Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sundays from Singapore: Cellular phones

Photo by jonjon2k8


Let's talk about cell phones for a minute. In Singapore, they are known as hand phones. I don't know why since I rarely use another appendage to operate one. Hmmmm. Maybe ear phone would be more accurate.

But anyway, Singaporeans are addicted to their cell phones. Almost everyone over the age of nine or ten has one, they almost all use a handsfree earpiece and microphone, and they are on it constantly. I am beginning to wonder if when children register for kindergarden, they don't get one permanently installed at the same time. "Here's your 40 pounds backpack, your uniform of the blobbiest shape and most horrific color we could find, and your surgically implanted cell phone. Welcome to grade school!"

People walk around town with a thin wire dangling from their ear. It is very disconcerting to be in a quiet elevator with other people and have one of them startle you by talking to nobody! At first you think that you must have jostled them and they are chewing you out, then conclude they are receiving alien transmissions, and finally take note of the cable sprouting from their head. Ah ha! I have practically started arguments with taxi drivers, insisting that yes, I do want to go to where ever I just said, only to find out, much to my chagrin, that they aren't the least bit interested in talking to me, but rather, someone more important who isn't even in the car!

This wire-in-the-ear look constantly reminds me of those dolls that jump when you pull the string hanging out of them. If I were to pull on somebody's earphone, do you think their hair would stand straight up on end?? Would their eyes bug out and could I hear that Awhooga sound like in the cartoons? Might be worth running for my life just to see and hear all of that.

I suppose I wouldn't mind the overwhelming number of cell phones in use here, if I wasn't frequently inconvenienced by them. Like walking along the street behind someone and having them pull to a dead stop because of something someone on their phone just said to them. Or the fact that nobody turns the phone off when they go to the movies. If it rings during the show, they just talk loud enough to be clearly heard over the 180 decibel Surround Sound in the theater. And I'm quite sure I don't want to know all the details of their lives, either!

Everyday, the newspaper advertises all the competing cell phone companies, with half page ads imploring you to switch to their superior service or upgrade to a phone no bigger than a credit card, never mind that your current phone lets you choose from 35 preprogrammed rings and message waiting tones. Their new and improved phones lets the user with nothing else going in their life to compose and download their own music to alert them to a call!

You can play games on your phone, change the screen saver cartoon character or message anytime, or you can send Short Text Messages (SMS) to one or many people in a chat room. You can do telephonic SMS blind dating, make a restaurant reservation, or as one ad shows, indicate to your friend that they forgot to zip up their pants, all without uttering a word. Of course, by requiring you to push all the microscopic buttons to compose a message, you certainly can't be expected to keep walking too!

If that weren't enough, there are now vending machines in the MRT stations that will allow you to make purchases using your cell phone. The charge is put on your phone bill so you don't have to have the money right on hand. Maybe someday soon, I can just point and click my grocery order and have it delivered while I am drinking my cellular soda and picking up strange men in a phone chat room.

Now, I will be the first to admit that a cell phone is a wonderful tool. I like the security of knowing that should I need help, I don't have to find a phone except at the bottom of my purse. The girls each have one and it has greatly enhanced their freedom of movement around town. As long as I can reach them by phone, everyone gets along.

My phone here even works in the US, although I was a little paranoid the first time I turned it on in Arizona and got a text message saying, "Have a wonderful time in America from Singtel!" I hadn't told them of my vacation plans! How did they know? I finally figured out from my vantage point in the shrubs that nobody was spying on me, it's just that my phone had to locate a new network and it will establish that I was home in the US. However, I think that one greeting of the sort was enough. I really didn't need their best wishes for a happy vacation every time I went to use the phone!

Just as email has taken over from the snail mail system, cell phones are eliminating the need for land line phones. How else can my husband reach me in the toilet or while trying to balance a tray loaded with fast food in a crowded mall without a wireless contraption? It's a bit like belling the cat, isn't it? No matter where you are or what you are doing, if you have one of these gizmos and it's turned on, you have to spend time in elevator shafts and lower level car parks (parking garages.) I'm getting better at answering it before the 12th ring and subsequent voicemail recording, or before my purse vibrates off of the table, but I don't think I will ever become a complete aficionado. I am still partial to bellowing upstairs for the girls, and using my mother's time tested call, "Soo Wee, pig, pig, pig!" to get the family running from all parts of the neighborhood. No cell phone message or fast food purchase can replace my enjoyment of my children's horror-stricken faces when summoned to dinner in the old-fashioned way!

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