To cell in a handbasket

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

To cell in a handbasket


Nov. 14, 2009

Three years ago during Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry – a man famously addicted to his cell phone – famously signed free agent pitcher Ted Lilly to a $40-million deal while strapped to a hospital bed in Orlando.

And hooked up to an EKG machine.

Well, this week, another notorious cell phone addict (that would be me) had no problems at all with his ticker.

Until my iPhone flat-lined.

And about gave me a heart attack.

Yes, last Sunday afternoon, I shut off my phone, tried to turn it on again and then tried to turn it on again.

And again.

But I found the thing less responsive than Sammy Sosa in front of Congress (although not as pale).

And, so, for nearly 24 hours, until I could visit an Apple Store to get the phone reset, I was without phone service. Or a watch. Or an alarm clock. Or the billion other things that my cell phone serves as these days.

As a result, I was reminded once again just how much I’ve put myself at the mercy of a fickle 4.5-inch-long hunk of glass, plastic and metal that lives inside my pocket.

Do I own my cell phone, or does it own me?

(Don’t answer that.)

Now, mind you, there was a time when I refused to fall victim to my cell phone’s siren calls. That was back in 2003, when I moved into a new apartment in Ottawa, Ill., where I was working at the time, and my brother suggested that I ditch my landline to go strictly cellular. I brushed that notion off, and instead acquired a new home number and a fancy new cordless phone.

Within a week, I regretted it.

Just days after getting the new number, I came home to find two calls from the “City of Ottawa” on my caller ID, along with a pair of hang-up messages on my answering machine. My new neighbor from across the hall soon stopped by to inform me that police officers had been pounding on my door that morning.

“Excuse me?” I responded.

He said the officers claimed that 911 calls had been made from my place, and that he had to convince them I wasn’t home. Upon hearing this, I immediately phoned the police dispatcher, who said she had just come on duty but led me to believe that the 911 calls had originated from a different apartment.

Very odd, I thought. But I shrugged off the incident, until two days later when I came home for lunch and found three more “City of Ottawa” calls on my caller ID. Once again, my neighbor said the cops had barged into the building and beat on my door.

(By this point, they must have just loved me.)

This time, a dispatcher told me that a trio of 911 hang-up calls had indeed been made from my apartment. She asked if someone else had been there (no one had) or if I had any pets that might have dialed the phone (they make pets that smart?)

She then suggested that I call the phone company. So I did, and the woman I spoke with told me “that sometimes when cordless phone batteries get low, the phone will automatically dial 911.”

Since when?

Regardless, my phone had never left its charger. And so, at this point, fed up with a haunted landline that I was barely using, I canceled it and began an exclusive relationship with my cell.

Which opened up its own Pandora’s Box.

Last summer, for example, while running back to my apartment in a torrential downpour following a rainout at Wrigley Field, my Motorola Razr phone suffered catastrophic water damage.

While inside my pocket.

I didn’t know about that until the next morning, though, when I awoke to a technology wasteland worthy of the 1940s, as I discovered that my TV and Internet had also been wiped out the day before.

Imagine, if you can, what it’s like realizing that you’ve lost phone service, cable service and Internet service simultaneously. You can’t find the right phone numbers to call for help, because, well, you can’t get online. And even if you could get the numbers, you can’t call them anyway because – oh! – you have no phone.

So old school was my apartment that morning that I felt an urge to turn on the radio, sit down Indian-style in front of it and twist the dial in search of “Little Orphan Annie.”

If only my phonograph player hadn’t been in the shop.

Last month, following its annual online survey to determine the priority level that people give their cell phones, Samsung reported that 3 out of 10 Chicagoans said they’d give up sex for a year rather than sacrifice their mobile phone.

“A couple years ago, we asked about the cell phone versus chocolate,” Samsung spokesperson Kim Titus said. “The cell phone won that year, too.”

I’m not surprised. And I would write more, but I have to go.

I think my cell phone is calling me.

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