Wireless warfare

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm the guy who owned one of the first iPhones sold in Cape Girardeau. I thought it would be great to have access to the Internet, be able to send photos of interesting stuff to friends and family, occasionally text someone with important information or receive a text when I really needed to know something.

And many of you -- no, millions of you -- do exactly that. Bully for you.

What I got out of the magic phone was a whopping monthly bill. And a monthly reminder that I was using, on average, 10 or 15 of my gazillion available minutes.

After a year or so, I called my wireless phone provider and asked what I thought was a simple question: Is there a service you can sell me that will better match how I use a cell phone, which is to say hardly at all.

No, the gracious and perky customer service rep told me. Because you have, in your iPhone, one of God's greatest gifts to the Age of Wondrous Technology, you must purchase a voice plan, a data plan, Internet access and a bunch of other stuff that I can't even remember.

But what if I only want to make an occasional phone call?

Sorry, poor cell phone idiot. You're out of luck. The way she said it sounded much nicer.

Then I saw a full-page ad in a magazine. The ad said something like this: If you are a cell phone idiot and are paying for stuff you can't even remember, we have a deal for you!

Wow. I didn't know print advertising could be so personal.

So I called the toll-free number and signed up. I signed up my wife too. We both got flippy-type cell phones with big-number keys and precious little else. Hers is red. Mine is black.

There is no instruction manual. The new phones are so simple to use that you push a button and up pops a question in the cell phone's screen. All you have to do is punch "Yes" or "No."

I mean it. That's all there is to it.

And because of the special deal advertised in the magazine, we each get 100 minutes a month. I think they roll over. I'm not sure because I know we still use, on average, 10 or 15 minutes a month. The cost? A whopping $15 apiece each month.

We are happy.

Now, just so you don't worry all day about how much we're missing because we are so technologically illiterate, let me hasten to point out that we are avid users of the Internet, e-mail, online chats with our son in Ireland using cameras so we can see each other and -- our newest step into the modern era -- streaming video from Netflix and channels of our favorite music from something called Pandora. We love it.

And guess what. I installed a wireless router for our home computer network. Really, I did. All by myself.

When the salesman told me it was simple, I was skeptical. I haven't lived all these years without knowing that salespeople sometimes make a difficult task sound so simple. But it turned out to be as easy as the salesman promised. Maybe that's because I had him pledge his firstborn son if things went awry.

In addition, my wife and I are fully aware that we have witnessed, in recent days, world events that could only have happened with the Internet, cell phones, cell phone cameras and savvy individuals who found a way to change the world with a device small enough to fit in my pocket.

My fervent hope is that future conflicts can be conducted -- and resolved -- via the Internet. I'm ready for -- as our sons used to say -- "a little piece of quiet."

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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