Off the Grid

I have broken free of the binding chains that are modern technology. Well, for a few days at least. My handphone: a Sony Ericsson S700i – hasn’t been working properly for 9 months, and I finally decided to fix it.

In April of 2005 I decided I wanted a handphone with a decent camera, and the nicest screen I could find. I thought that if I were to stumble upon someone interested in seeing my photographs, I could whip out my handphone for a quick preview of my work. Ok, ok, and the rotating transformer-eske screen was pretty damn cool. Now it’s so 2005ish. It’s been a great phone, but I’ve come to a few realities:

  • The camera has become a party-shot, check out that accident, look at the English on that sign, let’s make fun of ourselves type of camera – at 1.3 megapixels and no zoom that’s all it’s good for.
  • The screen is still gorgeous, but I realize I’d never show a potential ‘client’ a photo on my phone. What was I thinking?
  • Don’t buy silver – at least not from S.E.. Silver paint is notorious for coming off. GM had a huge problem with their silver paint back in the 80’s and 90’s – it was fading and dulling much more quickly than other colors. My phone looks like it’s been to hell and back (oh wait, that was me in 2006). I’d get black next time and just be done with it. (why don’t hp companies consider many other colors a la, iPod Nano?)
  • The rotating screen is cool, but kind of a pain when I need to dial.
  • It’s too damn big. Not 1995 big, but still, it’s got the “is that your handphone or you just happy to see me” effect. I’d definitely give up the rotating action to have a slimmer model.

So what’s wrong with it? Well, last May I climbed the Javanese volcano, Gunung Gede. I put the phone in a plastic bag in my rain gear, but somehow I think moisture managed to ruin the microphone. So for the past 9 months, I’ve been honing my texting skills to new heights. I can still make a call, but I have to shout for anyone to hear me. How cool do I feel? Not only that, but I have to take the phone away from my ear and shout in it walkie-talkie style – highly embarrassing in public venues (museums, concert halls, libraries).

So despite the fact that I’m an industrial designer from university, I’ve completely forgone all sense of form or function this time. But hey, it’s a nice $450 texting machine.

It’s odd to be unreachable, to be off the grid. In a way it’s liberating. I didn’t get my first handphone (sorry, cellphone), till 2001. A big nasty flip phone from Sprint. Why’d I wait so long to get a phone? It was great – people actually had to make physical contact with me to chat. There wasn’t this cocoon of comfort knowing that no matter where you go, you’re just a speed-dial away from help, love, friendship, or pizza. In Indonesia, many of the children age 4 and up have phones dangling from their pockets. I’ve seen many a 5-year old fumbling with daddy’s $600 ‘old’ phone. People of all status, class, and financial ability have handphones here.

As technology develops and inevitably snowballs, we’re going to become even more reachable, traceable, and monitored. There are definitely two sides to this story – a story for another time.

For now, I’ll have to decide whether to shell out another $80 to replace the exterior of my phone with shiny new silverthatwillpeeloffagain paint, or deal with the ghetto appearance of my once gorgeous gadget. At the moment, I’m feeling that I’ll choose function over form – and fix just the microphone. After all, I can’t remain unreachable for long.

For now, liberation is only a fleeting glimpse of the past.