Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nothing Like a Smartphone to Make You Feel Stupid

I reject the "you are growing older, so you just can't learn new things" (I'm somewhat close to turning 60) argument - except when it comes to certain technology.

I grew up in an era where telephones were large, clunky things with a dial. They hung on your kitchen wall.  They had a dial tone.  You waited for the dial tone before you dialed.  (At least I didn't have to turn a crank and ask the operator to dial the call - I'm not THAT old.)

You used them to - make phone calls.  Phone calls consisted of using the dial, which had a disk with holes in it, to dial numbers.  There was an art to it.  If you didn't dial properly, you got a wrong number.  There was only one type of ringer.  It rang.  The person answered.  He or she had no idea who was calling until they answered. There was no such thing as caller ID  Or an answering machine.

Calls were billed using "message units" in my native New York City.  If you were in the Bronx and wanted to call Brooklyn, you had to be prepared to take out a bank loan if you spoke more than 5 or 10 minutes.  I forget how much a message unit cost, but it was a lot.  Long distance was even worse.  The calls were billed at rates that varied depending on the time of day - or night.  Overseas?  We never even tried.

Now I live in an era where my son and girlfriend sit on the same sofa and text each other.  Neither would know how to dial a phone with a dial.  Nor can they imagine a phone that doesn't also take pictures, act as a GPS, or allow you to connect on Facebook or browse the Web.

Right now I have what I call a 'stupid phone'.  It makes phone calls, plus has some other functions that I have absolutely no idea how to use, because I don't use them.  It's a Trac Fone, so I've never had a plan.  That's the nice part. However, Trac Fones have many limitations.  You can't download any kind of QR reader to them.  You can't text things to those five digit numbers.

I am tired of watching people whip out their phones to take pictures or record videos at special events.  I'm tired of needing a GPS (we don't have one) and not being able to use my phone.  And, when my son told me at Easter dinner Sunday that he was going to upgrade to an iPhone, I was set to join the wonderful world of technology.

Let me tell you what happened.  (My younger readers, please forgive me.  Your day will come.)

Son has Verizon, so we went to "his" Verizon store.  I was greeted, and directed to a knowledgeable sales rep who looked like she was about 14 years old.  That was actually comforting, because I figure the younger you are, the more knowledgeable you are when it comes to phones.  And she did have the figures right at hand.

My son was paying about $80 a month on his plan. I figured adding a second line would be about $10 more.


It was about $70 more but part of that is a data plan upgrade required for an iPhone - his plan will be going up, too, if he does get an iPhone.

The sales rep welcomed us to look around so we did.  There were all these displays - phones for calling, phones for texting, phones that were smartphones.  There were even iPads.  Of the smartphones there were 4 or 5 different manufacturers. After the Galaxies, the Droids, the LG's and so forth, my head was spinning.

We left without making a decision.

I don't know what our decision will be.  But with the proliferation of QR codes (there was even one on the cover of the latest issue of my Consumer Reports) I figure I had better join the smartphone age before I am left out of things all together.

I've heard too many stories from people my age, kind of half embarrassed, relating how they struggle to use their phones.  I don't want to be one of those people.  I want to learn the features.

Maybe I'll be on that sofa one day, with my son and girlfirend, texting them and sending them photos.  And posting on their Facebook walls.

Is there anyone else out there of "a certain age", who has taken to smartphones?  Or, do you use the phone as a phone, and ignore the other features?


  1. Oh, well, Blogger swallowed my comment again.
    I am old enough to have used a party line phone (not for long, since my mom never got off and we were "invited" to get a private line). To know how to hit the "hang up buttons" to make a "free" call. To call person-to-person to provide information and messages, without ever speaking a word to the other party. To have lived in a small enough place to receive a busy signal, as soon as I dialed 1 after 11 (unless I was one of the lucky 10 to get an outside line).
    But, I've also had cell phones since forever. Starting with my Southern Pacific [yes, the railroad] Rapid InterNetwork Telecommunications (don't panic- you now know this as SPRINT) telephone. With service so bad in LA that I added a roof antenna to my handheld (which was 10 inches tall, and 2 inches on each side, weighing 2 pound, plus a charger that weighed another 2 pounds).
    I will never have an iPhone (unless there really is action to improve work conditions- there seems to be a change at Apple, too), but I will have to replace my Palm Pre, since HP has botched the best OS for phones and tablets...

  2. Oh Alana, You have no idea how much I relate, even down to the fact that I am about to finally succumb to a smart phone tomorrow.

    I too don't have a GPS because I don't know how to use one, but I'm sick of getting lost.

    I too am sick of not being able to make videos for my site.

    My internet went down a couple of days ago and I was told to use my iphone.

    The last time I went to phone store with my son everyone looked 14.

    I can remember when my mother couldn't use an ATM (do you call them that in US?) and I found it hard to believe. That's how my children now see me.

    Time to move on and embrace the smart phone thing. Another learning curve. Where will it end?

    Loved your post.


  3. My mum has a pretty basic phone, it has a camera which she uses but she has no desire for a more advanced phone. She does use Facebook on occasion but she's just not interested and is happy to let me do her online stuff for her!

  4. I with you. I'm 42, but it sounds like you and I grew up with the same kitchen telephones and "service plans."

    I have a phone that does little more than calls and texts. It has a camera on it, but it's crap, and the phone won't play nicely with my Mac. Very often, I feel like the last working journalist on the planet without a smartphone.

    I am looking into upgrading, and I've also found the vast array of choices to be somewhat mystifying. I will tell you that I'm looking for an unlocked phone, and that I won't subscribe to a data plan.

    Any smartphone features my new phone has will be used on WiFi networks only, because I'm almost always near a solid wireless signal.

    I spent last fall on a fellowship in Ireland, and I quite like the European wireless model. People buy their phones outright -- no subsidies from carriers. Then you buy a SIM card; I believe there are some subscription-style contracts available, but most everyone I talked to was on a top-up account (similar to your TrakFone). I have to say that makes much more sense than the expensive contracts and carrier limitations that we have here in the U.S.!

    I am a fan of Apple and use a MacBook and iPod (both older models) regularly in my work. The iPhone looks great until you realize that there's no expandable memory. I don't think you can even open the phone to replace the battery yourself. So I'm perusing the Android market and paying attention to which phones will or won't be compatible with Mac. It feels a bit like the old VHS vs. Betamax days... ;)

  5. YESSS! I still have the "down in the boondocks" kind of phone. I hate it, and I hate that I have to get a smart phone in order to keep up with what my peeps at the chamber of commerce are doing. HATE it. But it will be nice to know what all the fusses are about with QR, and swiping credit cards ... maybe I can sell my Sal books to people and process their cards from the palm of my hand! Who knew it wouldn't be age or infirmity, but lack of phone savvy that would make me feel oooooold?

  6. Thank you, everyone who commented. I enjoyed reading all the comments. And, Madonna, yes, ATM machines are ATM machines here in the States, too.

  7. It stinks to be made to feel stupid by an inanimate object :( but yeah, been there myself. Funny your comment about your son and his g/f texting while right next to each other. My daughter has texted me from her bedroom that is next to the kitchen to ask what is for dinner....


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