Friday, November 12, 2010

Hold the Apps, Please

Today a nice young man helped me get my daughter a new mobile phone. It's an early 16th birthday present, plus she dropped her old phone during band practice and it now displays everything only in virulent shades of green and pink.

The process of buying the new phone took almost three hours, during which the nice young man did his best to sell me more services and gadgetry. This included something that wirelessly recharges all your gadgets; evidently putting a plug into a wall socket has become too much work.

"Along with your mobile, you can charge your iPod, eReader, game controller, and your [Netbook or laptop. I can't remember which] all at the same time," he assured me.

I politely refused. "I don't own any of those things." I've been thinking about getting my daughter an iPod for Christmas but I'm not crazy about the potential damage it might cause her hearing. If I do, she can certainly plug it into the wall to recharge it.

He gave me the usual weird Huh? look but recovered quickly and moved on to the final phase of the purchasing process, when he explained the features of the new phone. When we got to the apps, of which there were apparently several million that could be downloaded, he asked which ones I happened to use on my own phone.

"None," I told him. "I don't use any."

Now he stared at me. "You don't have any apps on your phone?" In the same tone someone might ask, "You don't have any panties on?"

To show him I wasn't lying, I took out the disposable cell phone I've been lugging around for the last four years. It still has nearly all of the 1300 minutes I got for free when the disposable phone company forced me to give up the original phone I bought (seven years ago) because their equipment no longer supported the clunky old thing (they also gave me a newer, slimmer phone for free.) P.S., it also has another 1200 free minutes I've collected over the last four years when I renew my airtime.

The nice young man examined it with the awe of an Egyptologist discovering a lost king's tomb. "What does it do?"

"It sends and receives phone calls." I thought for a minute. "And it rings. That's pretty much it." Before he could launch into the "But don't you want a phone that can take pictures, check the internet, play music, access Twitter and Facebook, realign the Hubble" speech I added, "That's all I need it to do."

He wasn't giving up. "I could transfer this line over to your existing plan with us for $9.99 a month."

"Sorry," I said. "It's thirty bucks cheaper to buy a year of airtime from them in advance. Plus every time I do, they give me another 400 free minutes I'll never use."

He was speechless.

"It's okay. It's a great phone, and it does exactly what I need to it to do: it sits in my purse in case of an emergency while I'm on the road. Plus it costs me less to use for a whole year than I will pay you guys for my daughter to use her phone for a month." I smiled. "Isn't technology wonderful?"

I think he was still muttering to himself when I left the store.

When you pursue publication, you can be persuaded to invest a lot of money in a whole pile of gadgets and special software, all designed to make storytelling easier. I'm sure they even have how-to phone apps for writers now. You can also pay to attend conferences, workshops and seminars; you can join writer's organizations and guilds and subscribe to indy rags and what have you. For every bell and whistle out there, there is someone to convince you of how much you need it. This is because their priority is to get you to buy it.

I won't tell you what to do with your hard-earned cash; what writing stuff we buy is something we have to decide for ourselves. If it weren't for the Dragon, I know I couldn't write my novels, so there's one example. Another is the AlphaSmart Neo, which other writers tell me is as helpful as it is durable. It's only logical that some other products out there are equally worthwhile.

But before you whip out that credit card or write a check, just ask yourself: Do I need this, or am I being sold this?


  1. Thanks for the reminder. I'm a gadget person so I'm looking forward to a phone that can replace both my cell and my palm, but it's easy to get caught up in all the extras and forget specifically what I need.

    Umm, and writing, well, I used Word and Excel. And Dragon. I've tried some of the writing software people praise high and low, but I haven't found anything that is worth the lost time in figuring it out when I can do what I need in the basic I keep my job skills up :).

  2. I also only own a disposable cell, for emergencies. I've never used the thing.
    And yeah, that probably says something, lol.

  3. I love this post! So true! I have almost gotten caught up a time or two with the idea of a cell phone that can do a lot. But I just want it to receive phone calls and make them and keep connected until I end the conversation. But occasionally it would be nice to do some other things when I am traveling. But I think that the smart phones and such are just one big time sink. They take away from your life. I see so many people with their phone messing with it when they could be interacting with people, people watching (one of my favs) or talking to their kids! So thanks for the reminder that less is more!

  4. Well, i love my gadggets, but that's cuz I love to play with them. I don't use an alphasmart-I've got my laptop and PC. I do have a netbook, but I bought that for when we travel so I wasn't constantly hauling around my laptop and putting the weight on my shoulders and doing more damage to already screwed up nerves.

    I'll get something if it really makes my life easier-like my iphone did-instead of 200 emails when I'm gone all day, I can go thru and read/delete while I'm out.

    But I'm not sold on all the so-called writing software-I'm playing with the beta version of scrivener for windows, but so far, I don't see the big deal. maybe it's because I write from start to finish and I don't use outlines and stuff anyway. Since I don't, MS Word works just fine for me. There are plenty of things that other writers love that don't do jack for me. Fortunately... while I love to shop, in the end, I'm also cheap. O.o

  5. Ha! Flabbergasting the young 'uns. It's what we do best. I remember explaining to my teenage nephew how a rotary phone worked. Watching his eyes bug out was sooooo much fun.

  6. Well said ... not much of a phone person myself although I have been forced to have a blackberry for the past couple of years through my job. I'm giving it back today :)

    I'd love learn about how you use the Dragon in your writing. I've never used an speech-to-text software and while I probably won't start, I'm curious in how it aids your workflow.

    keep up the awesome blog!

  7. I had to smile. I feel exactly the same way. When my husband and I bought new phones, we only asked for the basics - no texting, no downloading music, etc. I did receive an ipod last Christmas but I am taking it slow. I have upload all our music that was on CD and categorized it. I have not used it for audiobooks yet but one step at a time...

  8. Anonymous9:21 AM

    Me too! All I want is my phone to work when I want it to work. :)

    I do think I'd like to find a way to dictate messages into a tape recorder when I'm out and have an inspiration, and have it typed into my laptop while I was the dishes. I haven't read enough of the DSN stuff to see if that will work. I hear-tell there is something out there that will though.

    But that's about it. I know there is a free beta version of Scrivner for Windows out there. I'm curious, but not curious enough to devote the brain-power to try it this month. Thanks for the reminder.

    I suspect it will complicate my life, much as my phone has just this morning. (I haven't picked the plan, and my preference is in the minority here. In fairness, I also use my phone the least. But we have no extra apps.)


  9. Sounds like he offered you everything under the sun except for an ebook reader. ;)

    My husband works for one of the big wireless companies as an engineer. So not only do we all have THE most high tech and advanced stuff but we've also forced it on our poor old mothers.

    It's like a disease that must be shared. :D

    Neither were too thrilled with having to learn about 17 new things just to make a single call... but we eventually won them over with streaming video of their granddaughter's first steps.

    However, I suspect they have secret low tech phones that they use on the sly... and only whip out the Smartphones when we visit.

    Random thought: two things my kids will never have to do when they get older -- dial a rotary phone and be kind, rewind. I wonder if rewind will cease to be a household word... or has it already?

  10. Hey, I too have an ancient disposable cell phone good only for making calls in emergencies.

    Useful software: I think Scrivener is well worth $45 and I'm slowly learning how to let it organize me better.

  11. I showed somebody my Kindle the other day. He said, "What else does it do?"
    I said, "I don't know. I think it's supposed to have a browser. But it displays books really well. That's what it is. A book reader."
    He didn't look happy. So it's still going on.

  12. I needed this reminder today. Thank you for another eloquent and thoughtful post. :)

  13. The munchkin bought her iPod with money she won in an essay writing contest. The salesman tried to up-sell her to an i-Pod touch. I could have told him he was wasting his breath. She looked up at him, gave him her best glare and said. "No thank you. That's not what I asked for. Please get what I said I wanted."

    As long as I have her with me there's no chance I'll end up with something I don't need.

  14. I want an app that will realign the Hubble...

  15. Hmmm...I have an HTC EVO and I haven't found that Hubble app yet either :P

    I'm like Shiloh in that I love me my gadgets because I love to play with them. I too am cheap though so I don't buy many. So, beside my laptop and desktop, I have my EVO. It's my one concession to phone technology, but it's everything in a tiny package. It does most anything and weighs nothing compared to my laptop so on my last trip, I didn't have to lug something around. I just used the office program, the voice recorder and the browser to check my email.

    On the plane, I watched movies and listened to audio books.

    It was a refreshing change. And definitely worth the money, both for the phone price and the really inexpensive plan compared to what iPhone users pay.

  16. Anonymous9:55 PM

    I love my Alphasmart Neo. It gets me away from the Internet surfing when I should be writing.

    Never had a cell phone but I know I'll probably get one at some point because my friends keep threatening to give me one of their old cells. Sigh.

  17. You exactly described my cell phone situation :) I thought I was the only one left who really doesn't want to be tied to a phone (and the bills). And I'm a computer programmer so it's not like I'm a technophobe.

    I do have an ipod and I love it. I plug it in to the car radio and listen to music or writing podcasts on my commute.


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