Skip to content

Outburst 25: “My” Cellphone

I got a new cell phone recently. My motivation was to have a “dual band” phone that would work outside the US, so my wife and I could use it on a trip to Spain. This was admittedly a lame justification, considering how much cheaper it would have been to use a calling card for the few calls we’d actually need to make. In my defense, I would also point out that the new phone is smaller, lighter, and has better reception than its predecessor—each of which seems to be a substantial virtue in a mobile phone.

While setting up the phone, I found, to my frustration, that among the many “custom” ring tones with which the phone comes equipped—and the countless more available for downloading at roughly $0.99 apiece—there are none that sound like a telephone ringing. I suppose the fact that I don’t want my telephone to play Beyonce or Vivaldi every time somebody calls me—like everyone else’s phone seems to do these days—marks me as insufficiently “individualist” for our brave new world of “consumer choice.” I wonder what ring tone Milton Friedman has on his cell phone?

Another example of the same faux-customization is the “T-Zones” feature that my carrier, T-Mobile, offers. (I’m sure that the other carriers have their own equivalents.) This is a wireless internet service, with pre-set categories of “information” subscribers can receive over their phones or PDAs. The categories—listed under “My Settings”—are highly illuminating to anyone seeking to understand contemporary culture:

My Movies
My Horoscope
My Scores
My Weather
My News
My Money
My Alerts
Bookmarks [curiously missing the possessive]
My Lottery
My Pocket [I don’t even want to explore that one]
My T-Mobile Account
I am not the first to remark that the insistent use of the first-person possessive in the CyberWorld (see also “My Computer” etc. in Microsoft Windows) reflects a general reduction of the American populace to the state of mind of a three year old. (I am less certain what the equally insistent omission of spaces between words in the CyberWorld reflects—perhaps the general disappearance of open space in the Non-Cyber World.)

What is more disturbing about the “T-Zones” categories is the bogus promise of personalization. T-Mobile graciously permits me to “customize” “My Settings” by choosing, for example, which sign of the Zodiac will be reported under “My Horoscopes,” which state’s lottery numbers will be reported under “My Lottery,” or which stock prices will be reported under “My Money.” However, if I simply have no desire to keep track of horoscopes, lotteries, or the stock market by means of my telephone or PDA (or at all), there is no option to omit those categories entirely. Nor can I add other categories of my choosing (“My Fly Fishing,” “My Socialism”).

At least I can take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in “My Dissent.” This post is from the “Dive Into Mark” Website:

i can’t remember the last time i heard a busy signal. everybody has call waiting, voicemail, automated call routing systems. did you know that when you dial a number and get a busy signal these days, an automated voice from the phone company cuts onto the line and says “this line is busy, we can continue trying the number for you for a charge of 75 cents”. this is not one of those features that makes me do a doubletake and wonder how my life was ever complete without it. this is one of those features that makes me think of the term “nickel and dime you to death”. incidentally, i used to say that that phrase was the single biggest argument against micropayments. nobody wants to be nickeled and dimed to death. and yet people pay millions of dollars a year for ring tones, 50 cents at a time. that’s completely nuts. when i finally broke down last year and got a cell phone (which, incidentally, *is* one of the things i can no longer live without), the salesman made a big deal about the different ring tones. i asked “is there one that sounds like a phone ringing?” he assured me there was, then went behind the counter and rolled his eyes when he thought i wasn’t looking. i didn’t even buy a model that can have faceplates. faceplates! another incredible scam. no, that’s the wrong word. people know exactly what they’re getting, and they buy them willingly, in bulk it seems, and they love them. that’s not a scam, that’s capitalism.

“My Feelings” exactly.

Author: Eric Fink is currently an attorney in Philadelphia but is about to leave both the practice of law and the East Coast. Starting in August, he’ll be a teachingfellow at Stanford Law School. He has a B.A. from Johns Hopkins,and an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics—both in sociology. Hislaw degree is from NYU. He also spent several entertaining but not entirelyproductive years as a graduate student in sociology at University ofChicago, leaving “ABD.”

Published inOutbursts
© 2000, Journal of Mundane Behavior. Permission to link to this site is granted. All copyright permission and reproduction requests beyond "fair use" must be approved jointly by Journal of Mundane Behavior and the individual author, and should be directed to the managing editor.