Sunday, June 23, 2013

Back on the Grid

Hard to believe, and my uber-connected friends will probably be horrified to even consider the thought, but I have been without a working smart phone for the past 8 weeks. I'm a guy who has lived on a Blackberry almost since they were introduced and later an iPhone. But the temporary phone I bought in Dallas to use there for my last few weeks in Texas and, I thought, in Europe (as the BB / T-M sales guy had advised me) ... did not work over here. Since D-L and I were traveling around - France, Switzerland, Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, France - and she had a functional dumbphone, that was adequate to keep in touch with family/friends in an emergency. Business calls could be handled temporarily through her landline, Skype, and VOIPcheap online.

Part of me really liked the idea of being off the grid, being able to wander the streets at leisure to explore my new world without beeps, buzzes, chimes and chirps going off in my pocket periodically, being forced to read or write as the only options on a 10-hour train ride rather than checking and sending emails, Facebook posts and tweets. I appreciate more why my good friend Dave, a counselor who listens to people's problems all day long, was adamant about not wanting a cell phone - so he could disappear for a few minutes and have a cup of coffee without having his solitude interrupted.

This week, though, our new smartphones arrived, and D-L and I picked them up at the tobacco/souvenir shop (it's a small village - shipping options are limited). Overpackaged of course, in XL pizza-size cardboard boxes for a 3 by 6 inch wafer-thin phone, a power cord, USB adapter and earbuds.

We needed to get them activated at the bank, through which we made the purchase, so had an appointment with Chloe, a very efficient customer service rep who has shown great patience with my lack of French while Donna-Lane translates and explains to me. Pull out the papers we received in the pizza boxes. Where's the contract? Oh, it was an attachment in one of the several welcome emails we had received from Orange, the French telecom provider (which was one of our customers when I worked at the late, lamented Nortel). We hadn't realized we needed to print and bring the contract, but the resourceful Chloe pulled out her own smartphone, had us dial in our personal email accounts, locate the email with the contract attachment, then emailed a copy to her office computer so she could print it out. She activated my phone and the international dialing add-on since most of my work calls will be UK, US, Canada, and other non-France. Then she cross-sold me on a gold debit card which solved an issue I'd encountered in Paris plus has multiple insurance benefits such as rental car coverage (since I don't have a car here ... you don't have a car!!! I can hear my Dallas friends exclaiming).

But I have a smartphone again. Back on the grid. Untethered to a computer and finding a free WiFi connection. Have started loading up the apps - email, FB, Twitter, weather.com. Tried the camera - on my favorite subject, of course, D-L, who stuck her tongue out at me (no, you won't get to see that one; I erased it).

Got a Samsung phone - they pay taxes, which Apple dodges, so no iPhone or iPad for me. Also have a Samsung tablet, which is fantastic.

In a future blog, I'll describe D-L's attitude toward mobile phones. She really prefers being off, off, off the grid!

I have a feeling, now that I'm re-connected, I too am going to want to turn the power off from time to time. 

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