Wanderings – Handling the basics of technology

Have you ever noticed that there are things in the world that do everything, but the job the thing was meant to do? I can name quite a few items that fit this description, but the one at the top of my list is my cell phone.

I have a love-hate relationship with my cell phone – often times more on the hate than the love side. Cell phones are a great tool – a miracle of modern society. I can check my email accounts, surf the web, check my social media feeds, bank online, and even take a semi-decent photograph in a pinch. Please note that I did not say make a phone call.

I remember when cell phones first arrived in the mid-80s: a large brick, wired directly to your vehicle. The advent of a portable battery improved mobility a lot. By the early-90s, you only needed one hand to carry your cell phone. Quickly the size was reduced to a more manageable thing to carry around. It was great: you could call your friends and talk on the phone while you drove around. But then cell phones got smart, or did they?

From 2001 to 2007, I did not own a cell phone. A job loss in 2001 saw me throw my cell phone in the river in frustration – it’s okay, it wasn’t my cell phone any ways. When I did rejoin the connected cell phone world, my phone was smaller than my hand and had the internet. Wow.

Now I could check my email, and goof off – er work – while on my phone. But could I make a phone call? During that time in my career I have needed to be on the cell phone a lot. Sadly those phone calls were met with frequent disconnections, drops, noise, or other interference. That was in the few years leading up to 2010. I tried upgrading phones – hello Blackberry – and tried all variations of ways not to drop phone calls. I even resorted to standing on one foot, with one hand on my head, like what we had to do when we wanted to watch channel 50 on TV as a kid. Nothing worked.

I changed carriers a few times, but nothing improved. I changed phones a few times, again nothing. Flash-forward to a couple weeks ago. I was acting as an über for one my kids and had to go to Avonmore. Avonmore is a nice little village, one that I have been to a handful of times.

While in Avonmore, my phone be-bopped an alert. It took the better part of five minutes to load the alert on my phone because apparently that area is the land that the internet forgot. I did not bring my dial-up modem from the box of forgotten computer parts, but I should have – it would have been faster.

The alert required me to make a phone call – damn it. The physical gymnastics needed to get a mediocre cell signal was akin to playing Twister. I was able to complete the call and task required by driving south to Long Sault.

Cell phones are not cheap, nor are cell phone plans. The average price of a cell phone in Canada is about $250, and the average price of a service plan is about $57 per month. Canadians get hosed on service plans. Our price for service is among the most expensive in the world. We rank 204 out of 233 countries for affordable service. The top five best countries (first-to-fifth place) are Israel, Italy, San Marino, Fiji, and India.

I would not mind paying what I pay per month for my phone plan, and how expensive a phone is to buy, if I could make a phone call that didn’t sound like I was talking into a high powered fan.

Millions have been spent, and millions more committed to be spent, to improve cell service and internet service in rural Ontario. Initiatives touted by the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, and projects by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network are supposed to improve cell service here. There have been provincial announcements of adding service here and there. When? I certainly don’t see an improvement and neither do others who I talk too. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Since the onset of the pandemic, internet connectivity and cell service has been at a premium thanks to everyone jumping on to the internet. Technology hasn’t helped either. Everything is connected. With the click of an app, you can turn your stove on to pre-heat the oven as you drive home from work. A fridge can double as a streaming device. Alexa and Siri run rampant through the home.

If I wanted to, I can connect my model trains to the internet and have a friend in Nashville operate it as if he was standing in my basement. Still, no decent phone calls can be made. Is it too much to ask to be able to call someone on my cell phone?

Column originally published in the June 14, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader