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Rick Cronin: I should have kept my old flip phone

In June, my wife dragged me out of the 1990s to buy smartphones. She wanted them for summer travels. My seldom-turned-on flip phone and paper maps were enough for me. I could usually pirate the Wi-Fi signal of a stranger across a lake to pick up email on my Nook.

I’m not against modern technology (that works). During college I was a telephone company installer, repairman and supervisor.

Well, I’m not sure who suffered the most culture shock – the phone salesman or me. Although I asked about 50 questions, a few details were not volunteered. But, knowing we got a great deal for the phones and that 1 gigabyte would handle 10,000 emails, I accepted my fate. We decided to donate our flip phones to assist domestic violence victims through Catholic Charities.

About 16 hours later, our wireless provider notified us the gig was up. We had only checked emails and some weather forecasts. About 20 hours after purchase, I looked for my email contacts address list. Finding none, I called technical support.

After a 2-hour, 3-minute and 17-second conversation (according to my very smart new phone) the diligent tech rep said the Internet, landline and TV division of the service provider cannot transfer such address lists to the wireless side of the company. If we had a different Internet provider, it could be done easily! He did, however, give a sizable credit for the trouble and for being so patient.

I had a sense of where the dark portals of technology were taking me, so I drove to the nearest town and bought a 628-page smartphone manual.

Good thing I did. That night I planned to input scores of email addresses into the phone from the backup paper list I kept with my Nook. My plan fell apart because 30 hours after purchase, the phone froze.

I called my all-in-one service (?) provider. The empathetic tech rep had to transfer me to a higher-level employee. Then, my call was dropped. I called back, explained the problem and was transferred again. Again, the call was dropped. On my third call, I was told they had a software problem that was dropping all the calls.

When I did get through, the helpful tech said to simultaneously press a couple of buttons for 10 seconds up to 3 minutes. My 628-page book omitted that tidbit.

Another problem led me to call the wireless tech rep, who said to call the Internet side of the company. The Internet rep said it was an issue for the wireless division. But they both separately said I could probably get an answer by a Google search. My dad, a former telephone company technician himself, must be rolling in his grave. Maybe Ma Bell’s monopoly wasn’t so bad after all.

We should have donated the smartphones, not the flip phones.

During this time, I also had to deal with identity theft. I was one of millions of federal employees, retirees and applicants whose personnel records were hacked (allegedly) by the Chinese government.

These unrelated problems converged into one solution. I decided to use the generous credit from the wireless company to subcontract my smartphone problems to an (alleged) Chinese hacker. I could avoid long and/or dropped calls and the shifting of blame between wireless and Internet divisions. He’d know enough about me to answer any wireless company security questions.

Then, I can go back to my Nook on the shore, and paper maps of back-country roads.