In Password Hell

Today I went to get a new iPhone.  The battery on the old one was running down at Usain Bolt-like speed, and clearly, it was time.

51yn54juiql._sx569_When I got to the Verizon store, the pleasant young guy who took care of me looked at my phone, chuckled softly, and noted that the phone was more than five years old.  That’s like taking world history back to the Pharaonic period — when cell phone data storage was miniscule, cell phone cameras were crappy, cell phone batteries were tiny . . . and, not incidentally, cell phones were a lot cheaper than they are now.

So, I had to decide how much I wanted to spend for my new phone.   It didn’t take me long to decide that I didn’t need to spend $1500 (which, amazingly to me, is what the Verizon store employee who is probably making not much over minimum wage confessed he had spent on his phone) and would be perfectly happy with the cheapest iPhone 10 they had — which was still incredibly expensive.  Then I had to pick a color (red), and a phone case (a clear Pelican) and then it was iPhone set-up time.  And that’s where the process ran off the rails.

“What’s your Apple password?” he asked pleasantly — and I felt cold, icy fingers of fear clutching my heart.  And then he asked for my iTunes password, and then for my gmail password, and the depths of angst and despair burrowed ever deeper into my soul.  “I’m not sure,” I said uncertainly.  “Well, what do you think it might be?” he asked, slightly baffled and no doubt wondering how could anyone who uses a modern phone wouldn’t have all of their passwords memorized and ready to use at any moment.  So I gave a few half-hearted attempts, using passwords that I know that I’ve used for something or another over the years — but there was no conviction in my efforts.  Sure enough, none of the passwords worked, and I got the accusatory buzzings and beepings that inevitably accompany password failure.  So the pleasant kid had to reset my passwords — passwords that will now promptly be forgotten, and vanish on the wings of the wind down the password memory hole.  It made the new phone process even longer and even more embarrassing.

As I left the store I realized that there is a reason I get a new phone only every five years.

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Old Phones For Old Folks

I’ve really come to dislike those T-Mobile commercials.  Filled with quick cuts from one group of happy, dancing twenty-somethings to guitar-playing scruffs to youthful, grinning selfie-snappers, all of whom are precisely dishevelled and wearing kicky scarves and snazzy hats, the T-Mobile commercials are even more specifically focused at an age group than toy commercials on Saturday morning TV.

And it’s an age group that I no longer belong to.

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I’ve been dimly aware for some time that I’m completely out of it when it comes to phones.  I know this because of the shocked expressions of my younger colleagues when I haul out my cell phone, immediately followed by a bemused expression when I plug it in to charge the battery — again.  It’s the same bemused expression you probably gave your grandparents when you noticed that they spilled food on themselves while eating a recent meal and are walking around with tomato soup on their blouse and breadcrumbs on their cardigan.

I think I’ve got an iPhone 4.  Could a new iPhone do more, if I got one?  Undoubtedly.  But my current phone provides the limited phone/email/internet access/apps I actually use — and, candidly, rather than being moved to ecstatic dancing about getting a new phone, I kind of dread the thought.  I know that when I go to get one the customer service rep will be some precisely dishevelled, phone-arrogant twenty-something who probably plays guitar on breaks who will ask me condescending questions about my phone needs that I don’t fully understand.  It’s nettlesome.  Plus, there’s an obvious risk that, when I get a new phone, the apps I actually use will mysteriously vanish or move or be unworkable.  So I stick to my old, tried-and-true, reliable-if-constantly-leaking-battery-power phone.

When I see those irritating T-Mobile commercials, I feel guilty about my phone backwardness — but then I read a recent survey that shows that a majority of Americans will upgrade their phones only when the phone stops working or becomes obsolete.  That basically means I’m still comfortably in the majority and maybe even a titch ahead of the curve, because my phone still works fine and doesn’t appear to be obsolete — not that I would know.

Ha!  So take that, T-Mobile!  It’s nice to know that there is a Silent Majority of technology-challenged Americans who aren’t data obsessed and sent into paroxyms of dancing joy by the newest cell phone and data service plan.

Now excuse me while I check my shirt for food stains.

Thumbing It

The other day I inadvertently caught my thumb in a door I was closing.  My thumb throbbed, I cursed, and then I realized with a start that until my poor pollex was 100 percent again I was totally unable to fully participate in essential activities of modern life.

The development of an opposable thumb has long been viewed as a crucial step in the human evolutionary process.  The thumb is a simple body part, made up of bones and hinges.  Yet the fully opposable thumb is unique to humans, and its development allowed humans to become complex organisms.  The thumb permits us to grip items securely and throw them accurately.  The thumb is essential to the use of the fine motor skills that allow us to perform detail work.  It is what made humans into toolmakers and tool users.

In the modern world our thumbs are more important than ever before.  They are our principal texting digits.  Your thumb performs the swipe that unlocks your iPhone.  Your thumbs anchor your hands on a computer keyboard and pound the space bar when you type your report.  Your thumb is what empowers you to open a clutch purse, use a bottle opener, pry open a child-proof container, and take notes with a pen.  Of course, it also allows you to signal an interest in hitchhiking and indicate ready assent in a noisy place.  The list of activities that require a thumb is endless, and it will continue to grow as inventiveness moves our species toward even greater reliance upon handheld devices.

With the enormously increased use of our thumbs these days, you’d think that doctors, physical therapists, and surgeons would be besieged by people with thumb-related ailments — but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  The humble thumb abides.

That Morning Email Fix

For nearly 50 years I lived comfortably without a mobile phone.  I could go out to eat without needing to check constantly on social media, see whether I’d received a text, or take a photo of my food and post it somewhere immediately.  Now I seem to be as addicted to my handheld device as a heroin addict is to his daily fix.

IMG_6119I check my email first thing in the morning, check it routinely throughout the day, and typically do so again the last thing before I head upstairs for bed at night.  I am in a business where client service is crucially important and I want to be promptly responsive to any messages from those clients — but I know that is, in part, just a rationalization.  If I check my phone for email, I can get back to my clients in impressive time and always will seem to be in touch — but I’ll also see whether any other messages are waiting for me.

Why is this so?  I think it’s driven in part by ego and in part by the natural curiosity of the human brain.  We want to know if people are responding to us or thinking of us, and we are easily bored.  Rather than just take a walk down the street, why not check in on Facebook, too?  I suppose there’s no significant harm in missing the simple pleasures of a walk that you’ve taken many times — only to get another message that you’ve been invited to play some unknown Facebook game — but when referring to your handheld begins to interfere with actually living your life it seems like it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing.

I thought of this increasingly during our trip to New Orleans, when I encountered people who seemed to be focused on tapping things into their handheld to the exclusion of everything else — even if it meant stumbling into people on the street because they weren’t paying attention to where they were going.  The point was driven home when Richard, Russell, UJ and I were sitting on the second story balcony of a place on Frenchmen Street, enjoying a beer and the view, and we noticed a group of 10 or so young women who appeared to be part of a wedding party at the next table over.  Virtually all of them had their eyes locked on their phones and their thumbs flying.  They weren’t really in New Orleans, they were in cyberworld — so why physically be in New Orleans in the first place?

It was sad, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not much better.  I like blogging and feeling like I’m connected, but I need to make sure that I’ve worked out an appropriate balance between the real world and the virtual one.

In The Back Seat Of The Cab

If you’ve traveled frequently for work, you’ve probably spent a lot of time in the back seats of cabs.

More time than you’d care to think, I’d wager.  If, at the moment you depart for that Great Airline Terminal in the Sky, you added up all the time spent in cabs over your working life — all those 45-minute trips from the airport to your hotel, all those crosstown rides through hopelessly snarled traffic when the UN is in town, all those half-awake dashes to catch an early bird flight — you might have spent a week or maybe even two in the back seat of a cab.

We tend not to focus on our “cab time.”  This is a good thing, because cab time sucks.  When you are in the back seat of a taxi, you’re checking your flight information, catching up on your email, or groggily wondering whether you’re overdue to experience some form of travel hell.  You don’t focus on the cabbie’s driving, and you especially don’t pay much attention to where you’re sitting. God forbid!  If you did think about such things, you’d ask some unsettling questions, and you’d start carrying a can of Lysol and a plastic sheet on every road trip.  How old is this cab, anyway?  What’s that smell?  Hey, is that a stain on the floor?  Just who were the passengers before me?  Were they doing something unsavory?  Were they suffering from some debilitating communicable disease?

I’m in a cab right now, trying not to think any of these disquieting thoughts.  It’s time to play Spider Solitaire on the iPhone, zone out, and trust the unknown professional behind the wheel to get me to the airport on time.

On Elfin Fingers

I never realized how thick-set and uncoordinated my fingers were until I got my iPhone.  Of course, the fact that the iPhone keypad is apparently designed for elfin fingers hasn’t helped.

I liked the BlackBerry keypad.  It was a permanent keypad, with little raised buttons that were completely thumb-friendly.  The iPhone, however, dumps the permanent keypad in favor of a temporary one that vanishes when not needed, in order to accommodate a larger screen and better visuals.  The price of good visuals, however, is a tiny set of touch buttons that are best suited to the light touch of dancing fairy feet. Does anyone who doesn’t live in the world of the Lord of the Rings actually possess the thumb dexterity needed to routinely accomplish shift-A or shift-S?

My stubby-fingered, stumbling attempts to type on the iPhone keypad are a source of deep personal embarrassment.  I’m very concerned that I’m going to wear a hole in the screen where the backspace/delete button appears.

Apptitude Test

I’ve replaced my inert BlackBerry with an iPhone.  If you buy any Apple product, you are of course legally required to at least try to be as cool as your Apple device.  Being an iPhone owner, I therefore necessarily must act as cool as possible.  But — God help me! — I don’t know how.

The route to coolness with an iPhone is clear:  have cool apps, and then adroitly display them to your fellow iPhonistas.  For example, at Friday night’s Bob Seger concert, the Red Sox Fan wowed our guests by showing them an app that was a lighter that he flicked open and lit — for use, obviously, in calling for encores at rock shows.  Pretty cool!  Another fellow concertgoer with a taste for warm chocolate desserts gave me a run-down on her iPhone, with dozens of dazzling apps that she deftly demonstrated as they spun by.  Even more cool!  But how do you find that kind of stuff?

The app store icon on my iPhone has more than 20 different categories.  Each has dozens — if not hundreds — of options.  Do you just start with “games” and look at each option in each category?  How do you confirm that an app is as cool as it looks?  Can you get some kind of trial period before you commit to spend the $0.99 on Angry Birds?  (Hey, those $0.99 purchases could add up!)  Do you take word-of-mouth recommendations from friends?  Do you regularly check the “What’s Hot” tab to make sure that you are completely up-to-date?

I confess that I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I’m sure there’s an app for that — but where?