Until a month ago I was a mobile phone virgin. I’d fooled around a little but my inexperience showed. In constant fear of making mistakes, I was timid, not in control. When we lived in the same town my son had given me a primitive mobile phone in an effort to keep in touch. Every few months when he or his wife needed to get hold of me to invite me for lunch or pick up a grandchild, the phone was invariably flat, turned off, in another handbag or glove compartment; frustrating for them.
That phone was not friendly and the feeling was mutual. Its ring virtually inaudible, it needed recharging every day even though I didn’t use it, and I found the tiny, unresponsive buttons difficult to use, even to switch on and off. When I went to meeting I left it in the car. Although it rang rarely, it would be just my luck to happen in the silence of a Quaker meeting.
That phone invoked an almost physical response in me, located in the pit of my stomach, product of unease. I was afraid to be phoned while I was driving, making me jump; no way would I answer without pulling off the road, by which time it had stopped ringing. It didn’t divulge whose call I had missed so I couldn’t respond. When I received a voicemail message I couldn’t retrieve it; some were on there for years. Once I tried to call from an airport; having switched it off in the plane, unable to turn it on again, I had to ask another passenger to let me use their phone. They couldn’t turn mine on, either.
I figured that if anyone important wanted to reach me they could leave a message on the house answer-phone and I’d call them later. I didn’t share the mobile number with friends because that would increase volume of missed calls; we all communicate by email anyway. I once got a call from an airline as I was driving to the airport. I was bemused that they knew how to reach me as I hadn’t given them my number. My son had, when he booked my ticket on line. He looks after me.
He gave me a better phone last Christmas. It was an Android, whatever that is. I found that alien too. There was nothing intuitive about it as far as I could tell. It reduced the volume without telling me, so that after waiting twenty minutes on a line queue, others couldn’t hear me, and I couldn’t find that button. It had many more functions than the first phone, mind-boggling in complexity. It assumed I was cleverer than I am. It would have helped if someone had shown me how to swipe it to open, how to answer the phone, where to locate the keyboard and how to shuffle through myriad apps, but by then my son had moved to Kansas. I didn’t like to admit defeat by something every immigrant and my small grandchildren could handle with aplomb. I gave this phone back to my son too.
In my recent move from Virginia to Ireland there were a lot of arrangements to make and I was the only person there to make them. In the course of disposing of surplus furniture and accumulated excess, selling two houses and buying another abroad, shipping my furniture, contacting realtors and solicitors in two countries, shipping bank funds electronically and furniture physically, cancelling insurances in one country and setting up new ones in Ireland, fielding refunds, notifying changes of address to institutions, friends and family worldwide – and Comcast! – I handled most of it smoothly on the computer, and when that was shipped too, my trusty iPad coped. I now have bank accounts in three countries. I want to simplify my life.
For my new home in Ireland in order to achieve the ideal location, I’d bought a fixer upper (blame all those transforming property TV programs) and when I needed to liaise with solicitors, insurance brokers, surveyor, builder, kitchen manufacturer, bathroom fitter, plasterer, electrician, plumber and window replacement company, with no home yet to live in, staying with another indulgent son, I had no land line installed. It was bullet-biting time.
The only phone that I might relate to intuitively, my son and I decided, was an iPhone. I regularly Facetime my grandchildren on iPad, use its camera, circulate photographs and Vimeos. So I bought Version 5, a bargain at 50 Euros, as it lags behind the latest. Opening the box I remarked to my teenage grandson, “It’s a pity they don’t include a manual.” “It’s not necessary,” he said, “Everyone knows how to use an iPhone.” He doesn’t appreciate that I grew up in the steam age, or that these concepts were not familiar even when he was born.
But he was right! It responded to my commands like a trained dog. It was intuitive as an old friend. It turned on when I pressed the right button, returned ‘home’ when I pressed another, switched when I swiped, retrieved and replied to emails competently. It took pictures and forwarded them to my borrowed computer (my furniture is still on the high seas), so I could use them in desk top publishing (I’m not a total dumb-cluck). This morning, after a short struggle, I retrieved my first voice mail message and used a code to access a secure site. I understand it contains a GPS app (we have yet to meet), more versatile than the Ordnance Survey map I bought yesterday.
In the past month I set up utilities in Ireland with my American credit cards until I achieved Irish ones, signed a sale contract on my iPad by prearranged electronic signature, learned at the bank to pay a bill electronically to a window manufacturer in Poland and responded to voicemail. Steve Jobs would be proud of me.
I’m intent on climbing Everest, but for now I’m resting at base camp.