Saturday, August 23, 2014

The secret life of cell phones

Aug. 3
They were clustered at the newsroom corral, grazing like desperate bulimic cattle on the open range (an easy-access socket).
I cut my cellphone from the herd, musing that I’d fully charged it at home last night. But by the time I’d headed for work that morning, it was reading about 40 percent.
I hadn’t touched it.
What had my cellphone been doing all night while I was sleeping?
Checking its Tout and Twitter and Facebook accounts? Adding new apps behind my back? Having intimate coded confabs with its cyberspace amigos? Upgrading, upgrading , upgrading?
And what’s up with that?
Before I headed out the door, I’d heard the 20-something TV weatherguy announce that “we’ll be upgrading from partly cloudy to mostly sunny over the next few days.”
I remember when my elders used to grumble about “planned obsolescence,” which apparently started sometime after World War II, when the “use it up, patch it up, make do” mandates of pioneer times and the Great Depression gave way to an aggressive consumer growth economy that seemed to apply to everything from procreation (thus, the Baby Boom generation) to designing major and small appliances to break down after what most considered an unacceptably short life.
It seems that few were disturbed when the same philosophy was applied to cars and clothes. From the 1950s to the mid-1960s, there were radical shifts in style, and keeping up with the Joneses meant frantically and frequently changing hemlines and trading in perfectly good cars to keep your status in the neighborhood. We were wanton in our desire for new stuff, and just as reckless about disposing of it.
A ditty that still occupies space in my aging brain: “Drink soft drinks in throw-away cans. Start today!”
Eventually, hippies and the Protest Generation nurtured an appreciation for all things vintage and a devotion to environmental preservation. The tide seemed ready to turn toward sustainability for good.
Then came the Me Generation, 1980s excesses, and the tech boom that has continued to escalate.
Planned obsolesce now seems like gentle coaxing compared to the relentless onslaught of mandatory upgrading. Once, we at least had a choice: we could repair our old TV sets, or a washing machine, for instance. Now, we don’t even wait for them to be broken. We are urged to upgrade, to replace a whole kitchen full of appliance that work perfectly well, simply to have them all in a matched set with stainless steel finish. (Same goes for counters: I like my tile, but if I ever want to sell my home, friends in the know tell me, granite is mandatory, at least for this decade.)
Woe unto he or she who clings to a 1.0. 2.0 or 3.0 anything.
I’m not against progress, mind you. If upgrades make things better or easier or more efficient, I’m a fan.
But recently, I’ve noticed all kinds of upgrades, usually added without my permission and often, particular in cable services, at considerable added expense. And what’s worse, many upgrades actually make things worse: slower, and with added steps that make some apps less efficient and sometimes sluggish or completely non-functional.
There is, alas, no inherent virtue in upgrades for the sake of upgrades. And I’m increasingly unwilling to spend my remaining years as a guinea pig for unproven stuff that could make us cross-eyed, carpal tunneled or give us brain tumors and cancer.
If you can come up with real improvements (my much-longed-for Star Trek badge gadget, for instance, that at a tap of the finger or voice command will do everything my burgeoning satchels of cameras, phones, lap tops and pads will do), I’m all in.
But until you get it all down, please don’t bombard me with upgrade options or worse, upgrade me without asking me first.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @Derrickson Moore on Twitter and Tout or call 575-541-5450.

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