Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Great Stupid Smartphone Debacle

So, not too long ago my trusty Nokia flip-phone became untrustworthy. Its little LED screen expired in a blaze of blue, and I could no longer access any information except by guess. And that really wasn't much good.

I knew the SIM was okay. I could still receive calls, and make calls. So that was all right. I figured I'd just replace the thing, you know? No drama.

Bit of backstory: I grew up in Far North Queensland, mostly. Did not have a landline in the family name until I was eighteen, and living in a flat of my own in Brisneyland. Horrible bloody place it was, too... and as it happened, the phone number was literally one digit different from one of Queensland's non-existent illegal brothels, so we occasionally received some very peculiar calls.

The point I'm making is that I'm pretty ambivalent about phones. I don't like conversing over the phone. I don't like the lack of feedback. If I can't see you, read your posture and your gestures and your expressions, it's not a conversation at all. It's just a limited exchange of information. I expect I have all the phone manner of Jack the Ripper, to be honest. But I absolutely do not give a shit.

The mobile phone revolution has left me quite unimpressed. I'm a big user of computers, and I love the Internet, but mobile phones? Meh. Who really cares? Who actually needs to be on-call to the world 24/7, eh? Not this little black duck.

Nevertheless, I have three school-age kids. I live on a rural property. My wife is a GP, often on-call, who delivers the occasional baby. It follows that sometimes I need to stay in contact. The choice is: get a mobile phone, or don't go out.

I got a mobile. And you know - it's been really cool to have it for the SF conventions, and the occasional visit to friends and different cities and stuff. Very convenient. Yep. But not so's I couldn't live without it. Completely pre-paid; that's me. And I generally spend maybe twenty bucks a month that way.

So I trundled on down to the post office, and went through their shiny toys looking for another cheap-arse mobile. Turned out they were carrying a funny little thing, branded by Telstra. It was called a 'Touch', and it was Android-based Smartphone, and it cost under a hundred bucks.

Well, I didn't expect much at that price, but what with everybody in the world positively fuckin' swooning over their you-beaut World Interface Devices, I figured I'd put a toe in the water. See what it was like.

And in fact, if I were to extend the toe-in-the-water metaphor, I'd have to say it was a lot like discovering the water was full of toxic waste and mutated piranha-squid with a vengeful hunger for toes.

First of all, the Telstra Touch is as fugly a piece of coprophagic illegitimacy as ever I'd hope to avoid seeing again. Even with the provided stylus, its touch-keyboards are buggy and untrustworthy.

On top of that, it comes preloaded with a mile-high pile of shite. Instalinks to Facebook, Fox News, SportShite, and a hundred other pieces of dung. Good luck figuring out how to remove 'em: half of 'em appear to be permanent. Unless you wanna crack open Android, of course.

If I'd been more interested, I might have bothered. But I wasn't. Instead, I went and turned all sorts of shit off. I did enable the 'contacts' application. Which was stupid of me. I should have twigged when it demanded my gmail address - but how was I to know it was going to download all my gmail contacts? That was especially pointless, actually, since I don't keep phone numbers on gmail. Just email addresses. I have another database for addresses and numbers. I don't trust "the cloud" with vital information, and I don't trust it with the personal details of my friends.

So, having pared the new phone down to a minimum, I figured I'd try using it.

...what an utter waste of time and money.

What do people use these bits of crap for? Oh, Bluetooth? I never use it. Music? Hey, I have an MP3 player, and it doesn't chew through batteries like the Telstra Touch. GPS? Oh for fuck's sake: I'm an ex-cabbie. I use maps. I don't get lost. And if I did, I'd use my goddam phone and I'd ask for directions. It's not difficult. Appointments and calendar shit? Hey -- that's what a memory is for, right? I've still got one. How about you? Games? I don't have the time, or the interest. I play a bit of Dwarf Fortress because it's crazy-making complicated, and I'm considering this new "Skyrim" because it's supposed to be an open world, and I like that. Otherwise? Sheeit.

I can't write and type on a Smartphone. And data access is brutally expensive. Besides, as most people who know me will confirm, I'm used to keeping a small Wikipedia in my head. If I really need a piece of information I don't have, generally I can wait. Oh - and I don't mind actually carrying a Netbook computer if I think I'm going to be doing that sort of thing.

So. The Telstra Touch. Battery life: maybe 24 hours, even with everything I could find switched down. And as a prepaid customer, the fuckin' thing cost me around $100 a month because it kept quietly accessing the 'Net at ruinous prepaid rates. On top of that, it barely worked as a phone.

I have now purchased a little, minimalist Samsung flip-phone. Of course, I can't transfer my number, because I had to get a Telstra specialist to transfer my number to the Touch - and the Touch used a mini-SIM which (upon investigation) appears to be irretrievably lodged in the phone, now.

Therefore: if you think you have my mobile number, you're wrong. And if you think I have your mobile number, you're probably wrong, because I didn't manage to transfer most of 'em from the old Nokia to the Telstra Touch.

If you really want contact details, you can email me, or even leave a note here. And of course, there are a number of you from whom I would very much like contact details. You know who you are... and even if you just suspect, well, hell: take a punt, and send me a note.

In the meantime, it'll be a cold, cold, farkin' day in hell before I waste time and money on a so-called Smartphone again. For me, the 'Smart' side of the phone is near-enough useless. And y'know... I have a sneaking suspicion that all you people who are using them to augment your own memory are busily making yourself more stupid and forgetful. Your brain is like most other organs and systems in your body: stop using it, and it atrophies. Smart phone -- not so smart brain.

Use it or lose it, they say.


  1. I have an Iphone. The newest model (I think I showed it to you).

    It frightens me. Especially that woman's voice that keeps asking me if I need help.

  2. Yeah, thats right its the technology that keeps stuffing up. Keep telling yourself that wizard.

  3. Paul: that would completely creep me out.

    And Mr B? The Telstra Touch really is an utter failure. I didn't have to help it at all...

  4. Creeper than you know. As a joke, I asked "why do fools fall in love?" and that preternaturally calm voice said "you already know the answer to that question, Paul." [I'm not kidding.] It was terrifying and insulting all at the same time. That isn't what I want or expect from technology.

  5. You haven't let me down, Nat - unless you consider "deep disappointment" as letting me down....

    But I've learned through hard experience that I really cannot avoid the risk of disappointment. For example, I met Dirk when I was in Melbourne, and it was very disappointing. I expected magic tricks, and he performed none. He didn't even try to pull a coin out of my ear or guess my weight.

    There will be next year. I look forward to eating and drinking with your partner. But no smart phones. As I've already mentioned, they creep me out.

  6. No-one will even remember me by then. If you're not on the net you ain't alive!

  7. Thank you so much. Now I have yet another thing to worry about - internet death.

  8. Smart phones aren't that smart yet. In time though Apple/Android/Windows phones will get there. I suspect battery life will always be poor as the more processing and memory you pack in the better phone you get.

    Also people (on contract) change their phones over every two years, sticking with an OS makes that change easier. So over time you learn how to do things other than make calls and text.

    Data plans are crap and as you've noted expensive. I use a hot spot with a prepaid yearly sim for the phone and laptops much better.

    There are good phones out there but they need to suit you.

  9. I changed over from my beloved Nokia flip phone (always felt very Star Trek using it) - I did get a smart phone (an HTC android device), and it's been pretty good for stuff like texting and phone calls, it takes a decent photo if I need to, and a bunch of other stuff like being able to transfer TV episodes onto it for the commuting thing. I barely scratch the 1gb of date I get a month. Battery probably lasts about 2 or so days also. On the whole it's probably shedloads better than that telstra thing. Having said all this - I could easily live without a so called smartphone.

    (Incidentally I wrote a wordier missive before and then lost the lot trying to post it...)

  10. I shouldn't laugh, should I, Bondi? And yet I did.

    Hi, Nat - good to see you hereabouts. I copied your number, then edited your comment to take your phone number out of the public eye.

    Prof Boylan: no magic tricks? You obviously never saw the rabbit, did you?

  11. Scuse for butting in, but doublecheck. Natalia's no. still comes up for me. 7:30 am Texas, US time Monday.

  12. Yep, I'm still seeing the number too. And feeling less inclined than ever to get a smart phone. Though it might be handy for reading e-books on when I'm stuck in a queue.