Llewellyn King: The old-guy techno blues

I have to face it: like most people of my generation, I am a technological dunce.

In my pocket, there is an electronic miracle in the form of a cellphone. I am told it has enough computing power to plan a moon shot and run a nuclear submarine, or wake me up in the morning, organize my schedule, and provide me with reading material and audio and visual entertainment all day long. Wow!

On a good day, if I have remembered to charge this pocket Einstein, I can make a phone call. I can receive phone calls, too. But that is more problematic because I have to find it and handle it gently, otherwise it disconnects the calls – which leads people to believe that I do not want to speak to them.

Mostly, I would be happier if the phone did not do such extraordinary things, for it has become a reproving presence, mocking and denigrating me because I cannot calculate on it the cost of traffic congestion in the United States or, for that matter, my checking account balance – a truly modest calculation.

Apart from making me feel even more stupid than necessary, the wretched super-device – and I hate to make this accusation – is sneaky. It steals money. It lives in my pocket and helps itself to my money which, metaphorically, also dwells there. Unlike real phones – a dying breed like the necktie – you have to be deliberate about disconnecting a call, or you will continue to be charged for it.

Woe betide you if you take the malicious little bloodsucker out of the country: The fees and charges can cost you as much as your trip. And if you turn on the data roaming to peek at your email, you may want to begin a new life for yourself, wherever you are, because your financial destruction, which this seemingly innocent action will trigger, will probably be complete.

In a simpler time, when I left home in the morning, I needed just my wallet and my keys. Now I need a checklist of devices.

I need a wristwatch, because I forget that I can get the time on my cell phone and other electronic gadgets. Probably I could find out how many days I have left on earth, if I knew which app to download on my cellphone – preferably a free one.

I need an electronic book mostly because I have spent a lot of money getting one – and now I am damned well going to read books, newspapers and magazines on it.

I need the dreaded cellphone because I have become addicted to it. Maybe I can go to cellphone addiction rehab at the Betty Ford Center – if I can afford it, after all the money I have spent on roaming charges.

Of course, I cannot get out the door without a laptop, or some such device, to check my email and my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts because nobody is going to phone me, despite the fact that everyone in America seems to have a cellphone. This is the Great Cellphone Paradox: The more people have cellphones, the more they prefer email or some version of it.

The cellphone manufacturers will respond by equipping new cellphones with apps for everything on earth, from dealing with in-laws to finding out how much the dude at the next desk really earns. The one thing you will not be able to do with them is, er, make a phone call.

In the meantime, I will have to persevere with typing with my thumbs or move to North Korea. Now if only I could borrow a cellphone, so I could call my cellphone, so I can find it.

Llewellyn King is host and executive producer of "White House Chronicle,'' on PBS.



— For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate

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