It's amazing, but true, but yesterday I finally moved along and entered the new era.
Until yesterday, I'd never owned a cell phone.
Now, mind you, I've been writing a tech column for almost 20 years. I've been going to the Consumer Electronics Show for those near-two decades, and even went to the old Comdex show in Las Vegas, as well. I've traveled to Germany to attend the IFA tech show the last several years. But before yesterday, I'd never owned a cell phone.
That's now changed. Several of my friends are going to be overjoyed.
To be clear, I've never had anything against cell phones, never looked at them as some new-fangled gizmo. I love technology and new-fangled gizmos. And old-fangled gizmos. All gizmos. I've used cell phones when I've worked on movie sets, and they've been temporarily supplied to me. (One reason I didn't need to buy one.)
The main reason I haven't bought a cell phone is I've never had a "need" for a cell phone. I now work at home. I don't have people I need to stay in touch with. When I've worked on movies, as I said, I've been given one to use. If I went out and people wanted to reach me, that's why God created the answering machine. Over the last 15 years, there have maybe been three times when I've missed a call I'd have loved to have gotten. But life went on.
I have one friend who'd get SO pissed off at me for not having a cell phone. When he'd show up late for lunch, he'd always berate me that "If you had a cell phone!" he could have let me know. I'd simply reply (every time), "I don't mind that you're late. I have a book. And beside -- you knew where we were eating, right? If you wanted, you could have just called the restaurant and told them to find me, to let me know." And each time, he'd sheepishly answer, "Oh. Right. I forgot."
Much as I'd have been perfectly happy having a cell phone, I simply didn't need one. And the times it would have been convenient, there were too many brain-dead, easy workarounds.
The most interesting thing has been the reaction at CES, where high-tech is imbedded into every square inch of the convention and the 250,000 attendees. People there are so over-loaded down with high-tech that it's remarkable the entire city never overloaded its circuitry and blew a giant fuse. Everyone there carries around a cell phone, many two, a tablet, once upon a time a pager, and, it seems, their own personal power station. Around eight years ago, the reaction from vendors there when I'd say I didn't have a cell phone was a look of -- well, not bewilderment but more a case of zero comprehension, as if I was speaking a foreign language. A totally blank, lost stare. The last three years, however, that reaction has changed -- now that mobile phones have become such a mature, all-encompassing industry, where being connected 24-7 is a part of people's live, most especially CES-lives that are at their core inter-connected technology, now when people are told I don't have a cell phone their faces drop to almost beatific awe, "Ohhhh, you're so lucky," they'd say, as one who's life was so deeply tied to their phone and tablet and computer and power center wherever they went.
But now I have a SmartPhone.
It almost didn't come to pass. I don't mean that I wouldn't have gotten one, just not yesterday.
I went to a Verizon store a few blocks from me and said I wanted to get a Nokia Lumia 928. After the saleswoman searched her computer for a while, it was clear that they didn't have any in stock, and so she asked that eternal "I'm now going to try to sell you something else" question -- "Is there a reason you want to get that specific phone?" I could almost see her gears working, unwilling to let me leave without buying something, so the sales pitch was snapping into place up to steer me to some other phone and moved in towards me for the kill. But I'd not only done my research, I had no desire of getting into a debate over it. She planted her feet, all ready to bring out the big guns. But I just looked at her a few seconds without saying anything, until I finally answered. "Yes. There is a reason," and before she could jump into firing, ever-so-slightly thrown off now, I quickly continued, "And I'm here because the Nokia Lumia 928 is the one I plan to get." She awkwardly put her six-guns back in her holster, and happily got the point that there wasn't a need for her to discuss the matter.
But there was still the question of getting the phone. They were indeed out of them. She and her supervisor checked their computer and said that they could get one from the Crenshaw store and have it sent over the next day. Crenshaw? That's all the way across town, there's a very big Verizon store just a mile away, were they out, too?? The reps didn't know. Couldn't they just check there? Simply give them a call? No, they said, they couldn't. Whenever they've tried calling, they weren't given the information. Really?? And they were only able to get the information online about Crenshaw because Crenshaw is in their district, and Santa Monica (a mile away) isn't. Really???? That's just so bizarre. "I'm sure what you're saying is true," I said (and said deeply politely, because in fact I didn't remotely believe it), "but this makes no sense to me. You can't find out from your sister Verizon store in Santa Monica a mile away, just over there, if they have a phone in stock?" No, they couldn't.
Rather than tell them to ship the phone over from Crenshsaw in hopes of it maybe showing up tomorrow, I thought I'd simply check with Santa Monica myself to get it today, since it was so close. I walked the few blocks home to get my car, but first I decided to give the Santa Monica store a call. I just couldn't believe they wouldn't tell me if they had a phone in stock. And...of course, they told me! Yes, they had a phone in stock.
And after discussing the odd situation with the sales rep there, a tale which she found as bizarre as I did, we figured out why the other Verizon store wouldn't tell me:
That other Verizon store was indeed a Verizon store -- but a Verizon reseller. Not an Official Verizon Outlet. So, clearly they didn't want to lose the sale to another business concern. They wanted to keep it in their "reseller family." So, they came up with all that mumbo-jumbo about districts and not being told the information.
But all that's done. The Smartphone has now been purchased. I can now be interrupted during dinner in a restaurant.
And people at CES will now accept me as one of their own.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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