Sunday, April 25, 2010


Sometimes I wonder how long I will be able to hold out against the cellular telephone onslaught. It is likely the vast majority of you have one, maybe even two. They provide you with peace of mind possibly, or just a convenient way to communicate with others. Whatever your reason for having one, I don't begrudge you your possession. Nor your monthly bill.

I don’t have a cellular telephone now, but I did get one a long time ago. Long, long, long ago. Eighteen years or so, by my best calculation. It was the size of a shoe box and incurred roaming charges and all sorts of other mysterious fees. It didn’t take pictures or have ring tones or play games. It didn’t even have a calculator.

It was—and this may be hard for you to understand—a “phone.” Friends were envious, because most didn’t have one. Because it was such a new toy I sometimes used it foolishly. Once I called my mom from her front porch rather than ringing the doorbell. I was a phone phool.

There was no discussion when I had it that it operated on the 1G or the 2G network. Perhaps if there had been, I would understand the current television commercials and freeway billboards that boast of the 4G network. Of course, other companies still call theirs 3G. None of which makes any sense to me, so I did a little research.

Apparently the “G” stands for generation. The first generation (hence “1G”) utilized analogue transmission. That’s like having a wind-up watch or an Atari 2600 or a push mower. In other words, it dates you.

The switch to 2G began around 1991, when I had such a device, but I don’t know if mine was analogue or digital. Probably I was fooled into using a 1G phone even when 2G was available. Perhaps the salesman was unscrupulous and was just trying to get rid of old merchandise. Being the size of a shoe box wasn’t repellant as it would be to you smart phone owners. It might have even been a selling point.

“Look how big it is! You’ll never drop it between the sofa cushions!”

“I’ll take it!”

Sometime in the last decade the transmission network for cellular telephones began to include multi-media support and operated at a minimum of 200 kbit/s (whatever those are). This was decreed the third generation; that’s right, 3G. These phones were two generations removed from mine, basically turning me into the old guy in the recliner who does nothing other than complain about how fast the world is changing.

Even so, I don’t remember hearing much about 3G. Maybe I forgot to put my hearing aids in. For the last year or so, however, I have seen commercials that tout 3G as the thing to be. Someone offers the fastest 3G network, or has the greatest number of whatzits or flibbitygibbers. This must have been because they saw the future, and the future was their competitor: 4G.

Another entity began to proclaim that it had the first 4G network, and also the fastest (but if they are the first and only aren’t they currently the slowest 4G network also?). I don’t know who to believe, so I don’t believe anyone.

It doesn’t really matter to me, of course. I’ve been cellular telephone-free since 1996, and I have no plans to join the pack anytime soon. Sure, lots of people make fun of me. Many elementary school kids carry one and laugh at me when I tell them I don’t have one. Then they get angry when I say they don’t need one, either.

They have been indoctrinated by their parents who fear the next calamity, and want their children on an invisible leash. Of course, there’s no real way to know in what direction that leash stretches because the kid could be anywhere.

“Where are you?” Mommy asks her son.

“At Jimmy’s. We’re making birthday cards for his grandma.”

“How nice. Have fun!”

“Did she believe you?” the friend asks after the cellular telephone is flipped closed.

“Of course, she always believes me!” Thirty miles from where he is supposed to be, the boy takes the pack of cigarettes from his friend and lights up.

That little fantasy does not mean all cellular telephones are unnecessary or only used to lie, cheat, and steal. As I said, I don’t begrudge anyone who wants one. But I will stay happily on the sidelines waiting to see what happens. When the victor of the 3G/4G battle is decided (and it seems pretty obvious it will be 4G unless the Earth starts spinning backwards and the Atari 2600 begins selling more units than the Nintendo Wii) it will have to take on the inevitable 5G.

And then every new G after that. The networks will become more powerful, the phones will become smaller and do more, and eventually one will be embedded in your skull and you will be able to call your friends with just a thought. Your physical body will no longer be of use and you will become just another cog in the Matrix.

“Welcome to the new 10G network. Please park your soul at the door.”

Gee whiz. And good luck to those of you already ensnared.

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