There was life before cell phones

FLINT – The problem with technology is that what was once overwhelming soon becomes underwhelming. A new product will take society by storm and change how we live. We like that. We want more. We want the high to continue. But all that’s left are unsatisfying tweaks.

Specifically, I’m thinking here of cell phones.

Ten years ago, hardly anyone had them. If you wanted to make a phone call, you found a phone that was in one way or another connected to a wall. Some phones even required coins to operate, which, I realize, is a startling concept for anyone under the age of 20 since cell phones don’t usually have coin slots on them.

Seven years ago, if you had a sudden urge to use your phone to share with complete strangers what you had for breakfast that morning using 140 characters or fewer, you couldn’t because Twitter didn’t exist yet.

It’s hard to imagine how we survived.

And not so long ago, if you wanted to text someone you couldn’t because texting didn’t exist yet either. So if you felt the urge to laugh out loud at something someone said, instead of typing LOL, you had to use your lungs and lips and actually emit sounds – often along the lines of ha ha ha, hee hee hee, or some combination of the two with assorted other sounds thrown in. For example, “Ha ha hee hee, haw snort!”

Yes, it was a strange and brutal world.

But back to my central point, which is that technology often plateaus but human expectations do not. Cell phones now are stuffed full of apps and functions that let you do more and cooler things. And yet those things usually feel pointless to me.

A perfect example is new version of the iPhone, which is ballyhooing its new fingerprint technology that allows you to unlock the phone by touching it. I’ll wait while you make with the fireworks sound: “Ooooo!”

Personally, I can’t think of anything less useful. I don’t want an app that reads my fingerprint. What I want is an app that wipes my fingerprints off the screen when it reaches the gross stage. They could call it iSqueegee.

A friend recently showed me his new phone. “Watch,” he said, “I can answer my phone or scroll through web pages by waving my hand over the screen.”

So he waved his hand over the screen and the screen did nothing.

“Hold on,” he said, waving his hand with even more vigor. “Any second now …”

After 30 seconds I said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just scroll the page by touching the screen?”

“Uh, yeah, but then it wouldn’t be cool.”

At least it’s exercise.

I have the same phone, by the way. It also lets you ask a polite young woman to perform tasks for you, such as dial a number or read a text. (I think it’s interesting that they don’t use a male voice. I think it’s because a male voice wouldn’t bother answering or it would say: “To hell with you! Who are you to give me orders?” Either that or it would be sleeping or watching ESPN.)

I tried it on the commute home the other day. “Call home,” I asked the woman in my phone.

After a few seconds, she said, “There are two listings for home – home and home. Do you want to call home or home?”

“Uh,” I said. “Call either, I guess.”

“Please provide more detail,” she said. “And be quick about it. I don’t have all day.”

“Um,” I stammered. “I …”

“Too late,” she said. “Try again later. Goodbye. By the way, your driving is terrible. Stop tailgating and slow down. And pick up milk on the way home.”

I never should have downloaded that wife app.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.