Sunday’s Column – Smart Phones

Jul 1, 2012 by

Here’s my Sunday column from The Newnan Times-Herald:

Certain advertising slogans stay with you.

“Where’s the beef?” and “Can you hear me now?” are so buried into our consciousness we can’t get rid of them save a lobotomy.

Those not around during the Reagan era may do a “huh?” on the first phrase, but anyone alive deals with “Can you hear me now?”

And the answer to that last question would be a “no.”

Companies, in an effort to be the best and fastest, have loaded up mobile devices with enough stuff to control a moon launch. These small handheld devices make some of the first Apple and Microsoft programs resemble Legos. We’ve gone from “Edge” to “3G” to “4GLite” to “4G” to some other alphabet/number soup combo: faster uploads, quicker downloads, more speed to play games or whatever. But these mini-computers fail.

Why? I still can’t make a phone call from my kitchen.

I can, however, take some seriously angry birds and launch them into a building with the sole purpose of destroying it and its occupants. I don’t know why. I can pretend I’m a celebrity and get thrown off a plane playing some word game with friends. I can tell you what I had for breakfast and what I’m doing next. I can send you a letter without a stamp.

I still can’t make a phone call from my kitchen.

I can, however, take incredible photos that eventually go to some cloud in the sky. I can even make a video that also disappears into that cloud. I can become friends with you or even unfriend you. I can follow directions that drive me into a lake. I can slice you in half with my Light Saber. I can read books. I can kill zombies.

I still can’t make a phone call from my kitchen. Oh wait. Yes I can. Because I now have a super-dooper thingamagig that instantly gives me the Holy Grail of Five Bars!!!! You can tell I’m very excited because I rarely, ever, use exclamation points. I just used four.

Of course, one has to pay for said super-dooper thingamagig and also have Internet service. In simple terms, “give us more money and we’ll make sure your phone can, well, do what it’s supposed to do – make a phone call.”

All this came to a head recently when Eldest and Middle SONS of Thunder were at Boy Scout camp. Eldest is a seasoned pro. It was the first week away from home for Middle and several of his friends, who were just getting their camping legs.

Not to worry. Us Super Dads allowed each boy a couple of minutes every night to call home. Never say we are heartless.

The question, however, was not “Can you hear me know/” but rather “Does anyone have any service … at all … even one bar?”

Fortunately, a few dads did. The best spot was by the fire ring, wait for the wind to push that high branch out of the way and hit speed dial fast.

And finally Middle Son gets through and hears the voice of the Little Black Dress. And he breathes a sign of relief and starts talking and The Dress starts to respond and then … “CALL FAILED.”

At this point you don’t care that the birds are angry; that someone wants to be your friend; what someone 1,000 miles away had for breakfast. You just want your son to hear his mother’s voice.

You just want your “smartphone” to be a “dumbphone” for once and just do what it really is supposed to do. Like, make a phone call.

And all the dads start doing the Hokey Pokey dance to find the one spot where you can get just one measly little signal bar. And you, and all the other dads and their sons, are shown a little grace. And voices are connected somehow.

Every day someone has a new app to “help” us “communicate.” We have more ways to communicate than ever before. But is that the point? Or should the focus be on hearing. On listening. On conversing.

Maybe, we should occasionally do something different that doesn’t need a smartphone. Like ringing a doorbell.

But call first, and quickly, before they make an app for that.

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