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Culture

I have a cell now, and I might use it too

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos, a notorious cell phone holdout, explains why he's "often been a late adopter."

I got a cell phone this week. It's my first.

Technically, I didn't buy it for myself. I bought it for a nanny who worked for us this past summer. I got it at a tent inside Costco, next to a cardboard crate of tube socks.

When our nanny returned to Europe, I figured that I might as well consume the remaining prepaid minutes on the phone. I haven't decided if I'll add more minutes when I'm out. (Technically speaking, I don't think I've actually used it to make a call, but I have carried it around.)

Unlike many people who consider themselves early adopters, I've often been a late adopter. I don't usually buy a technological gizmo until it becomes a social embarrassment not to own one. Still, even then, I held out on cell phones because:

  1. The shock value. I've loved watching people become slack-jawed and dazed when I told them I didn't have a cell number. It was like telling them I recently emigrated from the Little House on the Prairie. They couldn't believe it. In the next sentence I could tell them I had to start whittling toys for Christmas soon and they'd buy it.
  2. I'm cheap. It's all in priorities. I probably blow thousands in restaurants a year, but a new bathing suit? These surfing shorts from the early 1990s still work. I always looked at it this way: cell phone bills come to around $50 a month. That's $600 a year, in after tax income. Pre-tax, that comes to over $1,000. Is there something I'd rather spend money on than a device that lets me know of things I screwed up at work? There are a few.
  3. Few opportunities to call. I spend about 70 percent of my time in three places: work, home, or in meetings. I have regular phones and home and work and in meetings I turn all devices off to avoid interruptions. (CNET has a loaner I periodically use.) Thus, a cell phone provides no function there.
  4. In other words, it doesn't bring radically new functions to my life. It's the same with Blu-ray players. Blu-ray players might provide a crisper picture or more storage capacity on their discs than DVD players, but that doesn't make the plot of Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector any more intriguing. By contrast, digital cameras changed how people take pictures.
  5. You're tough to find. The other 30 percent of the time I'm commuting or goofing off. I don't really want people to be able to reach me. Without a phone, you don't have to lie about being tied up in traffic. No one can find you anyway.
  6. A lot of calls are meaningless. Watching other people use cell phones, and being the recipient of lots of cell calls, it has become pretty obvious that a substantial percentage of cell phone calls are just ways to inflict your boredom on someone else. "I'm waiting to get into the parking lot at Trader Joe's. What are you up to? There's a guy driving into the Lucky Penny the wrong way." Just owning one tempts you into it.
  7. Controls. Dear Samsung: The cancel button is by far and away the best thing you've ever made. Every time I get lost down the rathole of control menus, I just have to hit that button with the red phone on it a few times and I'm back. I tried an iPhone, but it's largely incompatible with my sweaty, tuber-like fingers. (You'll think twice about shaking my hands now, eh?)
But I can see some advantages to having a cell phone:

  1. The battery lasts forever. If there's any true wonder in a cell phone, it's the battery. I haven't charged this thing in a week and I assume it's still on.

  2. It has a clock. So much for guessing what time it is.
  3. Social interaction. If you lived in Italy, Greece, or South Korea and didn't have a cell phone, you would have to sever your arm. People get calls at 11 at night on a regular basis. That does seem sort of fun. Now I just have to get over the reluctance of giving my number out.