Cellphones mean never having to give your number

Do you realize I’ve never even made a phone call on my computer? Or owned a BlackBerry? But Og have fire. Og modern. Og see future coming. Og worried. Og laugh at recent Citizen story that growing number of North Americans have only cellphones, not land lines, to be as isolated from telephone solicitors as if they lived in a cave. There are now 183 million “mobile subscribers” in the United States and 17 million in Canada (all, I note, with driver’s licences), but a proposal last year for “a free, ‘opt-in’ cellphone White Pages in the U.S. was shelved” due to fear of solicitation. And most people don’t list their cellphones in the current mastodons-R-us white pages in Canada. Don’t they want their drapes cleaned and a new long-distance plan?

Alas they do not. The story went on that 30 per cent of residential land lines in the U.S. now have unlisted numbers, costing their owners $1 billion a year in protection money, and in Canada the situation is thought to be similar. Then it quoted the managing partner of “a research firm specializing in phone books” (Og not know this job exist) that one suboptimal result of people eccentrically seeking more control over total strangers shouting in their ears at inconvenient moments about things they don’t want is having to program hundreds of friends’ numbers into our cell phones.

“What if you misplace your cellphone, lose it, drop-kick it across the airport like I’ve done? What about old army buddies or high-school friends who would like to reach you, but they don’t have your number? What about hospitals or strangers who need to get in touch with you fast in an emergency?” She went on to predict better filters on land lines, including one ring for friends and another for carpet cleaners.

Lady, that opinion is so last Wednesday. Kids 20 years from now won’t know what a land line is. We’ll all be communicating with wireless broadband, or fibre optics, or maybe a lepton vortex traducer. But we won’t be listening to eight tracks, we won’t be sending faxes and we won’t be using phone lines. I’m not saying I like this stuff, but like Marshall McLuhan, I’m determined to understand it before it rumbles over me.

Just for starters, we’ll soon store our personal call lists in our computers and download it into our cellphones as needed. I can already link my cellphone to my computer with a USB cable (the up-and-coming universal standard that ... what’s this? A laptop “firewire” port?). And for less than a month’s phone service, I can purchase software that will permit me to use the mobile phone as a modem. Unless, of course, I go ye olde wireless route instead.

Very shortly, your cellphone and your computer will be not just buddies but mother ship and pod, like Thunderbirds 2 and 4. Your wireless headset will link to the computer at home and elsewhere to a “cellphone” that is, essentially, a smaller portable chip platform. Actually, in about 10 minutes the headset will have the chip in it; you can already get a one-gigabyte smart drive in a Swiss Army knife. (Og once worship computer with gigabyte hard drive. Back of cave now full of that junk.) Then you’ll get voice activation and a heads-up display and the whole earth will be a hotspot for the headset, in the brief period before we get chips implanted in our heads.

In short, I probably won’t have to retire to Bedlam; it will come to me. But not as a telephone solicitor. I don’t know that hordes of old army buddies are looking for me (or that strangers need to contact me fast in emergencies; what’s that about?), but if so they can find me by my website. You do know how to google, don’t you?

Sympathizing with Chesterton’s neighbours who didn’t want house numbers, I do like the fact that instead of an impersonal phone number that changes every time I move, I now have a website and personalized e-mail address that, by the time you’ve finished your latte, will probably also be my Voice-over-Internet Protocol phone “number.” But I’m more than a bit unhappy that Montreal has parking meters that send real-time wireless alerts to the ticket dude the second your time expires, and that Aspen has wireless pre-paid in-car meters. Soon, the parking meters will be talking to me or, more probably, my computer. “He’s let the time expire.” “Well, isn’t that just so like him? Just yesterday, the washing machine told me he’d left his damp socks in there since Thursday and...” Then they’ll go off and play in that computer poker tournament.

Og remember when men talked to each other using voice. Og sad. On top of which I think my ear is ringing.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson