Monday, August 06, 2012

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy, ...

Ma Bell always rings twice

First she came for my Internet service. Then she came for my cell phone!

Okay, I know it's anachronistic to refer to AT&T as “Ma Bell.” Those good old days are mostly gone, even if the company with the Death Star logo has gobbled up a number of smaller operations in the years since the big break-up. (Apparently we don't mind monopolies nearly as much as we used to in olden times. Life is much simpler with only a few phone companies and a handful of banks. I mean, what could go wrong?)

In my case, AT&T solemnly informed me that my DSL service was being discontinued. Not to worry! I would be offered a wonderful opportunity to upgrade to fiber-optical U-verse! My speed would increase and my costs would stay the same. Furthermore, I could sign up for all kinds of new digital television and music services. Yippee.

The bulky new modem showed up (way bigger than the compact little DSL modem), complete with instructions for user installation. They informed me that my Internet connection would go dark at approximately 8:00 in the morning, after which I should replace the DSL device with the new U-verse modem (is it even correct to call it a modem?). I was told that my service activation would be at 8:00 in the evening.

Okay. I guess I can survive a day without the Internet and e-mail. Surely I would be back on-line before the withdrawal cramps and hallucinations became too debilitating.

By the excellent good fortune of being a teacher on summer break, I was home when the AT&T technician started messing with my home's external phone box. I nonchalantly strolled outside to say hello: “Hi! Whatcha doing?”

He had made short work of it.

“You're all set. Your twisted-pair DSL connection is now fiber-optical U-verse.”

“Already? The instructions said I'd be back on-line this evening.”

“Nope, you're ready to go right now. You received the equipment? Yes? Go ahead and fire it up.”

Apparently AT&T prefers not to tell its customers that the connection is ready to use as soon as the technician's visit is finished. Good thing I bothered to say hello to him.

Sure enough, I set up the U-verse “modem” and returned to the land of the digital. Are things faster? Not that I've noticed. Did I sign up for lots of wonderful new entertainment options? No, not a one. Is the cost the same? So far.

Yippee. Serenity returned to my life.

Then AT&T struck again:
AT&T is constantly upgrading the [wireless] network, and we're not done yet. When the network is improved certain older-model phones, like yours, will no longer be able to make or receive calls or access data.
Apart from that, though, my phone should be just fine.

After years of procrastinating (although “all my friends were doing it”), I finally acquired my first cell phone in 2000. I signed up with AT&T Wireless and got a nice Ericsson A2638SC phone. I stashed it in my car and there it mostly remained. Eventually AT&T sold its cell-phone business to Cingular, whereupon I ended up with a new Motorola V180. As you may know, AT&T later changed its mind and bought out Cingular. Hence I began with AT&T Wireless and I returned to AT&T Wireless all without moving a muscle.

I've had the Motorola for several years (eight, I think) and it still starts up with the Cingular logo. AT&T has not reprogrammed it remotely to herald its borgian renascence. Perhaps the new phone I'll get will be “smarter” and more willing to acknowledge its master. I will find out when I go into my friendly local AT&T store for customer service. It will be fun to watch the young pierced and inked employees as they reach out timorously to touch my old phone, afraid that it will crumble into ancient dust. They will desperately try to puzzle out the details of my calling plan, now mostly lost to the ages and bearing no resemblance to anything they now offer (and long past any contractual obligations).

The youngsters may well give me the same reaction that my father gave me the last time we discussed cell phones. (Wrong word: say, rather, when he interrogated me about cell phones.) How many minutes do you have? Do they roll over? Is weekend calling unlimited? How about international numbers? Blah, blah, blah. At least AT&T's minions will be more interested in extolling the virtues of today's spiffy new calling plans than in decrying my old one. Dad, however, was just fishing for information, wanting to compare notes. He grew quite exasperated as I expressed in detail my ignorance: How many minutes? More than enough. Roll over? Beats me. Weekends? Doesn't matter; I never use up my minutes anyway. International calls? I guess; we called Ukraine on it a couple of times.

The funny thing about it is that I am the numbers person, but I am not just pretending to be blasé about my phone plan. I actually don't have any reason to give it much thought or care. It's cheap and I never exhaust the minutes. I'm certain I average less than 10 minutes per month on the thing. No, really. This summer it jumped up a bit more because I've done a little traveling to book events and stuff. Hmm. Perhaps I should take my phone more seriously.

So what's going to happen at the AT&T store? Will I give in to the impulse to acquire a smart phone and be plugged into the world at all times? I wonder. If the phone is going to sit in the car like my current one does, it won't much matter, will it?

Blah, blah, blah.


Gary Brown said...

I never thought I would want a smart phone until I received one for my birthday. Almost 3 years now with the iphone 3g and, I must admit, I love that damn thing. I can look up science things almost anywhere in the world (or, at least Texas to Oregon - as that's as far as I've traveled with it). I don't even have a house phone anymore.

Scott said...

I have a very basic plan from AT&T that I've had for about 10 years, and I bought a new phone (w/ contract) in November. For about $30/month, you can have more minutes than you usually use by at least an order of magnitude.

Tualha said...

Hmm...with a little imagination, that Cingular logo can be perceived as someone spread out against a wall to be frisked. Or for an even more unpleasant experience. No wonder AT&T merged with them.

plam said...

Smart phones are useful for last-minute "planning" e.g. finding somewhere to eat in an unfamiliar place. WiFi ability is good too; otherwise I'd be paying way too much in roaming.

I'm still waiting for my copy of the book. I think I ordered it. But things always take longer to get to Canada. Should've picked one up while I was in California two weeks ago.

Kathie said...

Am still defiantly clinging to my landline wall phone and dial-up modem.

Heck, I've still never gotten over the switch to all-digit dialing! How I long for the days of THornwall, LAndscape, AShbury, OLympic, TWinoaks, HIghgate and KEllogg... For that matter, even before dialing, when the operator would come on the line and ïn her nasal voice ask, "Number, please?

Zeno said...

I just had an ISP outage at home for a couple of hours and immediately thought how convenient it would be if I had a smart phone to check for messages from my brother (I'm meeting him later today). Of course, I could simply call him, but there's no urgency and e-mail is less intrusive.

I will probably go "smart" with my next phone, once I drag my sorry carcass into a phone center. But I, too, cling to my landline, which seems to work no matter what other holy hell is going on.

plam: hope you copy shows up soon!

Kathie said...

'Tis nice that the landline still works during a (lengthy) power outage.

The Ridger, FCD said...

If you get a smart phone it won't sit in your car like the old one, because you'll find it too convenient to be able to log on the Net any time you find yourself wondering "Has Fellag been in any other movies?" "What are the words to the second verse of Dan'l Boone Was A Man?" "What's the weather going to be like in Grand Island day after tomorrow?" etc etc

It took me forever to get one, but now I wouldn't be without it. Also, my DVR is totally wonderful: I like being able to watch something in the afternoon instead of having to stay up too late, not to mention to go on vacation and not watch tv for 2 weeks and have my shows waiting when I come home.

Kaleberg said...

When I moved to an iPhone - I was hauling around an iPod Touch and a Motorola clamshell - they upgraded me to 200 minutes because they didn't have any smaller plans. It's a plan for senior citizens, so I'm now technically over 65, though my age is a fair bit less than that. Whatever you upgrade to, ask around to get a plan that makes sense for you. Don't be surprised at some of the weird plan categories. I'd go for the Robot Zombie Cheesemaker plan if had the right number of minutes and megabytes.

Gene O'Pedia said...

I've gone back and forth between having only a cell phone but now a landline. The landline with DSL package was many dollars cheaper than having DSL from the phone company and a cell phone-alone for telephoning. I own a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, but I only use it as a very portable Wi-Fi-enabled computer. My cell-phone SIM stays in my six-year old Nokia flip-phone, which is much better at being a cell phone and is much cheaper for being carried everywhere out in the real world.

I tend to be self-employed (or self-unemployed, depending), and work from home when I do, so I'm near the computer in my living room most of the time. A smartphone connected to the Internet through the cell signal would not change my life much. I've got Internet and a much bigger screen right here at home.

As for cell phone plans, I have what I think is the best one for a seldom-used phone, a prepaid plan from T-Mobile. Ten cents a minute, with the prepaid balance expiring after a full year, not 30 or 90 days. Adding any amount to the balance each year extends the expiration for the entire balance (last year's plus the new addition) for yet another full year.

I use the phone perhaps 500 minutes a year, so it's virtually free compared to having a monthly-plan of almost any sort. Plus, paying by the minute makes me consider each call before I make it (or answer it). Do I really need to call my friend now, is it worth 10 cents, or can I wait until I get home? Hah, it's great to put a value on such things.

Also, I disabled all messaging on the phone, mainly to block messages sent to me by accident and spams.

So, in spite of my having a cell phone and a smartphone, I'm still living in the backwaters of the modern ocean of communications. Happily too!

In your case, I hope you do get a smartphone with a relevant plan. I bet you'd make very good use of it. Plus, when you're teaching a class and your phone beeps with an incoming message, you can casually glance at it, perhaps respond discreetly with a short outgoing message, then get back to teaching. Just like your students do with their phones!

Zeno said...

Yeah, just like my students do -- except for the "discreetly" part!

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions and comments.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the device does MOdulate and DEModulate between fiber optic and twisted pair lines. So it it is proper to call the thing a modem. It might also be a router as well.