Saturday, September 12, 2009

Phones Are Ruining My Life

All of you with iPhones and Blackberries and assorted cool phones with apps and web browsing and so forth ought to know, every time I see you staring down at your phones, activating the screen with that precious little swipe-to-unlock, it is like a knife in my heart. Every time your status updates appear on Facebook with the attribution "from Facebook for iPhone," I fight back tears as my soul overflows with agonizing envy.

You see, most people are either frivolous enough to go ahead and spend money on fancy phones full of exciting features no one needs, or sensible enough to not care about them. Unfortunately, I am neither. I have an overwhelming gadget lust that is matched only by my unbearable cheapness. So what happens is, I look at these phones longingly, then discover how much they actually cost to operate on a month-to-month basis, and conclude that voluntarily doubling one of my monthly bills would be an act of extraordinary idiocy for someone with a modest income who is already carrying around massive debt.

If I were a reasonable person in full control of my faculties, it might end there. Unfortunately, every time I see a banner ad for a smartphone, or an individual engaging in the aforementioned screen-swipe, all my Want rushes back to the surface. I am locked in a struggle with consumerism. Don't get me wrong, consumerism is delightful if you lean back and let it wash over you (at least until you lose your job or something and discover that you are broke and your money has been squandered on trifles that will provide neither food nor shelter), but it's a force to be reckoned with should you try to resist. Everywhere you go, people are entranced by their little phones, blissfully tapping away. Obviously there is something awesome happening on phones these days, and here I am missing out on the modern world!

Where was I? Oh yes, so then I get sucked back in to my Phone Want. And I start searching for halfassed alternatives. Maybe the aptly named EnV Touch would sate my appetite; there's html web browsing and a second-rate but good-looking touch screen; and a flip-out keyboard for texting might be kind of nice. And there's even the VPak: an unlimited data plan, plus VCast videos, for $15! But would this really satisfy me? Would the savings be worth the reduced functionality? Maybe not. I talked myself out of it.

This week, Verizon replaced the VPak option with a limited data plan with no VCast for $5 more, and I lamented my missed opportunity to be grandfathered in. On the other hand, now there is the Samsung Rogue, a much slicker option as far as halfassed smartphone alternatives go. I'm not opposed to limited data plans as a concept; my limited text plan suits me fine. But Verizon's data limits are absurdly stingy and a terrible value. The $20 option, for 75 mb a month, is only $10 less than a Blackberry unlimited data plan. And the only unlimited options put you in territory that is exactly the same as a Blackberry. So why would you ever get a phone with less? It's like if GM made the Chevy Aveo cost the same as a Cadillac CTS -- is the Aveo really there to be bought or is it just there to make the upsell look better?

It's Apple's fault, actually -- their iPhone price drop has fucked the industry by forcing every carrier to flatten their handset prices to around $100, regardless of whether it makes any sense, and then to make back the subsidy with unreasonable data plans, just like AT&T.

I just want to stop thinking about phones. I want to stop reading reviews, comparing prices, hoping in vain to beat the system and find the nonexistent rate combinations that would actually make sense. It is a real problem.

I tried to psychoanalyze myself out of it. You don't really want a phone, I told myself. You want what the phone symbolizes: the financial security to spend money wastefully, the additional discretionary income that comes with the career success that continues to elude you. A phone would not make you happy. Focus on self-improvement and hard work and the rest will follow. Your phone obsession, and the absurd amount of time and mental energy it consumes, is only an impediment to your success. This worked for a week or two, but then it came back.

I know I don't need all this bullshit. I have a laptop I carry almost everywhere anyway. I have a fucking map in my car, and even that I only use about once a year. I go through an average day never needing the capability a smartphone would give me, except that I am constantly thinking about smartphones and how I could possibly acquire one.

The Blackberry Storm 2 looks like it's going to be pretty good.


Diana Draw said...

My very sweet Googler boyfriend got me the 1st Gen iPhone when it came out two+ years ago. He then proceeded to make fun of me when I fell asleep with it next to me, cupped in loving embrace in my arms - instead of him. I still have that 1st gen iPhone to this day and love it every bit as much as when I first got it. I hear you on the crazy consumerism - but it really is an amazing product. The obsession is not unfounded. (It's the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy PLUS games in a sexy package, fer Christ's sakes.) If you do go for a phone, don't get a substitute, because that will just make you sad.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

If I may give you my secret to Phone Want: buy the phone but don't get a data plan. Sure it's a bit annoying to have to search for a wi-fi spot when you want to look something up but once you set them up you'll find you have internet the majority of the time.

Kevin said...


matt said...

I sympathize. I have a firm-issued Blackberry that has email and modest web access but nothing else, and I find myself irrationally craving an iPhone. It's all the more frustrating because I really hate Apple.

Zack said...

I completely disagree with Tom's statement that Wi-Fi will provide Internet access "the majority of the time." Not even close. Plus, a lot of corporate-provided free Wi-Fi comes with really obnoxious login procedures you have to follow every time.

Until you've got the money and lack of resolve to do it right, don't do it.

Kenny said...

Most phone carriers now require you to get a data plan with a smartphone so Tom's suggestion is not an option. Also, if you wanted to depend on wi-fi you could just get an iPod Touch.