Live without my cell phone? Forget about it

What would happen if I threw this one against the wall?
What would happen if I threw this one against the wall?

Sometimes I want to throw my phone against the nearest cinderblock wall and send it to the digital hell where it belongs. It goes off when I’m working. It annoys me. It can befoul my mood in a split second.

But I feel I can’t function without the stupid thing. Ever since I got my first cell phone in 2000, life has not been the same. I could run but forget about hiding.

I never go anywhere without my phone. Never. Anywhere. I’m not the only one either. If you have a cell phone — who doesn’t these days? — you probably have it with you right now. Even if you’re in the head. I’ll bet it’s even on.

Smartphones upped the ante even more. Now you have many reasons to frequently check it — someone could be talking about you on Twitter or trying to contact you on Facebook. Or you need to know the weather right now, even though poking your head out the window is still more reliable.

My smartphone recently bonked out on me, and I’m still going through withdrawals. I’m using one of those feature phones (read: dumb phone) and it does everything I expect a telephone to do. But I miss that anytime-I-want-it Internet connection. I can get ball scores, bank balances and the weather through a text message and it’s faster, but it’s still not the same.

See, here’s the part I don’t understand. I didn’t always have a phone, landline or otherwise. For a long time I just used a pager. Someone would call, punch in his call back number and I’ll get back whenever I felt like it. There were always phones around anyway; I could use one at work or even a pay phone to return the call.

(Hey, remember pay phones? If you do, you’re probably an old person like me. Now you can’t find one anywhere.)

But I functioned quite well without a phone. Really really well. And I was able to separate my home life from my work life, which isn’t always easy to do. I worked as a newsman for years and never had a cell phone the entire time I was in that trade. Never missed a good story either.

Today? Don’t ask. I don’t go anywhere without it. Someone important may call.


Are you still renting your phone? Your bill may say so

If you're paying rent on a house phone, it had better be a cool one like this. I got my first telephone in the late 70s. it was olive green, had a dial on it, came with that newfangled “modular” plug-it-in-anywhere wiring, and I bought the durned thing.

Buying a phone. This was something new then. It gave the consumer some choice, but it also released the phone company — Pacific Bell in my case — from having to maintain the handset. They didn’t have to worry about repairing or replacing your handset if you slam it against the wall in a fit of rage.

I’ve bought a lot of phones since then, but it seems quite a few people are still renting theirs from their phone companies. Like hundreds of thousands of phone users.

Renting? Didn’t that go out with the rotary dial?

Well, kinda sorta. The idea of buying your own phone started to catch on for real when Ma Bell broke up in the early 80s. But some still hung on to their old equipment, four-pronged plug and all.

I’ll say this. Much of the older gear was built. One of my parents’ extension phones was an old black metal-bodied rotary-dial number, branded by Stromburg-Carlson. Like my old Canon AE-1 camera I stubbornly held onto until it became harder to find film processors, this thing was built like a brick outhouse. Like a Sherman tank. I’ll bet if you dug it out of the garage now and plugged it in (good luck with that given the old four-prong plug) it would work just fine. There were no parts in there to screw up.

If those of us who ditched the landline in favor of cell phones are the ultramoderns, those who continue to lease their house phones are the traditionalists. Provided, of course, they a) can find that rented phone and b) it’s still in use.

But according to The Consumerist, many are still paying to rent a phone that is no longer being used. Monthly phone rentals, according to the site, range from a dollar per month to more than $20, depending on the carrier.

If that’s the case, don’t expect the phone company to bring it to your attention; only a fool would shoot a cash cow.

Anyway, check your phone bill, especially if you’ve had that service for decades (not unusual if you own your home or lived in the same place for a decade or three). Decipher it, go through all the line items. If it shows you’re still paying for a phone rental, you’ve either got one of those phones that will outlast you, or you’re more than likely being hosed.



Old-style e-ink reader is easier on the eyes, sleep cycles.

Being good/bad in bed is probably not the standard I'd consider for an e-reader, but ...

I’m old-school enough that I’d never thought I could enjoy an e-reader. But what’s this thing about downloading books on my old Palm a decade ago, or reading them on my Android phone now?

Never mind these apparent contradictions. I’m a print guy. Plunk my butt down somewhere with music playing and a stack of offbeat books and I’ll call it vacation. Real books that feel like paper, pages that turn, and sufficient margin space for my annotations.

The electronic versions, well, that’s not the same thing at all. Real books do not have pages that glow. Got it?

But then a friend upgraded e-readers and gave me his old Nook. It is, I believe, a first-generation model. It does not emit light on its own, the pages are straight black and white, and I’m loving it.

I’ve barely made a dent in the memory, but I have a few hundred books downloaded already.

The newer e-readers seem to be getting away from the so-called e-ink technology, and this isn’t such a good thing. Cool graphics or not, reading the newer-model Nooks, Kindles and iPads provide all the sexiness of reading off a computer screen.

Shoot, I spend enough of my life staring at computer screens. Must I spend my relaxation time staring at more of them?

Reading the first-generation Nook with the light up, just like Wrigley Field. Photo by Eric Pulsifer.

If I need to read at bedside, I have several options: Turn on a light, or read under the covers by flashlight like I did when I was a young’un. But I have these options because I’m a single man, live alone, and maintaining peace in the household is not a priority for me.

But this Nook came with a snap-on cover that includes a small lamp, like what you see on paintings at the museum. It’s powered by a pair of AAA batteries. Theoretically it should illuminate the page while not bothering the significant other, but I never got around to asking the previous owner how effective it is. It just doesn’t seem right to ask.

I bring this up because of a recent advertising pitch for Nook (now in some strange alliance with Microsoft). In this ad Nook announces its own soft-glowing Simple Touch, which is illuminated by a string of LED’s along the top edge. In the ad Nook calls out Kindle, saying the competitor is “not that good in bed.”

E-readers are a lot of things. But even my own brain, which takes some bizarre angles on a lot of things, still has trouble grasping the good/bad in bed concept.

I do know that reading from an e-ink reader as you go to bed is a whole lot better for you than reading something that lights up. In its most natural state, the human body regulates one’s sleep time by the presence or absence of light. Having a house fully lit up at night does tend to screw these cycles up, and that’s probably why it’s best to pull yourself away from the computer at least a couple hours before the Sandman starts pounding on your door.

That’s my theory, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Anyway, I really like that old-school Nook. It’s not quite the same experience as the printed page (annotation is tough with the on-board keypad), but it’s easy on my poor abused eyeballs.

I can even read it under the covers by flashlight, just for old times’ sake.


Guess I’m not the only one who likes the older e-ink readers. Check out this column by Joe Wikert.