Mobile Phones Suck... But Isn't It Amazing That They Exist?

from the everything's-amazing-and-nobody's-happy dept

By now, hopefully, you've seen that clip of comedian Louis CK on Conan O'Brien's show (the old, old one) which went kinda viral, where Louis talks about how "everything is amazing and no one is happy":
It's hilarious and oh-so-true. I'm reminded of it because of David Boaz's post over at the Cato @ Liberty blog, where he talks about how amazing it is to think how far phone communication has come in the past three decades:
When I was a kid in the 1960s and we came back from a visit to my grandmother's, my mother used to call my grandmother, let the phone ring twice, and then hang up. It was important for my grandmother to know that we'd arrived home safely, but long-distance telephone calls were too expensive to indulge in unnecessarily. When I entered Vanderbilt University in 1971, my parents had to decide whether to pay for a telephone in my dorm room. They decided to do so, but most of the thoroughly upper-middle-class students on my floor did not have phones. Phones cost real money back then. Then came the breakup of the AT&T monopoly in 1984. Phone technology and competitive service provision exploded. In 1982, Motorola produced the first portable mobile phone. It weighed about 2 pounds and cost $3995. Within a very few years they were much smaller, much cheaper, and selling like hotcakes.

Today there are some 4.6 billion mobile phones in the world, and counting, or about 67 per every 100 people in the world. The newer ones allow you to carry in your hand more computing power than the computers that put Apollo 11 on the moon.  You can cruise the internet, find your location with GPS, read books, send texts, pay bills, process credit cards, watch video, record video, stream video to the web, take and send photos -- oh, and make phone calls from just about anywhere. Unimaginable just a few years ago.
But the point of the post is to question why some are now putting together an event about "Why Your Cell Phone is So Terrible," pointing out that it's a bit silly to complain when you compare it to what we had.

It's a really good point -- but I have to admit I can see both sides to this argument. It's the very fact that, even when we do amazing things, we can still see the faults with it and that drives us to keep improving and to keep innovating. It's the very "culture of improvement" that drives growth and innovation. So, while I can agree that it's sometimes a shame how much we feel a sense of entitlement towards making things better when those amazing things didn't even exist just a few years ago, it's hard not to sympathize with the feeling of wanting things to be even better.

And, by the way, I'm not alone in seeing both sides of all this. That Louis CK video at the top? The one where he mocks the guy sitting next to him on an airplane for getting upset that the WiFi in the sky suddenly stopped working? Yeah, he later admitted that it wasn't someone sitting next to him, but himself getting pissed off at the WiFi not working, even though he didn't even know in-flight WiFi existed until he got on the airplane. So yes, everything is amazing, and no one's happy... but maybe that's a good thing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Wesha (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 6:19pm

    What I personally hate about cellphones....

    WHY CAN'T I BLACKLIST CALLERS?

    I mean, like, if caller ID shows (555)555-1234, DO NOTHING. Don't ring, don't flash, just damn IGNORE it, for Christ's sake! How hard it is to implement?

    Yet, 9 years and counting, I'm still yet to see a phone with this feature.

    Another big thing: My damn phone has 8GB of RAM, yet it can't keep more than 100 SMSes? How ridiculous is THAT?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Lonny Paul (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 7:25pm

    Oh, but you can! (Droid Does)

    On android phones you can punch in a number, yes, a specific number, and "send straight to voicemail" in your contact edit screen.

    The SMS thing is ridiculous. Get a new phone.

     

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  3.  
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    Black Patriot (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 7:30pm

    @ Wesha
    There are also apps for the iPhone that can do blacklists. Also, you're phone doesn't have 8GB of RAM, it has 8GB of storage, and you might want to check to see if it's saving your texts on the phone's internal memory or if its saving it to an SD card.

     

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  4.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 7:37pm

    Re:

    Dude get a modern blackberry and turn in that old DynaTAC 8000x. Plus duct taping 8 gig of flash to it doesnt help ... ;)

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 7:44pm

    It is easy to bitch, but when you think about it, we really are living in an amazing world. From your phone, you can send a picture to a printer, through the air, and have it actually print. That simple thing still amazes me. No flying cars yet, but damm, our time really is amazing.

     

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  6.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 7:56pm

    Re: Oh, but you can! (Droid Does)

    "send straight to voicemail"

    I wrote the same sort of app up for my blackberry using their SDK. Its a wonderful thing to have an "ignore this freak" (This Call, 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, forever) option on the phone. Next is to tie it into the calendar next so the phone doesnt ring during meetings unless they are on a specific list-group.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 8:06pm

    "Mobile Phones Suck... But Isn't It Amazing That They Exist?"

    What's more amazing is that they only use a small portion of bandwidth yet they can service so many people. Imagine if we allocated more bandwidth to allowing people to request content, like Internet radio stations that anyone can set up, and listen to said content instead of just having one huge broadcasting spectrum that serves a large area. We can break up station requests into small cells, like cell phones, where each person can request an online station that anyone can set up (ie: like with blogs) and upon requesting it the signal will then be transmitted for said station in a particular area. This can enable far more radio and television stations being that multicasting technology within various regions can be used to ensure that unused stations do not get broadcasted in areas they are not used hence freeing up all that bandwidth in those areas for other things. After all, cell phones broadcast signals that get translated into sound and if they can service so many people using up a small fraction of the bandwidth why not substantially extend the available radio stations by allowing any device to choose what it wants to listen to.

     

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  8.  
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    Dementia (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 9:41pm

    Re:

    But there are flying cars!!!
    www.terrafugia.com

     

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  9.  
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    Jamesie (profile), Apr 2nd, 2010 @ 11:25pm

    mobile phones suck

    Dont blame the phone.we let them rule us, the way we let other things rule us.

     

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  10.  
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    Seumas Hyslop (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 12:16am

    I think it highlights a important thing about humanity and how much we come to take things for granted - something is new and exciting for a while, and we adopt it - it's new - and then it becomes the new commodity and it's then expected that people have it - and then something that is amazing is now the new base level and no-one is excited anymore.

    And ultimately comes the thing that people are no happier, despite having all these new things. Life just goes faster. We're more productive, we achieve new things that weren't possible before, but we are no happier.

    I'm not suggesting that we need to go back to how it was before we had all the things we do - but we need to have a little perspective on how amazing it all is. And just take a breather and calm down when something doesn't work and accept it for a moment, rather than spend the next three hours on the phone screaming at successive customer service agents on helpline numbers until it is fixed. That's counterproductive.

    And once in a while, turn your cell phone off. Turn the computer off. Go outside and go for a walk. It's good for you!

     

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  11.  
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    grumpy (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 1:26am

    Visit the Intartubes? Read mail? No. I deliberately bought my latest phone without those misfeatures. I'm sick and tired of phone calls being 5 menu items into some list - it's what the bloody thing is for! So now I can call and just barely write SMS (no dictionary - really old sk00l!) and I'm amazingly happy with it. No more emails from $BOSS in the middle of my off-time walking the dogs. SMS me and I can legally answer "yes", "no" or "email me" because everyone now knows it's too cumbersome for me to write any more. Bliss...

     

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  12.  
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    enrolled agent 2010, Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 2:12am

    The mobile phone has really done wonders for all of us. It made communication a lot easier with family and friends... and a lot cheaper too. I do remember owning a 3210 back 1999 and it cost somewhere around $350 back then. Now? It still has the same features and uses, and costs about $5. Imagine that!

     

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  13.  
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    Michael Lockyear (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 3:46am

    Re:

    My Sumsung has a "reject list" feature - the phone does not ring if someone on the list phones.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 4:34am

    Re:

    Seriously? I'm in the UK and I've had phones with inbuilt rejection lists for the past decade. My new phone offers more features than I need for rejecting calls, text messages, multimedia messages, etc.

    Just drop them, or send them to voicemail? Send an auto response? Fake ring and ring for the caller but nothing for me?

     

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  15.  
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    herodotus (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 7:13am

    "It's a really good point -- but I have to admit I can see both sides to this argument. It's the very fact that, even when we do amazing things, we can still see the faults with it and that drives us to keep improving and to keep innovating. It's the very "culture of improvement" that drives growth and innovation. So, while I can agree that it's sometimes a shame how much we feel a sense of entitlement towards making things better when those amazing things didn't even exist just a few years ago, it's hard not to sympathize with the feeling of wanting things to be even better."

    I'm afraid I have trouble sympathizing with always 'wanting things to be even better'. It might drive innovation, though I doubt it is essential to it, but whether it does or not, it's pretty depressing.

    I don't see the issue just as a 'sense of entitlement'. There is also a deep, apparently inborn desire to complain about absolutely everything.

    An acquaintance of mine was recently asked for money by a panhandler. She had no cash, but she was carrying a tray of cookies that she had made for an office party, and asked the guy if he wanted a couple of these instead. His haughty response: "Are the fresh?"

     

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  16.  
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    Robert Styles, Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 7:38am

    Re: blacklist callers

    Try a free service called youmail and you can do just that! It's really neat and it will allow you to have personal greetings for each number that calls!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Marc G (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 7:58am

    I Registered To Say This

    People are pissed because no matter how much technology and automation increases EVERYTHING STILL COSTS SO DAMN MUCH MONEY!!!!!!!!!!

    Sure. Some people are brats. But the same capitalism you laud so highly forces people to pay high rates regardless of the excellent technology we develop to make things cheaply.

    That is the real reason people are pissed.

     

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  18.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 9:27am

    The Value Of The Slate Event

    As a guy who regularly organizes events, I'm left wondering who "organized" the event in question.

    Looking at the speaker list, they neglected to get anyone whose credentials would indicate they know anything about mobile phones, mobile data services, nor mobile networks.

    Sounds like a low-value discussion. Kinda the inverse of the discussions congresspeople organize where only the industry is present, and then talk about how perfect they are.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2010 @ 9:34am

    This is really simple

    Cell phones give us one really great feature, convenience, in the form of mobility. We are willing to make quality trade-offs in exchange for that convenience. New technologies do not have to be better in all dimensions to be successful, they just have to be good at one thing we really want.

     

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  20.  
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    rockman123, Apr 4th, 2010 @ 10:04am

    1971-14.00 phone bill

    thats all.they make you buy a 20.00 korean piece of crap for 600.00, charge you 100.00 a month instead of the aforementioned 14.00, have proprietary software you can't hack and won't let you have three sim cards so you can keep one phone at home , one in the car, and another wherever you left it, have i left anything out?

     

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  21.  
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    rockman123, Apr 4th, 2010 @ 10:04am

    1971-14.00 phone bill

    thats all.they make you buy a 20.00 korean piece of crap for 600.00, charge you 100.00 a month instead of the aforementioned 14.00, have proprietary software you can't hack and won't let you have three sim cards so you can keep one phone at home , one in the car, and another wherever you left it, have i left anything out?

     

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  22.  
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    Facepalm, Apr 4th, 2010 @ 5:07pm

    Re:

    My computer only has 4GB of RAM, get with the acronyms.

     

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  23.  
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    Amarendra Singh, Apr 4th, 2010 @ 7:43pm

    I understand your need to sensationalize, but lets not count phones sold with phones in service.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2010 @ 7:54pm

    Let's see, my phone bill in the 70s was about $15 or so, including long distance. I had no internet, and tv was free. Granted, we had only 5 channels or so, but we all watched it, and it was often good. So grand total annual cost? About $180, not including hardware.

    Now I spend $140/month for my wife and myself for cell phones, $70/month for dish, $35/month for local phone, $25/month for DSL, and about $10/month for misc long distance. That comes to, let's see $280/month, or $3,360 per year. I watch tv, but most of it stinks, I can read the newspaper without getting my hands dirty, and, oh, yeah, I can send a low-resolution picture from my phone to my desktop (although I have a camera that does the same thing with better quality). And, yes, I can get messages or make calls from anywhere, most of which could certainly have waited till I got home and poured myself a nice pommard.

    I'm sorry, why am I doing this?

     

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  25.  
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    Steel, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:29am

    Re:

    There are two apps that I have know of to do this; http://melonmobile.com/ProductDetailsOverview.aspx?product=214 http://melonmobile.com/Pr oductDetailsOverview.aspx?product=203 Both made by the same company but work quite well.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 3:07am

    Personally I love my phone and it's made my life better. The sad truth is 99% of mobile phones out there just suck ass, really poor design. And phone companies really love to take advantage of customers. The reason there are billions of phones, is because very few have designed a phone anyone wants to really keep, so they are constantly switching. Technology can make your life better if YOU make the right choices. And you can't demonize technology itself, using this guy's analogy even a domesticated camel & pots and pans are technology.

     

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  27.  
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    Three Mobile Phones, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 6:09am

    Re:

    I am inclined to agree with you. If phones were truly that good you would not change them. When you buy a laptop it lasts for years because it has a decent battery life and the finctions you want. With the mobile phone industry phones are designed so you use them only for a short period of time and then with the next model they bring in better features. They could make a super duper phone you wouldn't want to change but the phone manufacturers would miss out on millions.

     

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  28.  
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    Nick Coghlan (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 6:23am

    Re: Oh, but you can! (Droid Does)

    Lots of phones have a setting to say whether SMS should be stored on the phone or in the SIM card. The storage in the latter is tiny (100 messages sounds about right).

    Most modern smart phones will store texts on the phone without asking, but others use the SIM by default.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 6:48am

    Re:

    You may have only paid $15 in 1970, but that is the equivalent of $83.57 in today's money. Using that as a baseline, and comparing it to the same service that you use today, local and long distance landlines which cost you $45/month, you are saving almost 50% from what you paid in 1970.

    In comparison, I pay about $80/month for my family's two cell phones, which both can make long distance calls, access the internet, take pictures and do a multitude of things that you 1970s phone could not, for about the same price. I still get TV for free OTA, and get the same 5 channels that occasionally show something decent.

    Advances in technology almost always drive the price of the base technology down. However, the advances in technology also leave lots of shiny things behind for people to buy for far more than they used to spend. For those who want to keep just the basic functionality though, I would say costs have been driven down by the overabundance of extras that companies can use to pad their bottom lines.

     

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  30.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    Level of Service expectations

    Sure land line phones did less and they were sometimes expensive but they were reliable. If you were in a serviced area, you could pretty much always depend on having service. There was also great effort to make sure that all areas were serviced.

    We traded more features for a 3rd world level of reliability.

    That's just the simple fact of the matter.

    A lot of people simply don't want to admit that the princess has some very ugly warts.

    There are some things that a wireless network isn't reliable enough for and many of us still employ wired networks for this reason. Some of us even go so far as to equip our homes with proper wired networking.

    We shouldn't kid ourselves when we decide to make certain compromises.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    And just take a breather and calm down when something doesn't work and accept it for a moment, rather than spend the next three hours on the phone screaming at successive customer service agents on helpline numbers until it is fixed. That's counterproductive.

    Not the way you described it. ;-)

     

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  32.  
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    Anony1, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 10:43am

    Consumer reports recently did a break down on cell phones. The article was on which phone is better. Apparently, all the phones were rated no higher than "average" for voice quality. I am unsure of the standard they used, but my phone is basic (not a smart phone)and the voice quality is more than acceptably clear. It seems like expectations need to be checked, and as Jedidiah said above, accept the compromises made by accepting mobile technology as the standard.

     

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  33.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:21am

    Re: The Value Of The Slate Event

    Well, I watched the video over the weekend. I was wrong. It is NOT a low value discussion. These guys are all on the ball and sharp - if not a little homogeneous.

    I tended to agree with the logic, economics, and facts represented by all of them, except some of the wilder claims by Sascha Meinrath. His assertion that the USA has worse cellular service than the rest of the world, and is getting worse is backwards. In 2000, we were perhaps 4 years behind the RoW, where now, we are close to the lead in many ways: WiMAX, LTE, cutting edge phones, tablets, mobile OS, apps.

    We're in the front of the peleton in wireless, where we trail the pack in fixed broadband.

    I stand behind my comment that they need to have at least one or two mobile telecom experts (and someone to rep the carrier side) on the panel as well as these policy wonks.

     

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  34.  
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    Luther, Jan 7th, 2011 @ 6:35pm

    thank

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Luther, Jan 7th, 2011 @ 6:37pm

    thank

    This was a helpful tip! I wasn't really having all the much a problem, but I figured why not give it a try? I usually use my laptop while its plugged in, so there's no need for me to have it set to conserve energy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Luther, Jan 7th, 2011 @ 6:37pm

    thank

    This was a helpful tip! I wasn't really having all the much a problem, but I figured why not give it a try? I usually use my laptop while its plugged in, so there's no need for me to have it set to conserve energy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    John, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 8:30pm

    Cell phones are garbage

    I still have use a 1973 Bell telephone touch tone land line in my home and it works great. And it's olive green which is very cool (same telephone as seen in some Brady Bunch episodes from the early 1970s). The connection never fails, sound of my voice is perfectly clear and I can screen calls by hooking it up to my 1980 Radio Shack answering machine. Sure, I don't have mobility, I can't take it on the road but who cares? I can wait until I get home to make a damn phone call or play the answering machine to see who called. People who have given up their land line phones are fools. Hey, you can't get brain cancer from a land line - but the medical jury is still out on the brain cancer scare among cell phone users - and I'm sure it's medically risky holding a microwave to your ear! I'll keep my nice, safe 1973 Bell land line.

     

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  38.  
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    Dude, Apr 15th, 2012 @ 1:28pm

    What's amazing is...

    ...that today's mobile phone can do so many amazing things, but still can't consistently make a phone call with decent quality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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