Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ode To My Flip Phone

So futuristic.

So obsolete.

It started back in the early 1970s, when I would come home from school and watch episodes of Star Trek. (Yes, I know Star Trek aired in the 1960s. But, I was only two months old when the first episode aired in 1966, so my first memories of the show are from the syndicated reruns.) I was a Spock guy. Probably because I thought I was smart and logical. Besides, I was too afraid of girls to ever think of myself as Captain Kirk. (Now that I'm older and grumpier I find myself identifying more and more with "Bones" McCoy. I'm getting increasingly curmudgeonly.)

At the time our best way of communicating with the world outside our house was via the telephone that was permanently mounted on our wall. The base box was connected to the receiver by a ten-foot long pigtail cord. And, it wasn't even ours. The phone was owned by the telephone company. And it wasn't private. We had a party line. That meant we shared the phone line with the neighbors down the street. If they were using the phone, we couldn't. 

An old-style, wall-mounted rotary phone, with cord.
(Heaven forbid we ever had to call anyone from Downey with their "897" prefix.)

So, when I watched Star Trek and saw them carrying around a communicator, I was fascinated. It was so futuristic. Here was a tiny box, less than one-tenth the size of our wall-mounted box, that a person could carry around on their belt or their pocket. (No cord!) And, each person had one of their own! It wasn't shared with anyone else in the house, the neighbors, or, in the case of Star Trek, anyone else on the spaceship. 

Star Trek communicator, open and closed. (Ooo, buttons and lights!)

One of the best features of the Star Trek communicator was that with a flick of the wrist the cover would open up to reveal its innards of button and blinking lights. (Futuristic devices can never have too many blinking lights!)

As kids we used to pretend we had our own communicators. We'd use boxes, rocks, dirt clods, or our imagination, but whatever we were using as our communicator, we would flick our wrists in that special "Star Trek communicator" way to flip open the lid on our pretend device. Then we would twist an imaginary knob and talk into it.


I was a bit late to the game in getting my first cell phone. I didn't get one until 2002. At the time I had a job where I was delivering ice cream to convenience stores, and I got tired of having to carry around quarters to use pay phones whenever I needed to call in to the office. That first cell phone was pretty big and bulky, and I didn't use it very often.

It wasn't until 2006 that I got my first "flip" phone. The Wife and I had just gotten engaged, and I needed something a bit more reliable that I could use more often than my old phone.

I was very excited to get a "flip" phone. But, I was immediately disappointed when my "flip" phone wouldn't flip open when I did my old "Star Trek communicator" wrist flick. The tension of the spring on the cover was too tight to open with a simple wrist flick. I would have to pry the phone open at least half way before I could effectively wrist flick it the rest of the way. That didn't stop me from trying, though. I would wrist flick that thing open (with the help of a prying thumb) every chance I could.

A few years into our marriage, we upgraded our phones. I still had a flip phone, but now it was advanced enough that I could actually take, send and receive pictures on it! (Try doing that on your fancy communicator, Dr. McCoy!) [Doctor McCoy's response: "I'm a doctor, not a photographer!"]

I had the perfect communicating tool, right there in my pocket!

And then, I left it in my pocket and put it through the washing machine. (Oops.)

That phone died in the washing machine that day. Unfortunately, we were locked into a calling plan, so I was unable to get me a new phone to replace it. (You gotta love those calling plans!) (Or not.) I ended up getting a makeshift replacement phone. It could handle phone calls just fine, but I couldn't send or receive pictures on it.

Yes, my flip phone may be obsolete, but at least my calculator watch is still cool!

Meanwhile, as I was plugging along with my makeshift replacement phone, my "futuristic" flip phones were getting replaced by "smart" phones. Apparently, a group of non-Star Trek fans decided that it was better if the phone screen was in front of you all the time, without having to "flip" a lid open to reveal it. The longer I held on to my "flip" phone, the more out of date and obsolete my phone and I were. (And the more I enjoyed those commercials with Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader, where someone tries to steal his phone and he welcomes it. Here's a link: Take my phone.) (I laugh as hard at that commercial as The Wife laughs at the one where the farmer spells cow "C-O-W-E-I-E-I-O.")

Finally, last week, my old, obsolete, makeshift replacement phone died. And so, I've now joined the zombie horde of iPhone owners. It will take some getting used to. At this point my new "smart" phone is much smarter than I am. I still really don't know what an "app" is. And, while it will certainly be nice to take and receive pictures, and surf the interwebs on my phone, I'm still going to miss my old flip phone.

So, if you ever see me strangely flicking my wrist as I answer my phone, don't think I'm too weird. I'm just fondly remembering a time from my past when that was a futuristic gesture.

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