The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 29, 2012

What are smart phones really planning?

By Kelly Kazek

— I always feel left out when people start talking about smart phones.

I was at a lunch meeting the other day when one of the women bemoaned the fact that her phone wasn’t the latest version of smart. As surreptitiously as possible, I covered my small, pitiful phone with my hand and swept it back into my purse.

Bless its heart. I don’t have a “Proud Smart Phone Mom,” or “My phone is an honor student at MIT” bumper sticker.

Later that day, I was about to call wildlife authorities when a coworker said he had beaten angry birds until I found out Angry Birds is a game found only on smart phones. Who knew?

My poor, poor phone. The most it can do is offer a new ringtone. It must be suffering from an inferiority complex.

It’s not that my phone is old. I got it two weeks ago when my daughter’s pre-smart phone (the semi-smart phone she passed on to me) finally beeped its last. When I went to the cellphone store, I walked right past all the brightly colored, shiny-screened phones vying for my attention. They would not pull me in. I wasn’t born in the turnip truck (or something like that).

I know technology experts have been saying for more than a year that cellphone are on the way out and smart phones are taking over the world. But all I needed was a phone that would make telephone calls and send texts to Shannon in Auburn. You may think I still use eight-track cassettes and BETA tapes, too, but, no, it’s only with phones that I draw the line. I have my reasons. Hear me out.

The first and most important reason I don’t have an iPhone or know what “4G” means is because I can’t afford for my phone to be smarter than me. Not only would it hurt my feelings, but I discovered the phones, even with discounts, are at least $250.

My next reason may seem like sour grapes to some of you whose phones have master’s degrees: I don’t need any additional multitasking objects. My brain has a tendency toward multitasking — I can’t even wait in a long line without whipping out my checkbook to balance it or painting my nails. I hate wasting time.

The problem is, we are now inundated with so many gadgets wanting our attention, I’m amazed our brains haven’t shut down in protest, although I did see smoke coming out of my ears that one time. You can watch TV while you drive. You can shuffle your iPod with one hand on the wheel. Heaven forbid, you forgot a gadget on a long trip, but if you do, you can amuse yourself by watching those giant billboard-size TV screens on the side of the road that flip from one digital ad to another. Seems like our legislators who are so worried about distracted driving should consider banning watching TV — especially TV that is 100 percent commercials — while we are driving along the highway.

So when I went to replace my poor deceased phone, I went straight to the flip phone marked $9.99. Perfect. I asked the customer service rep and found out I was eligible for the lowest price, by virtue of having signed away another two years of contractual freedom.

At the checkout counter, the guy told me there would be an $18 fee added to the $9.99. He called it an “upgrade” fee.

“Does this phone look like I upgraded?” I asked incredulously. “This is the kind of phone cavemen probably used.”

“Yes, but you had the option to upgrade,” he responded. Seems the only option I didn’t have was getting out of a cellphone store without paying ridiculous fees.

Still, I figured I was probably lucky to get out for around $30, with tax. I took my phone and ran out before the guy could tell me he was adding a “loitering in the store more than 30 minutes” fee. 

Some experts, different experts from the ones mentioned above, say smart phones may be making us stupid. They spell for us, which is a good thing except when they change “dimples” to “nipples” or “I dream about our future,” to “I dream about our Fuhrer.”

They have apps that tell us which syrup is just right for our particular kind of cough, or where to find the nearest happy hour.

They ding to remind us of meetings or tell us it’s time to get on a place.

They allow us to watch the latest viral video of the snoring dormouse, which, btw, is just too stinking cute for words.

Soon, I’m sure phones will be able to start the coffee in the mornings before we wake, or change the baby’s diapers.

Basically, the smartest thing they do is command our attention. How many people do you know who can ignore the ding, ring or melodious tone of a phone? YouTube even has examples of brides using one, or of pastors’ pants vibrating while officiating at a wedding.

I, for one, am afraid. If they really know so much, are they planning our demise? Hey, it could happen. Remember “Terminator?”

One expert, an even different one from the first two, says our brain’s default state is inattentiveness. Quiet. Calm.

Can you remember the last time your brain was calm? Me, either.

Although I could use a nap right abou ...