Sunday, August 10, 2008

Letter from a Luddite

One of my colleagues, Matis, uses a Nokia Communicator E90. He tells it’s a 3G phone with MS Office compatibility, GPRS, WAP, wireless LAN, infrared Bluetooth, and “all communications protocols.”

I have a blue telephone. It has an on-off switch on the top, and when I dial a number and push the green button, it will make a telephone call. I like this phone well enough, but I wish the battery would last longer than four calls. With Matis’ help, I’m starting to check out new telephones.

We’ve visited several stores and gazed upon phones behind polished glass, displayed like diamond engagement rings in a Toronto jewelry store. Some of them cost as much as diamonds, too. I do my best to listen patiently while a salesman explains why a telephone is really worth 9,000 EEK. “But it’s more than a telephone,” the salesman senses my doubt. “It’s a personal communications center!”

“A ‘personal communications center?’” I ask. “Can it take a message?”

“Of course,” sneers the little smartass.

“But can it send a fax?”

“Why would anyone want to send a fax?”

“I like faxes. I like to both send and receive them.” The young guy isn’t certain if I’m serious. “Can it send a fax?” I repeat.

“No,” he admits, scratching his head. “It cannot send a fax.”

Matis shrugs apologetically to the salesman, as if to say “he’s a crusty old fart.” Which is true enough, I suppose. Matis is doing his best with me. But we’re just two different breeds when it comes to tech.

Anytime Matis sees an ad for a new technology, he’ll investigate it. Say they’ve added a ICBM function to his NORAD-rated GPS for his Subaru. Well, he’s got to at least try it. All an advertiser needs to do is throw a new acronym in an ad, and within a week Matis will have such a well-informed opinion about it that he could write an article for Consumer Reports. And if he finds value in it—if it’s “a powerful work tool,” his favorite phrase—he’ll soon have one on his desk.

Of course, it’s not only Matis. It seems all Estonians love tech. I recently read a study which said Italians use mobile phones more than anyone else (to call their mothers) and then come Finns. Estonians have to be pretty close behind the Finns, because I see some of them making calls as early as seven a.m. (thank God, not to me).

So far, Matis hasn’t been much help to me in finding a new phone—which in his world is called “hardware.” In my world, I’m after a kind of simplicity Matis and most young Estonians can’t begin to comprehend. I use a manual typewriter, fountain pen, and a Smythson Panama diary (the battery-free variety you write in with a pencil).

I’ve about given up on Matis’ ability to help me with a phone and am starting to fly solo, checking out ads for new phones on the market. I’m looking for that just-right phone which will fit into my Luddite world, one that is simple to use and won’t require a weeklong NATO training course.

I’ve noticed a Samsung ad urging me to “improve my business image.” Not for me, as I don’t have a business image. And the guy in the ad looks exactly like the Brylcream man from 1970s advertising in Canada. Brylcream was the gel which turned gray hair black and helped old guys get chicks. “A little dab’ll do ya’,” they used to say. It’s possible the 1970’s Brylcream man appeals to some, but he strikes me as the insecure type with a shriveled-up penis who hides behind ostentatious material things. So I can’t possibly buy that phone.

Nokia phones run the gamut of offers. One tells me to “live life to the fullest and fulfill my active lifestyle.” No thanks. That’s what Gatorade is for. Another offers “irreplaceable luxury.” Not for me: I drive a beat up Opel. One phone claims to be an “ideal training partner.” I don’t train; I drink beer. The last Nokia phone is billed as “practical meets merry.” The last thing I want is a merry telephone. A phone should sit there and be quiet until I need it.

Motorola models start with the letter “V,” which I think must stand for the English word Vain. One model claims to help me “strike a pose” and “turn heads.” Another says it will “blast my senses.” Great, a phone that’s going to blast me.

Sony Ericsson has a device they say is both a Walkman and a camera (and presumably a telephone, too). It looks like it can do most everything for you, so I’m going to call Matis and alert him to it. He might want to get one for himself.

As for me, I think I’m going to stick with my blue telephone. The battery is dead now most of the time, but if something’s important enough someone will surely come find me.