered the last remaining vestiges of your privacy.

I own a cell phone. I didn't want one, but my wife insisted. "What if you get into an accident and have to call for help?" she said. "You can't expect to find a phone booth at the corner any more." "Well, in that case," I said, "why would I want a phone? There'd be nowhere to change into my superhero duds, so who'd want to talk to me?" But Beth can be very persistent, and I dislike to make her nervous. So I got one: a basic-basic model whose only function is phone calls. No Web access. No alphameric keyboard. No capacity to store anything but a list of phone numbers most recently called. My "calling plan" costs about $0.25 per month. You should have seen the sneer on the salesman's face...or maybe that was a grimace over not getting the commission he wanted.

I've had it for several years. I've made about fifteen calls on it, total. It contains absolutely no information about me; on every occasion when I've made a call, I've immediately wiped the numbers-recently-called list. And I don't carry it around with me. I leave it powered off, in the center console of my car.

(Yes, I own a car charger.)

This makes me a technological dinosaur by contemporary standards. (The only member of the species who makes his living doing real-time engineering, who owns three different eReaders, whose home network is protected by a hardware firewall, and whose non-trivial communications undergo military-grade encryption, but we'll pass over that in silence.) I'm out of touch. The happenin' world is charging right past me. I'm missing out on developments in politics, cinema, music, sports, foreign affairs, pop culture, and the doings of the beautiful people. There's no way I'd be able to hold my own at a cocktail party. And I can't pass the time playing Jewel Quest when I'm at the car wash.

But I don't have an electronic shackle around my ankle.

Priorities, people. What are your priorities? Is it really that important to have immediate access to the Perpetual Pile-Up on the Information Superhighway every second of your lives? Is it worth sacrificing your privacy -- and not just to the State, but to your relatives, friends, and coworkers who've internalized as a creed that they can have access to you at all times, and who get ornery and sarcastic should you have the temerity to remain with your book, or prolong your nap, or continue making love to your spouse rather than answer your phone?

Oh, never mind. Forget I said anything. Everyone knows what an old mossback I am. Haven't had a new idea since 1970. Why, my wife has to turn me in the window twice a day so I'll get sun all over.

And go ahead and buy that "smart," Internet-enabled television with built in WiFi. You know, the one with the continuous remote maintenance and automatic upgrades. Just don't bother complaining to me when it starts overruling your choice of programs. Or prompting you about your bedtime, for that matter.


Anonymous said...

Don't you have to disconnect the battery to render it harmless?

Fausta said...


I do carry my phone with me at (almost) all times, but my favorite gadget's my old Kindle.

Adrienne said...

I may have you beat. When I realized that the $40.00 dollar per month I was paying for my old flip-phone was wasted money, I switched to TracFone. Free phone (like yours it doesn't do much of anything.) I buy one big block of minutes once per year for about $95.00. So far I've made one call in two years. Most of the time I forget to take it with me and it sits lonely and forgotten in our bedroom. Poor phone :-(

I won't mention the game. What game?

taminator013 said...

I pretty much do the same thing. I hate talking on the phone to start with and I certainly don't carry one with me. My old dumb phone sits in the consol next to the mobil charger. I take it in the house about once a year and hook it up to the indoor charger if I remember. I've used it less than 10 times since I got it back in 2007. I don't even know what number is. I wrote it down on a business card that I keep in my wallet.

Anonymous said...

I have a dumb phone about 10 years old. I am not sure it even can text. I buy them for about $5 at goodwill because the phone stores only have the upgraded and smart phones. I don't like phones. We disconnected our landline and I keep my phone turned off. It is so damned peaceful, I love it. When I turn the phone on sometimes have a message and I delete it. No one I know leaves me messages. The one option I would love the phone companies to make available is to limit incoming calls to numbers on my list only. Most of the time my phone sits on my dresser turned off.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean you want me to stop using my smart phone to read your blog?


Anonymous said...

My husband and I are also dumb phone hold outs. I used to have mine only for emergencies, but have been sucked into the texting to converse w/moms abt our kid plans, carpooling etc.

The privacy thing is probably more important, but for me it's the addictive quality I need to avoid. I'm addicted enough to this Super Highway of Perpetual Pile Up (I love that). I don't need to be carrying it around everywhere I go.


daniel_day said...

I have to communicate with some people of the younger persuasion, who much prefer texting over phone calls or even messages. (And when in the hell will the phone companies turn off those tiresome 15-second explanations of how to leave a message? Probably when the airlines stop explaining how to use seat belts.) Like Adrienne, I have a TracPhone which is usually off. It's a convenience, not a master.

CGHill said...

And if Fausta's wearing a shackle around her ankle -- well, it's one of the nicest ankles you'll ever see.

Magnus said...

Amen and amen! It is good to hear someone else putting forth good common sense like this. Life went on just fine before smartphones.