SUZANNE HARRINGTON: My ‘rectangle of doom’ phone is far too smart

THERE are few first world problems more humiliating than being too dumb for your smartphone. There you are, minding your own business, when the phone people ring up and tell you what a good customer you are.

How they would like to give you a free upgrade to a fancier phone. They sound so enthusiastic, using words like megapixels, which you pretend to understand because you don’t want to look too stupid.

By the time you hang up — note the archaic term, meaning to replace an old-school telephone receiver on top of an old-school telephone – this whole thing already feels like a bad idea. It has taken you about five years to get the hang of the old phone, the one named after a hedge fruit with a pixie sized keyboard – but being a consumerist sucker, you cannot resist the words ‘free upgrade’. Besides, you are the last person you know who still doesn’t have a smartphone. It’s a bit like being a forty year old virgin. Your children find your reluctance to digitally engage embarrassing.

And so it arrives. Ta dah! Suddenly your former, yet perfectly functioning fruity phone is no more, and you have to negotiate the sleek, touchscreen glowing unknown. Unknown to you that is. Within seconds the ten-year-old has snatched it from your middle aged hands and is having a conversation with it – that’s with it, not through it — like Joaquin Phoenix in that new movie where he falls in love with his lady computer operating system. Except instead of a weirdy, sensitive, hipster-nerd, you have your kid bellowing into your new phone asking it very rude questions, then falling on the floor laughing as the phone replies rather frostily that it doesn’t know who has the biggest butt in the world.

Hang on a second. A talking phone? Since when can phones talk? This is science fiction, happening right here on the kitchen table. Isn’t talking what you are meant to do into a phone, but to other people? Other humans? The ten-year-old rolls his eyes and tells you to stop being so antique.

There’s nothing you can do except join in. Soon you are both helpless with laughter asking the phone to marry you — it politely declines – and ordering it to make you pizza and soon you are making home movies with it, installing apps you don’t understand and checking your stocks and shares.

There’s just one problem. The phone can banter with you in a robotic voice but it won’t let you make a basic phonecall. You call the helpline in the Philippines, baffling the nice lady with your smartphone dumbness. The ten-year-old vanishes, and you are left all alone with an over-designed, expensive rectangle of doom, that continues to wink and chirrup at you, reminding you how smart you aren’t.


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