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Peterson: I’m hung up on a simple, old cellphone

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I’m always surprised at the attachments I form with things, which are even more forgiving and less judgmental than living beings. Such as dogs or hamsters.

If you treat pets with a modicum of gentleness, respect and playfulness – and feed them – they are your pals and are always ready to welcome you into their lives. People are more complicated than that, and we spend our lives trying to figure out each other.

But things are just there. They are tools to be used. They clothe us, feed us and shelter us. They store some things and fix others. They are wood, metal, stone, glass, paper or plastic. They are lifeless or full of life when you add electricity. They give us comfort when we sleep or relax. They let us travel the world without leaving home.

Things hook us, which retailers know at this time of the year. Despite the crass commercialism of the season, things provide people with jobs. Our country would be stronger if we manufactured more things here than imported things from abroad.

Over the weekend, I had to part with one of my things and replace it with a new one. Many things are not made to last for years on end, including cellphones.

It wasn’t that long ago that I did not have a cellphone. I had a telephone and it was attached to a wall by a long wire, which connected it with miles and miles of wires outside. And I had a telephone at my desk at work. If you wanted to call me, you had your choice of two numbers. It was that simple.

I thought cellphones made you slaves to other masters, who could track you down by simply calling you, and you would answer their calls no matter where you were. But several years into the 21st century, I joined cellular communication.

It never occurred to me to leave my cellphone at home. The whole idea was mobility. While others might be able to call you anytime, anywhere, you also had the same opportunity. And opportunities often were couched in “emergencies.” A cellphone could save you if your car stranded you by the side of a road, miles from anyone who might render assistance.

I could have left my cellphone at home, but I didn’t. It fit nicely in my pocket. And if I needed to make a call, there the phone was. For emergencies.

Three or four years ago, our last cellphones cost a penny each; it was The Plan that cost all the extra money. The Plan makes real money for cellphone companies.

And I carried my cellphone with me wherever I went. It got to the point this summer that we disconnected the wire that was attached to the wall to the thing that had been called a telephone but now is called a land line. Like a telegraph. It had outlived its expense.

But the batteries on our cellphones stopped holding a decent charge, and that was becoming a problem. Conversations might last longer than the charge. And we could not replace the batteries because they no longer made them. So we had to buy new cellphones.

And they cost $19.95 each, although you can buy a “smart” phone for a penny. Smartphones are like having the Internet in your pocket. Not only can you make calls, you can access the Internet almost anytime, anywhere, and it is a thing you can carry in your pocket. Cellphone companies make smartphones available for a penny because they want you to buy an upgraded and more costly Plan.

I understood my old cellphone, but I cannot say the same for the new one, and it doesn’t come without manuals because it is too complicated to explain. Rather than rely on intellect, you need intuition.

I overslept the other morning because the alarm clock on my cellphone did not make enough racket to wake me. The alarm doesn’t have a vibrate function, but when you turn the phone on, it plays a little tune that I’d rather not hear. The cellphone somehow has us living in Joliet, which simply isn’t true.

I can’t help but think that the basic cellphones – what used to be similar to a telephone – are being made less friendly to users to entice them to buy smartphones for a penny, which puts access to the world in your pants pocket with a more expensive Plan.

I liked my old cellphone, even if it would take pictures of my pocket. But I am sure I will like this new one once I get used to it. Right now, it’s live and learn the dang thing.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at


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