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Adventures with the telephone

The two years were up on our cell-phone contract and it was time for my wife and me to re-up. As part of the deal we could get new phones for next to nothing. And not a minute too soon. Both of our phones had been sadly limping to the two-year finish line. Last month the battery and the battery charger for each of our phones stopped working and we had to replace them.

Our new phones were shipped to us and we set about the task of trying to get them to work.

I need to point out here that my wife and I — while we are hardly senile — are of an age when we still remember heavy, unattractive black telephones sitting on a table and linked to the world by a thick cable that went straight into the wall and emerged to join even thicker cables draped about the landscape on tall, wooden poles that stretched into the horizon toward distant lands.

We never expected that phone to take photographs, tell us the time and date, or display pretty pictures and written messages. When it rang, we picked it up, and without pressing anything, we heard a voice on the other end. They said "hello." We said "hello," and a thing called a "conversation" began. The phone came with real bells underneath it that rang loudly enough for us to hear it when we were outside, presumably down at the well drawing water to bring back to the washroom to do the laundry.

The two tiny objects that came by delivery truck last week were also black. But any resemblance to a telephone stopped right there. They looked more like what we used to call a lady's compact: a plastic case with a lid that contained makeup and a mirror. It was called a compact because of its size and it slipped neatly into a woman's purse. Because modern cell phones are also compact, they too slip neatly into a woman's purse where they are promptly lost among the rest of the luggage in there.

Our new phones came with lots of features — most of which my wife and I will never use. We are of an age that still believes the primary function of a phone — if not its sole purpose — is to talk to someone. Why would I want to type a letter on the phone? How long does that take — especially if you don't have the tiny atrophied fingers that you need to hit the keys without smashing down four of them at once? Who needs to take a video, a photograph, check your stock portfolio, go online, or whatever else these things do, from your phone? We have equipment for all of those tasks that actually perform them better. But, so the argument goes, who wants to lug all of that equipment around when you can cram it all into your phone? Good point. But, who needs to do all that when you're driving, or out for a walk, or in a restaurant? Isn't it a bit refreshing to sometimes be "unwired?"

When we called the company for help, a very, very, patient and kind-hearted service representative walked my wife and me through the process of getting our phones "activated." The thick owner's manual provided little or no help.

We went to one of the company's branch offices in our area where another very, very kind and patient sales person took the information from our old sim cards and transferred it to our new ones. She also showed us how to do some of the things we were trying to do with our phones, like hear them when they rang. The loudspeaker on our phones is placed conveniently on the back so that when you slip the phone into its carrying case, the speaker is completely covered, thus muffling the sound. We still are missing some of the phone numbers from our "address book." Fortunately, we both are of an age where we still have little paper notebooks to keep addresses and appointments in.

The batteries and chargers that we bought for our previous phones do not work on our new ones. We can barely read the tiny blue lighting on the front display of our phones telling us what day it is and what time it is. Fortunately, neither my wife nor I have abandoned our wristwatches or calendars on the wall at home.

I am still learning how to get my fingers out of the way when the lid slams shut like a crocodile's jaws. On several occasions I have answered my handy little communication device and shouted to the poor person on the other end that I didn't know who they were because I couldn't hear them and as I was driving I couldn't manage to manhandle the volume button up a few notches to a level that made the phone call audible and therefore functional. Which is all people of a certain age want from a phone. Really.