Remember in virtually every film from the 1980's, anytime someone was depicted using a "mobile phone" (they usually looked like bulky milk cartons with unwieldy antennae), the character in question was almost always a fatuous jerk? Brandishing a mobile or cordless phone (before the term "cell" was part of the collective vernacular) was a universally acknowledged signifier for being an ostentatious and self-important jackass. Unless you were a surgeon on call or someone of similarly important standing (world leader, ship's captain, war correspondent, Maxwell Smart), having a mobile phone meant you were a narcissistic dick.
Times change, of course. Everyone has a cell phone now. He or she that goes without a cell phone in this day and age seems as behind the times as someone who doesn't own a refrigerator. It's gone from being a newfangled, hi-tech toy for secret agents and billionaire playboys to being as ubiquitous and crucial a tool for everyday survival as a pair of shoes. Stripped of their cell phone, today's average American feels naked, disoriented, disenfranchised, and -- dare I suggest it -- less of a person.
Way back when, I never wanted a cell phone. I just didn't see the point. If someone wanted to reach me and I wasn't around, I was more than fine with them simply leaving a message. But I was working at the TIME News Desk, and someone eventually decided that it would be a good thing for all the News Desk editors to be reachable at all times. Thrills. In retrospect, it made perfect sense, but at the time, I was not enthused. Thus developed my pronounced dislike for my cell phone. Invariably, any time it rang, it was going to be work (in other words: bad news). The little bugger would buzz and vibrate, and the next thing ya know, I was on my way into the office.
When I left TIME at the end of `05 and moved over to MTV News Online, it was the same thing. Rarely did a day go by without my cell phone ringing to tell me that a rapper had been shot or that Lindsay Lohan had gotten into a drunken hovercraft accident or that Britney Spears had been caught making out with a Burmese quadraplegic during a gin and amphetamine frenzy. As such, I still equated the ringing of my cell phone with abject annoyance and worry.
Oh sure -- it was hugely convenient in certain circumstances. Running late for meeting up with someone? Making a reservation on the fly? Lost? Last minute changes to a plan? In these instances, having a cell phone was invaluable. Never again would I have to scrounge through my pockets looking for a quarter, or race about trying to find a pay phone that actually worked.
But these days, everyone had a cellphone. Worse yet, they're no longer using them in times of perplexity or crisis. They're gabbing on them about stupid, banal shit. NON-STOP. On the street, in movie theaters, in restaurants, on elevators, in stores. In 2008, it's nigh on impossible to walk down the street without hearing the mind-numbing inanities of everyone's daily lives as they bark obliviously into their cells (some from those space-age head-sets formerly reserved for people who were busy handling delicate nuclear materials or meticulously operating heavy machinery). No one is happy being incommunicado anymore. Everyone must be connected.
Even now that I'm -- ahem -- "between jobs," my pulse quickens with a jolt when my cell phone rings, and I still must sound like I'm profoundly irritated when I answer. That's because I am. I don't enjoy talking on the cell. Sorry, I just don't. But it's too late to turn back now.
Yesterday afternoon, I decided to upgrade. My old and laughably outdated (by the rest of the world's standards) Sony Ericsson model was showing irreparable signs of wear and tear. The crystal had cracked after I'd let Oliver play with it, and the camera function was no longer taking discernible pictures so much as fuzzy mosaics. Begrudgingly, I went to my local AT & T emporium (there's one on every block, it seems) and endured a dizzying song and dance from a gaggle of overzealous phone-clones that seemed solely designed to confuse the hell out of me and get me to sign up for a host of needless applications. Look, I don't need nine-tenths of the stuff they were offering. I don't need my cell phone to be able to play music or open my garage door or land a goddamn plane. I like the camera function, but that's about it. Hell, I DON'T KNOW WHAT BLUETOOTH IS, MUCH LESS HOW TO USE IT! And, frankly, I don't care to.
At the end of the lengthy transaction, I left the store with a hoarily expensive, shiny, "mahogany" Razor which feels disquietingly flimsy. It's still chock full of features that I'm dead sure I'll never use. But it can take (and send) pictures, and -- most importantly -- make and receive calls. However much I don't enjoy that aspect of it, it's the most important feature. I'm still trying to fine the "phaser" function. Now, that would be useful.