"But in the dark silence
(No Bounds, by G.O.L.)
Mobile phone day
I've noticed mobile phones recently. Oh, I've mentioned them before. I've had one since 1996. Actually I had one before that, but it was stolen, and when it returned it was too late. I had already switched to a newer model. Uh, that was the 1996 model that was the newer one. As you may guess, "newer" is relatively speaking here.
So what? I don't mind if there is only one ring tone, if the display only shows 2x10 characters (or perhaps it was 2x12) and if it is too big and heavy to keep in normal pockets. I don't mind if there are almost no functions except placing a call and exchanging text messages. In fact, I don't even do that normally. I just keep the thing around as a security measure. If all else fails, one can call for help using the mobile phone. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem: This fall, when I passed the place where a woman in a car had crashed with a woman on a pedal bike, some guy with a mobile phone made it possible to call for help right then and there.
Of course, time has flowed, or perhaps flown, since 1996. Today the mobile phones have a plethora of ring tones, most of which sound like melodies, and rather elaborate ones at that. They have a crisp clear display where you can compose a small message on-screen or even read your e-mail if you can afford it. The display is in color, and lately it has been common to also include a small camera in the phone. There are also an abundance of additional services, from exchangeable covers to voice-directed calls. Not that I need any of that, of course. But I see people use these phones. I see them first when I come to the bus stop and wait for the bus. That's where people start using them, mostly girls but also grown women, and some boys. On the bus is evidently a good time to use your phone, despite the background noise, but many prefer text messages (understandably). Then while walking through the streets to work. And then ... and then I have promised not to write about work. But I am sure you know what I'm thinking.
But they are them and I am me. I did not give this all much thought, although I did notice, until the whole sad thing about the DSL being down for two weeks. During my contact with my ISP, which also happens to be my fixed-line phone company, I had to give them my mobile phone number twice since the repair work also involved my fixed line. This is when I started to discover that batteries degrade with time, even if not used.
I don't mean that they lose power. I am not totally ignorant. I know that even if you don't call, the batteries will gradually lose power and you will eventually have to recharge them again. What I did not know was that after eight years, recharging won't help much. They will last for some minutes afterward, but the next day they will be flat even if you have not switched the phone on during that time. In short: It's dead, Jim.
Now the choice is simple: Live without a mobile phone, which after all billions of people have done through history. Or buy a new. Well, a very high proportion of those billions are dead, and those who still live mostly do so in filth and squalor and abject poverty. So, to keep some cheap semblance of normalcy which doesn't directly clash with my religion (I think, unless this is the Image of the Beast that Could Speak), I went off today and bought a new mobile phone.
My first decision was simple enough: I wanted a subscription-based plan. I don't know exactly how long those calling cards last, but I know they expire after a while. I don't want to need to keep that in mind, or suddenly be without a mobile phone because the card has expired. Besides, it is emotionally more distressing to throw away an unused card than letting a month pass without calling. Because, as I have already mention, I don't normally use the thing. I just have it.
Next, I did not want to use Telenor, the old monopoly which still has a de facto monopoly on ground-based telephony because they already own all the copper cables that crisscross every town and village and go all the way to our homes. They have enough power as is, and besides they rarely have the best prices – why should they, when so many people will choose them automatically? I use them for ADSL, because otherwise the ISP and the line owner (Telenor) would mutually blame each other and no one would fix my problems. It is hard enough to get them to fix it when they are both.
So I bought the cheapest subscription at their main competitor, Netcom. There are other, smaller phone companies that have better prices, but they tend to specialize in calling cards or high-volume plans. Since this was already cheap and simple, and a continuation of the subscription I had on the old phone, I looked no further. It is quite cheap to subscribe, but of course it is that much more expensive to actually call. Not horribly expensive, I think, or I would have noticed. I just glanced at the poster. Because I don't actually call. Who should I call? It's not like I have someone to talk with in this world.
Once I had decided this much, I knew which shop sold phones subsidized by that telcom. So I went there and explained the situation, asking them to recommend a cheap phone and take care of the paperwork. This they did. I could have gotten it even cheaper had I taken a more expensive subscription, but that is kinda like credit: You have to pay much more in the future for paying a little less now. It works fine on stupid people, but I would need a good reason for doing it. There was no good reason.
I did not need or want anything extra, such as camera and wireless broadband. Cheap, small and functional. Even so, it turned out to be crowded with functions I have never seen before. Not to mention the crisp clear color screen. I haven't even listened to all of the ring tones. I picked one called "Heavenly" or something, and it sounded nice. That, and I like the name. It is not as if people will actually call me, so it's no big deal either way. But of course sometimes people will get the wrong number, just like with my line phone. Most of the calls I get are wrong number.
I read quickly through some parts of the user manual. Things have certainly improved. Now you can assign a spoken text to a phone number. For instance the name of the person who owns that phone number. It should be long enough to not be easily mistaken. Still, doesn't it sound like pure science fiction? A technology that cannot be distinguished from magic. Much good it does me, but it is still impressive.
I wonder, if I am allowed to live for another eight years, what will the mobile phones be like then? This one has a battery that lasts for days without fading (as long as I don't call at least). I understand that they are now building prototypes that use fuel cells instead of batteries, and that these can run for days on a few drops of alcohol. Some experiment with bacteria that create electricity, and that can run for the longest time on a sugar cube. I cannot even imagine what new functions they will have, unless – as I have suspected in the past – the mobile phone and the PDA will merge into a pocket datapad that connects you to the worldwide wireless web: WWWW.
So by then perhaps I will have someone to talk to after all. Or at least to write to, like I do now. But whether they will talk to me is another matter. I wonder if that would be a good or a bad thing.
On days like today, it is stunningly clear to me how different I have become from the humans around me. To be so very alone, surely it must seem to them like living hell, worse than crippling pain or the loss of an arm and a leg. I can see how humans feel about these things, see it as if through a double glass window. We can see each other, but we cannot hear each other. Even so, I have been roughly where they are, so I can imagine. But they cannot imagine what I have become. (Doesn't that sound like some supervillain's line? "You cannot imagine what I have become! MUAHAHAHA!")
But at least now I have become the owner of a brand new mobile phone, so let us just wait for the great joy of another material possession to fill my soul.
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.