Monday, July 18, 2011

Rocking the Retro RAZR

The first time it happened, I was shocked. It was April, 2009, I was sitting at the Sinatra Bar at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas with Lysa, Jeff and Alison and a few other people after Mark and Jessica’s wedding. I was loving being enveloped by Sinatra memorabilia and music, but curiously noted hearing some songs repeated. I asked the maĆ®tre d’ why the selection was so sparse given Frank’s vast recording legacy. He told me that Steve Wynn made three compilation CDs of his favorite Frank songs and they remain in constant rotation.

I couldn’t believe how short-sighted and controlling this was (the idea of the staff getting sick of Sinatra songs made ME sick), so I pulled out my cell phone to text a few fellow Frankophilic friends and share the story. As I tapped my thumb on my Morotola RAZR, correcting T9’s misinterpretation of “Sinatra” as “Phobura,” the sister of the bride let out a gasp, and laughingly exclaimed, “OHMYGOD, look at your OLD-FASHIONED PHONE!!”

My first reaction was to defensively point out that there was no crank, rotary dial or cord attached to the device, and, unlike the iPhone-toters at the bar, I actually had service. I chalked up my phone-derider’s scorn to the fact that she lived in Los Angeles, where anyone who doesn’t have the very latest technology is beyond contempt as a human being (and in all honesty, it would take another year or so before anyone back home said anything about my “old phone”).

But the past few months, it seems as if every time I use my cell—that exact same RAZR—in public, someone has to make some kind of comment. “Look at you, rocking the RAZR!” or “Oh, I used to have one of those!,” they’ll remark with a nostalgic wistfulness, as if I had just pulled a red, white and blue plastic Fisher-Price Chatter Phone pull-toy with the rolling eyes out of my pocket.

See, here’s the thing: While I acknowledge that my phone is now “old” (in the current technological context), I am in no rush whatsoever to get rid of it and replace it with a smart phone, for a number of reasons.

First of all, I have enough distractions in my life, I don’t need to be carting Google and Facebook and video around with me 24/7. The constant pull of media in my home is enough, thanks, I don’t WANT to take it with me everywhere I go. No, really. I probably only bring my iPod with me on treks into the outer world about 30% of the time. I’m aware of my media addiction, and relish the fact that when I run errands or go to work or do social things, I’m forced to step away from the screens and the speakers for a few hours.

The second reason is that my old RAZR still works! Why should I get rid of something that still functions perfectly well (and only costs me about $60 a month)? I have nothing but disdain for planned premature obsolescence in the 21st century. Technology has allowed corporations to finally perfect the kind of marketing begun by car companies in the 1950s, where the consumer is made to feel inferior if they hang onto their out-of-style OLD thing (durability notwithstanding) because this year’s model is so much nicer… and it has tailfins!

Granted, the difference between a RAZR and an iPhone is more than tailfins, but the concept is the same. And we’re much bigger suckers than our grandparents ever were. Just imagine going back in time and telling them that they have to buy a new TV and telephone every couple of years or the neighbors will think they’re Communists! Your ears would get a boxing (still not sure what that means, tho’).

I’m no luddite, but I’ve never been a first adapter. I just don’t get people who are in such a rush to pay tons of money to in essence be a beta tester for new technology. Who gives a shit if you’re the first one on your block with the shiny new toy when we all know that in a year or so, version two will have most of the inevitable kinks worked out in addition to new, added features, all for LESS money? Apple may as well strike a deal with Louis Vuitton or Yves Saint Laurent to plaster their ugly logos all over the first iteration of every new technology. It’s the same kind of conspicuous consumption.

I completely skipped the DiscMan, holding onto my old cassette Walkman right up to the moment I bought a third generation iPod. It was the only time I ever felt shamed into upgrading technology. It was somewhere near the end of 2003, I was sitting on the subway, listening to some compilation cassette, the bulky, yellow Walkman safely hidden in my jacket pocket when the tape snapped to an end. As I pulled the machine out of my pocket, I glanced around the train car and saw someone avert their eyes, a suppressed smile pursing their lips. I felt a rush of mortification, and shoved the lemony antique into my backpack. It was the last time I ever took the poor baby out into the world.

I also resisted getting a cell phone at all for as long as I possibly could, buying my first flip phone in 2004. I held on to that one and its subsequent replacement until they died. I only replaced my first RAZR because I dropped in the toilet, learning the hard lesson: If you’re going to text while peeing, hold the phone off to the side. It’s mind boggling to think that three phones (not counting the pee cell) in eight years is, by contemporary standards, a ridiculously low number.

I picture a giant warehouse somewhere filled with mountains of old, discarded, fully functional cell phones, waiting for some kind of resurrection. I actually think there could be a niche market for “old-fashioned cell phones” in the retro world of rockabilly. For the uninitiated, this particular rock and roll subculture is so ridiculously image-conscious that they make Lady Gaga look like Louis C.K. What’s that, Slim? You’re going to wear your cuffed jeans with your motorcycle boots and your black T-shirt tonight? With the mechanic’s jacket or the leather one? Ah, great choice! Don’t forget the pomade and Marlboros!

These people base every single aspect of their lives—clothes, hairstyles, tattoos, cars, beer, favorite movies, authors, artists and of course music—on the rather narrow parameters set by the Rockabilly Handbook. As such, they generally eschew modern conveniences in favor of the vintage (manual transmissions and Zippo lighters are mandatory).

But cell phones have been around long enough that the early small flip phones, with their red LED or black and gray LCD screens and inability to text or snap a picture now seem hopelessly retro. All it would take would be for some smart entrepreneur to find a stash of discarded Motorola 180s, paint some red Hot Rod flame details on them, and BAM! Holly von Hootenanny can call her boyfriend Stu DaBaker if they get separated at the road rally! They just can’t text each other. But that’s not cool, anyway.

There are only a few smart phone features that I truly covet. One is GPS. Knowing that you can’t ever got lost would be a really nice feeling, whether on foot or in a car (and I know that the iPhone is behind the Droid in this area). It would also be nice to always have a relatively good camera with me, just in case the aliens happen to land while I’m heading to the Taco Truck or William Shatner ever stops into the bar for a drink while I’m working.

Another feature I wouldn’t mind having is (he admitted, somewhat sheepishly) Twitter. I signed up for Twitter when it first started in 2007, then quickly lost interest partly because it was 90% worthless dross, but primarily because I realized it was a medium for mobile devices, where brief, reactive thoughts can be posted in real time. As I didn’t have a smart phone, it felt kinda silly for me to Tweet (ghad, I hate that verb) from my home computer, so I deleted my account.

I rejoined Twitter this year on the advice of friends in publishing who informed me that prospective authors simply aren’t taken seriously unless they have a solid presence on the major social media sites (ahem. @karlheitmueller, thanks). And so, I’m back to Tweeting (seriously, can we call it Twatting or something a bit less precious?) via my computers, which means that if I think of something worth posting while out and about, I have to jot it on a piece of paper and stick in my pocket, hoping that by the time I get home it won’t have lost any of its crisp, timely perspicacity / sarcasm / indignation / etc (and yes, I still think it’s 90% worthless).

Other than those things, I think I can live without everything else a smart phone has to offer, as I have for, well, all of my life. I have an iPod if I wanna take my music with me, I always carry a pen and a little notebook for moments of inspiration or information, I have my brain, which I prefer to use over Google when trying to remember the name of the girl who played that part in that movie with that guy, you know the one, what was it?

I realize I’m sounding very grumpy Grampa here, but any time I’m with a group of people and a question of historical or cultural fact pops up, it drives me batty that the reflex has become to just grab the iPhone and look it up. If you know that the information is buried somewhere in your brain, doesn’t it make sense to work that muscle and wrest it from the cranial wrinkles? (Of course, if the info was never there in the first place, then Google away, my friend.)

But I’m not kidding myself. I know the day will eventually come—probably sometime within the next year—when I end up carrying a damn mini-computer in my pocket like the rest of the neck-craned masses. And, as with every other modern convenience that I was slow to adopt, I’m sure once I have an iPhone or Droid or whatever, I’ll soon wonder how I ever got along without it. I’ll load it up with apps and I’ll play Scramble on the train or check Facebook in a bar or use the Star Trek phaser app to pretend to stun some self-entitled double-wide Bugaboo pusher on the street.

I just hope that at least part of me will hate myself for doing it.

POSTSCRIPT, June 11, 2012
Well, I made it almost another year.... but after a very busy extended Memorial Day weekend during which I found myself often wishing for mobile technology, I finally gave up. Today, almost a year after this post, I bought an iPhone. Farewell, old RAZR.... you served me well. But I need a phone that can let me know when it's raining outside.


Anonymous said...

Two things I didn't know I couldn't live without...GPS in my car, and an iPhone. Ahhh, capitalism!

hank said...

you're not alone my friend! i'm still rockin the razr myself & my first cell ever, from '09 - agreed on the gps - esp given my upstate meanderings, but i do dig maps.

Bob Fingerman said...

As a person who owns an iPHone 4 and has sometimes grudgingly/sometimes enthusiastically/always vaguely queasily rolled along with the tide of technological progress, I completely agree with your thesis. Whenever I see a big ol' CRT TV on the curb these days I know (not think, know) that it still works perfectly but that its owner just upgraded to an HDTV. Our 32" Sony is in storage in my in-laws' basement because I simply couldn't bear to throw it away (it works great and is 16 years old), and no one wanted it. A 32" TV and no one wanted it. That is a decadent society, friend. Granted, I'm loving my new HDTV viewing experience (especially for gaming), but that TV was fine. An honest electronics salesman (I guess some exist), after Michele asked him how long he thought our old Sony would last (she was inquiring with an eye toward replacing it free of guilt), told her, "If you're waiting for that thing to die, it won't. It'll last forever." You won't hear that sentiment expressed about anything made today, even if it's true.

chris razz said...

As always a good read! My iphone was stolen on vaca (all the thieves have to do is remove the sim card and it is "their" phone) I am lost without it. Not eligible for upgrade & AT&T would not insure it... so to replace would be $700+! Now using a $10 go phone and remembering being wowed by that flip phone technology more than a decade ago... now it seems so awkward and inefficient. As an added bonus... everyone is now giving me the uncomfortable avert your gaze from the poor retard move whenever i use it.

bill said...

I can't wait to get the Interdimensional IModule!

also my captcha word is pusbacks.

Jape said...

Once, when I was at a banquet (in 2004), I pulled out my Nokia. The woman next to me snorted, "Your phone is so big!"

"It didn't used to be," I replied.