Tuesday, July 13, 2010

38 days to Bar Mitzvah: technology triumphs again

Why does it take an hour to buy a new phone? And once your almost-teenage child has a Droid, does punishing by restriction from electronics include taking away his phone?

According to him, no. "It's my phooonnne," he said as our quick trip to Verizon stretched to an hour.

"I'm not sure about that," I said.

Around here, it was starting to look like an act of God would be required before I'd break down and buy a new phone. My BlackBerry, which I'd hated from the outset, was sputtering toward death. Once loathed by me for its smug efficiency and message of self-importance, it now sought drawn-out revenge by only working intermittently. Without warning, several of the keys on its microscopic QWERTY keyboard would stop working, and they'd do it in particularly cruel and absurd fashion.

It became tempermental. Sometimes it would decide that the center ball cursor thing was no longer the button used to open emails. Instead, I eventually learned, emails would now be opened by pressing the arrow that normally returns you to the previous screen.

More annoyingly, it would randomly decide to replace typed letters with bizarre combinations of alternate ones. "N" became "RF;" "C" was now "AF." The "back" key would not only not erase a mistake, it would enter "WS" instead. "WS" may seem innocent enough, until you are frantically trying to go back a space and your mounting frustration makes you fill the entire screen with "WS."

The Jawa in particular was disgusted by my refusal to buy a new phone. His agenda barely hidden, he went on a campaign to convince me to ditch Verizon altogether and get an iPhone. "Why do I need an iPhone?" I'd ask.

"You can get all these great apps!"

"I don't need any apps. I just talk on the phone and read emails."

At that point, steam would begin to come out of his ears. He wanted me to get a new phone because, using infallible kid logic, he assumed that a new phone for me meant a new phone for him.

Sandra Bullock, though barely invested in the whole thing, also wanted me to get a new phone. To her, it seemed that I would rather curse the darkness than reach for the light switch. It wasn't that; I wouldn't pull the trigger because I knew what it would mean: ninety minutes standing around the Verizon store while some goateed salesguy secretly added charges in five dollar increments to my final bill. And I liked the ring tone the Jawa downloaded for me: LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” I never missed a call.

Yesterday, I lost my BlackBerry. Somewhere between the car and the house, it vanished. In doing so, it followed a great tradition begun many years ago by my house keys and continued throughout the ensuing decades by several pairs of sunglasses, a few wallets and a shocking number of baseball caps.

Honestly, I didn't look too hard for it. I figured if it didn't turn up today, I'd go out and finally get a new phone. I spent more energy looking for the car keys when they disappeared as I was heading out to look for houses to write about. For a frantic ten minutes, I retraced my steps at least 25 times; no keys. They were in the little plate thing on my dresser, pretending that I'd put them there for the night.

With a sweating and unshowered (and frankly, needing a little father-son talk about the added personal hygeine responsiblities one assumes when they enter their teens) Jawa, it was with trepidation that I entered the Verizon store in Daly City, ready for the worst.

One hour later, we walked out of the Verizon store almost $500 lighter. The condition was temporary, we were told. As soon as Daniel, our "Retail Sales Representative," mailed in our mail-in rebates, we'd get back $250.

Why do they bother with this "mail-in rebate" nonsense? Buying a phone has turned into buying a car. Why can't they just tell me the Droid costs $75, instead of first quoting me $569, then displaying their magnanimity by assembling this melange of deals -- probably put together with only you in mind -- that will reduce the price to something that makes sense. In our case, we got the special Droid "buy one get one free" deal, plus a $200 mail-in rebate, plus a $100 price reduction whose origins remain mysterious.

On top of that, we got a thing to plug into my USB port that will allow me to have wi-fi access anywhere. That was $69.99... minus the $50 mail-in rebate and another $20 knocked off by Daniel, just between him and me, and the two-year service contract I signed. So it was free, sort of.

Perhaps there was a time when an almost-teenaged boy's face would light up at the mention of a new dirt bike or baseball glove. Perhaps that boy exists somewhere in the world, and he has already begun X'ing out days on a calendar, counting down to his 16th birthday when he gets his license. That boy does not live in our house.

Our boy could barely contain himself at the notion of getting a Driod. The iPhone? Quickly forgotten. Shoved aside with a cursory, "This is so much better than an iPhone," and a few disparaging comments about antenna placement.

"Let me know if there's anything else, any other questions," Daniel finally told us by way of goodbye. He'd already showed us how your Driod can respond to voice commands. "FIND 123 MARKET STREET," he said to my Droid. A few seconds later, a map popped up. "FIND PIZZA," he said next, holding my new phone up to show me a long list of area pizzerias.

"I think we've got it," I said. By now, I just wanted to get out of there. While I knew I'd be getting about half of what we spent back, I still felt like I'd dropped a ton of dough, signed my life away and been manipulated, despite Daniel's innnocent and low-key approach to sales. If I'd come home to find they'd rifled through my wallet and taken the $12 in my pocket, I wouldn't have been surprised.

But we had Droids, the Jawa and I, and we walked out into the sunlight, heads down, trying to figure out how our new phones worked.

"I can't get mine to unlock," I said.

"Push the button on the top." I pushed the button on the top. Nothing.

"Go back inside and ask them how it works. I'm too embarassed," I said, and God bless the tech generation as the Jawa marched back into Verizon wireless, full of curiosity and the total absence of fear, and figured out how to unlock my phone. You have to push the button and let go quickly. Otherwise, it turns itself off.

Three hours have passed since we returned home with our smart little treasures. The Jawa has already programmed a bunch of stuff into his. Me? I've been typing, old school-style.


Butter Goats said...

Go to appbrain.com. You can download apps from there. Also install it on your phone and it will sync. Way cool and easier than surfing apps on your phone.

Butter Goats said...

Also fxCamera is a sweet camera app.