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I Just Want A Phone That's A Phone

I just survived one of the most grueling ordeals of these times we live in: I bought a new cell phone. I'd resisted getting a new one because mine worked fine, and I had no interest in all the fancy features that the new phones offer.

However, at my CPR course, I learned that a new cell phone would have some kind of GPS technology so that if I ever had to call 911, somehow they would know exactly where I was calling from. Also, the display on my cell phone had been fading for months, and the numbers and letters were getting harder and harder to read. So, I took a deep breath and looked into getting a new phone.

Commercials tell us today that a cell phone is not just a phone. It's a camera, it's a note pad, it's a calendar, it's a calculator, it's a Web browser, it's a text message sender, it's a voice recorder, it's a music player, and it's an alarm clock. I'm sure there are phones that can start your car and unlock the doors to your house. But I wasn't interested in all these features. I just wanted a phone I could use to call people.

I was planning on getting the simplest phone made, and I knew that with my calling plan that phone would be free. (By the way, I believe my calling plan only commits me to the company for the next 30 years.) However, a friend mentioned that I should consider getting a camera phone. He said if I'm ever in an accident, it's a good idea to take pictures of the cars involved. And since this feature was free for me, why not get it?

So, the two main reasons I was getting the new phone — 911 GPS capability and being able to take pictures in case of an accident — were both part of "worst case scenarios." To make them worthwhile, I was going to have to have some kind of emergency or get into a car accident. So, I'm looking forward to using neither of the features that attracted me to buying the phone I bought. Does that sound crazy to you, too?

Before making the purchase, I did the appropriate amount of research. I even learned that Bluetooth technology was not named for a scientist with poor dental hygiene. It was named after a 10th century Danish king, Harald Bluetooth. Learning this didn't make me feel any more confident in terms of being able to make an intelligent purchase choice. However, if I'm ever on "Jeopardy," I could win a few bucks if the category is Danish Kings Whose Names Are Used In Technology.

Ultimately, I put all the research aside, asked my daughter if she liked her phone, she said, "yes," and that was the one I got. If it was good enough for an almost-21-year-old who actually understands all the features and options, it would be good enough for me. Also I assumed that there would be some things about the phone that I wouldn't understand, and now I can just call her up and she'll semi-tolerantly explain them to me. That's a lot better than using the cell phone to call up customer support, being put on hold while the battery's running down, and finally getting someone who will tell me to read the manual.

Ah, the manual. Keeping in mind that I bought one of the simpler phones, it came with an 84-page manual (plus 84 pages in Spanish), a CD, and a 31-page "Quick Reference Guide." I can still remember when phones were black, weighed more than a German Shepherd, and the only thing they came with was a person who was always in the background yelling, "Get off the phone already. It's long distance."

All of this angst was for a device that doesn't get good reception in parts of my own neighborhood and invariably goes dead right after the other person has said something like, "This is really important. I ..."

I know the new phone will work fine, but I fear that I'll still have the two minor problems I had with the old one. It didn't work if I forgot to turn it on, or if I left it at home. I doubt that the latest technology has addressed these problems.

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver