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Dec 1, 2011

Reflections on My Time in the Mobile Space

I interrupt my various musings on writing to get back to technology for a post. After all, I am and have always been a bit of a gadget geek. I was thinking a bit about mobile phones, something that’s on a lot of people’s minds these days. Personally I don’t keep my enthusiasm for them much of a secret. I’d probably sooner go out sans pants than without my iPhone. Just for the record, I try really hard not to do the former. However, it wasn’t always the case...I mean the thing about the phone, not the pants. Once upon a time, and for quite a few years, I couldn’t give two shits about my mobile phone.

I was working for AT&T back around the time that cell phones were starting to become widespread. For a year or so I took a “People can call me when I’m at home, otherwise they can wait” attitude. Then AT&T, being y’know a telecom company, had an employee sale. I could get a handful of minutes on the cheap and a Nokia brick phone for free. That wasn’t the phone’s real name; I’m far too lazy to bother to look that up. Needless to say that was an apt description of the phone. I could have used the damn thing to mug old ladies, I tell you.

I got it pretty much on a whim, figuring it might come in handy should I find myself trapped in my car at the bottom of a ravine somewhere with vultures circling overhead. Truth be told, I almost never used it to the point where the battery tended to be dead when I did decide to turn it on. I’ve never been much of a phone talker. I’ve had maybe a handful of hour+ conversations over the course of my lifetime. I certainly wasn’t about to have any major life-altering conversations on a brick of a phone with few enough minutes to ensure that any lengthy chat might as well be with a 1-900 number.

I had the brick for over a year. Around that time I noticed that phones were getting smaller. The brick was pocketable but only insomuch that putting it in my front pocket would tend to make me look like a John Holmes wannabe (sans obligatory porno mustache). Around that time I decided to upgrade to this tiny little Sony Erickson flip phone. This phone was an utter piece of shit, the flip part being little more than a flimsy, non-functional, piece of plastic. I carried it around on me because it was tiny but I probably used it even less than the brick.

Oddly enough, around this time I did get my first taste of a “must have” mobile device. It just had nothing to do with a phone. I wound up in possession of a Palm Pilot (a Palm V for you techno-purists). In retrospect it was really only good for three things: taking notes in meetings (I had Palm script down like a mofo!), IR Battleship, and Dope Wars. However, at the time it was like manna from the heavens. I’d have sooner been forced to sell my blood for food than go without the warm embrace of its black and white screen. It wasn’t until my kids broke the charger for it did I realize how much I didn’t need it. However, until that time it was a love story fit for the movies. To this day I still kind of miss its version of Dope Wars.

Anyway, back to phones, for the next few years it was a lot of the same. The wife and I eventually upgraded to Motorola Flip Phones, a Razr for her and another piece of shit for me. Once again I don’t know the model number and couldn’t be bothered to check. The phone worked...most of the time at least...as a phone and that was it. It had a few lousy game demos on it and I could supposedly check the web and my email on its paltry little screen, both of which seemed far too painful to even attempt.

Thus we entered 2007. The state of mobile phones was dull at best. Motorola was trying to squeeze a few more years into the Razr and their other clamshells. Samsung was doing the same. Nokia kept selling their ugly ass candy bar phones. And, at the high end, Blackberry and Palm sat like virtual emperors, their godlike phones only for those either willing to part with a good many of their precious sheckles or lucky to work for corporate overlords benevolent enough to bless them with such magical devices.

And then came the iPhone. I’ve heard that there were other touch-screen phones being worked on at the time, the LG Prada comes to mind. However, being that I still could have cared less about the whole mobile space, I was unaware of them. I saw its unveiling via the web and I couldn’t believe such a thing could work well. Surely the touch screen would be a failure of epic proportions. No way could you surf the web on a phone and have it actually look like...the web. Even more mind blowing, it had Wi-Fi. The phone could connect to a home network for actual respectable speeds, something I hadn’t even really considered before.

Still, I was staunchly anti-Apple at the time. No iPods graced my home. Macs were verboten, over expensive toys at best. I kept an eye out as surely the competition would come out with an answer to this upstart phone that would blow it away instantly. The Motorolas, Nokias, and RIMs of the world were masters of their domain and would certainly present something that would humble Apple back to the periphery where they belonged.

That didn’t happen and as the months went by I found my curiosity piquing. Eventually I had some extra money to burn and the Mrs. and I were both due for upgrades. I went with an iPhone; she went with a Blackberry Curve. Flash forward a few months and I was on the iPhone 3G. She was using my original iPhone, and the Blackberry had been relegated to the junk drawer as a backup phone “just in case”. For all I know it’s still moldering there waiting for love that is just not coming its way.

It didn’t start quickly with me. At first I just used the iPhone as a phone and nothing else. It was only a gradual thing. I’d be waiting in the car while my wife was shopping and decide to check email. I’d be sitting on the couch, want to look up something on the web but not really want to get up and turn on the computer. I’d need to check the weather. Someone would send me a link to YouTube. Etc etc on and on, until I realized that I was spending more time on my phone than I was at my desktop. That same feeling I had with my old Palm V was back except this time it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors, I was actually able to be productive untethered to a PC.

And that brings us to today. Today’s mobile world isn’t just about having that emergency phone to call for help while bears chew their way into your car. It’s so much more. Mobile web, shopping, banking, video chat, etc etc. Sure there are days when I wonder if it’s too much. At what point will information overload just make my head pop off? However, I don’t think that too often. At the moment I find it empowering to have so much power at my fingertips. I like the fact that, though I am inconvenienced by a gadget in my pocket, it is no longer the unused brick that it used to be. Whether this will change with time remains to be seen but for now you can be sure that if you come across me I’ll have my mobile handy...the pants, well that’s still up for debate.

Written and posted via an iPhone 4.

3 comments:

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

My phone is practically a "brick." (I LOVE that term by the way LOL!) I need to get an iPad or an iPhone or something! The world is passing me by, but at least I just got my first laptop--yahoo for that ;)

natz said...

I'm currently using a blackberry. Didn't get an iPhone because I drop my phone so often I'd be out of money real quick. But am loving my iPad!

Rick G said...

Elisa, don't be so quick to want to dive in. There is something to be said to not being connected (or tethered) 24/7.

Anna, I have a cheap Speck case on my iPhone, that's all and I drop it at least once a day. Nary a scratch on it. They're tougher than they look...that being said a good fall onto concrete can mess up any phone's day. :)