Keep it simple

The "Welcome and Quick Guide" turns out to be some 25 pages of really nifty diagrams and explanations written in really nifty type designed for midgets.

About once a year, when spring is in the air, I am driven to buy some new piece of advanced personal technology. I always regret doing this because the new gadget usually makes my life more complicated rather than simpler. This year's mistake was to get a new cellular phone. Big mistake. Would anyone like a barely used cell phone with a large dent caused when an infuriated caller threw it at the wall? In as-is condition.

Of course, I did my research. I cruised the web endlessly comparing this calling plan with that calling plan and pricing maker A phones against makers B, C, D, and E phones. Finally, I made up a chart about the size of Rhode Island and threw a dart at it. Buying the new little devil was easy: a few clicks of the mouse and the nice computers at Incredibly Big Phone Sales Company (IBPS; the names have been changed to protect the guilty) zapped an Incredibly Big Air-Ship Company (IBAC) box overnight with the latest whiz-bang tiny cell phone made by Incredibly Big Euro-phone Company (IBEC).

Actually, there were two boxes. One tiny box contained the actual phone and one hefty box contained the manual. This manual is about the same size as my favorite writing book, the much-thumbed "The Elements of Style," by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White (New York, Macmillan, 1959). However, Strunk and White checks in at a modest 92 pages whereas the IBEC "User Guide" has 146 pages. And this is for a phone, mark you. Better you should read Strunk and White.

Remember when you plugged a phone into the wall and dialed a number (remember dials?) and you were connected to a real person in a matter of seconds? Fuggedaboudit. With the Really Nifty Phone (RNP), you take a day off work and settle down to read—get this—the "Welcome and Quick Guide," which turns out to be some 25 pages of really nifty diagrams and explanations written in really nifty type designed for midgets. I recommend visits to your physician, your optometrist, and your therapist before getting down to the "Welcome and Quick Guide." Believe you me, you'll save money by visiting these chaps before and not after you pick up the new cell phone.

Finally, on page 26, we get to "key in the number, including the area code." But, of course, this doesn't actually get you connected with your significant other or boss or whatever. No, you have to press a key that has a Masonic symbol on it that looks like a leaping sperm. You remember the illustrations back in Human Biology—I thought so. This key is green, which in Europe signifies "good." If you want to end the call, you press a key that looks like a leaping sperm that has delivered a large foreign object. This key is colored red, that action clearly being the devil's work.

But wait, there's more. This dandy guide to the RNP has a "Glossary." This is several pages of terms you'd rather not know. For example, did you know that your cell phone most likely has an ESN (Electronic Serial Number)? I know because my RNP would not call my significant other and, in desperation, I managed to get connected to the IBPS via my trusty land-line phone. The extremely kind and desperately patient "customer relations consultant" asked me for my RNP's ESN which turned out to be under the battery (naturally) beside the SIM Card (don't ask). Of course, you needed a Harvard Ph.D. or a mechanically adept child to get the battery out, but that's another story.

If you really have time to fritter away in useless pursuits, you can, so I'm told, use these latest gadgets for surfing the web (try reading a Google page on your cell phone—a quick way to the funny farm). Mine has an FM radio built in—I can't imagine why. The RNP plays strange games and can download "Tosca" for ring tones. It may get Andrea Bocelli with Sarah Brightman; I'm not really sure. The RNP can also record conversations. That is to say, if you can ever manage to make a phone call . . .

Jeffrey Bairstow
Contributing Editor

More in Research