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the next best thing
necessity: the long lost second cousin of invention
by erik lars myers (@TopFermented)

Erik Myers' short story EXTRAORDINARY will be featured in LET THE EVOLUTION BEGIN, the first book from Intrepid Publishing.

The scene: A cute young boy dropping a cute young girl off at her house at a respectable hour. She hesitates a bit before getting out of the car, and they make small talk. Finally, she leans over to him, gets a shy kiss, looks up at him with big blue eyes, blushes, smiles cutely, gets out of the car, and runs up to her house. He watches her until she gets inside the house and then looks down at his cell phone before driving off. It displays the message, DID U KISS HER? The scene shifts to a young male sitting in a casual setting, perhaps the patio of a coffee shop or bar. The young male is looking at the message displayed on his cell phone that says, SHE IS SOOO QT! Fade to black, cue logo and jingle. Cue voiceover. End of commercial.

Let me tell you about the scenes you didn't see.

From inside the house, the cute young girl looks out the window of her bedroom to see the cute young boy's car is still parked in front of her house. Upon a closer look, it would appear that he's looking down into his lap and his arm is jerking slightly. It may not be obvious to her, but he has a cell phone in his hand, rather than his other "wireless device" and the jerking is him typing into his phone, 7-7-7-7-4-3-#-4-4-4-7-7-7-7-#-7-7-7-7-6-6-6-#-6-6-6-#-6-6-6-#-7-7-8-1. Or, SHE IS SOOO QT!

The other scene that you don't see didn't actually happen. It's where the cute young boy drives away, dialed only ten digits, maybe only seven, perhaps only one if he has his speed dial programmed, calls his friend, the young male in the casual patio setting, and says to him, "Dude, she's hot."

So why send a text message instead of calling? Because it's the new, man. Be cool. Be hip. Be cutting edge. Be Japan. It's the next best thing and that means that anybody who's anybody is doing it. The question is: Is the latest craze the greatest thing since sliced bread or is it Capitalism pulling one over on the consumer? When did "can" replace "need" in the drive to consumerism?

Let's take a look at the Sony Ericsson P800 Cell Phone. Top of the line, baby. With a price around $600, you'd expect something special from a phone, right? Hot diggity. Here's the list of features: caller ID, picture ID, conference calling, voicemail, text messaging (SMS), an alarm, a phone book, a calendar, a calculator, a to-do list, wireless web access, voice activated dialing, built-in speakerphone and a voice recorder. You can download applications, games, polyphonic ring tones, and movie trailers from the Sony website. You can play chess against other Sony Ericsson P800 users. It has an integrated digital camera that takes pictures at 0.3 mega pixels, you can send and receive e-mail and it plays MP3's. You can move pictures and MP3's on and off the phone, through either a wireless connection (that, presumably, you pay for) or through a USB cable to your computer at a rate of 0.2 MB per second. That's only 20 seconds, or so, per song for your MP3's, so you could conceivably upload an entire album in 4 minutes, which would be great if the phone had enough memory for it. The device has 12MB of internal memory and comes with a memory stick that gives you an addition 16MB. That's almost 6 songs at good quality -- and lucky you, you can listen to them on your phone.

It all sounds very cool and very slick. But what's the point? Who wants to spend this much time dealing with their cell phone? Aren't there other things you could be doing with your time, like talking to people? Besides that, in the 4 minutes it takes somebody to upload songs to their telephone and navigate the menus to play it, they could have stuck a CD in their Discman and be 30 seconds into Track 2.

New technology used to be a way to save time. New pieces of technology were coming out all the time that would make communication faster, or save resources, or allow one person to do the job of ten. Look back to the fax machine, the 56K modem, the word processor! And the other end of technology? The gadgets: the Colecovision to the Atari to the Nintendo to the PS2 -- they all saved you a trip to the arcade, and countless hundreds of dollars in quarters. And none of them could ever be used to annoy the shit out of the person sitting next to you on the bus.

The latest technologies are not meant to save us any time or resources. They are meant to deprive us of money and personality. After years of breaking down the barriers between human communication, of building a global network in which people could communicate freely, we are now being deprived of being able to do it in a personable manner. Instead, we reinvent grammar rules and contemporize spelling in order to type an impersonal message somebody that, just a few short years ago, we would have spoken to instead.

Omigod!!! U R 2 kewl!!!

Have you ever wondered why they keep making the SAT's easier?

So what am I saying? I'm saying that necessity is no longer the mother of invention. There is a sector of the economy in which there is no longer any supply and demand. It is now supply and consume. The mother of invention? Focus groups. And you know? It's really sad. The average cost of new cell phone development is between $30 and $40 million (e-Week). The cost of developing 3 new cell phones could run the National Endowment for the Arts for an entire year, it could pay for $1000 of new supplies for every public school in the U.S., or, it could pay off my (cripplingly high) student loans 4,615 times.

Not that I'm bitter, or anything.

I just want to say to any new technology companies looking to waste money on developing anything we don't actually need -- you can send it to me, instead. Just drop me a text message. I've got my cell phone on.


Writer, beer drinker, brewer. Not necessarily in the order. For more, check Top Fermented and Mystery Brewing Company.

more about erik lars myers


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john chase
9.12.03 @ 1:16p

I once heard a news report about a Cosmo article that had you "rate your man" by the kind of cell-phone he uses. hmmm... I don't have a cell phone, what does that say about me?! Anyway, I'm with you on this one 100%.

erik myers
9.12.03 @ 1:25p

No cell phone!? What kind of backwards animal are you!? I suppose you'd rather talk to people face to face.

How primitive!

robert melos
9.13.03 @ 2:25a

I have a cellphone. I guess can receive a text message, but no one has ever sent me a text message. I don't really need to receive one. Just call me, and if I happen to answer, tell me what you wanted to tell me and get it over with. I know one thing. If I were to send a text message, it wouldn't be "she is so QT!"


rachel levine
9.13.03 @ 9:11p

Text messaging -- one of the many differences between Gen X and Gen Y. Incidentally, I am watching Swingers on my Computer DVD player tonight. Cool.

alison huftalen
9.14.03 @ 3:46p

thank you, this is where my dislike for current technology stems from. we are on way back to the caves, who needs physical interaction?

russ carr
9.14.03 @ 4:02p

I had a cell phone. I tossed it.* The time which I would like to spend incommunicado is far greater than the times I've wanted to be accessible. A pay phone and a phone card seem to do the trick most of the time.

I would like to devise a device, installed with a push-button switch in my dashboard, which would allow me to detonate all cellphones within a 20-foot radius of my car, or at least cause them to emit a high-pierced squeal before melting their internal circuitry. A portable version would be handy for cheap thrills in the aisles of grocery stores, and swift justice in darkened movie theaters.

*not at the ground, in a drunken stupor.


mike julianelle
9.14.03 @ 5:07p

I saw that asterisk and I just knew.

erik myers
9.14.03 @ 6:26p

You know, Russ? I bet that's possible.

I've got some friends that would he happy to get into that market.

matt morin
9.14.03 @ 10:00p

Here's a trick if you don't want to be contacted: Turn the cell phone off.

I have one. It's off 100% of the time I'm home. When I leave the house, it's only on if I expect to be contacted or if I'm calling someone else.

It comes in handy far too often for me to get rid of it, but I make a big point not to be a slave to it.

I also don't use texting, call forwarding or any of the other 1000 features my phone has. Call. Receive calls. Voice mail. That's it.

erik myers
9.14.03 @ 10:46p

That's my favorite trick to do with my cell phone! Turn it off!

Of course, I get no reception at home, and that has a lot to do with it. But.. yeah.. that's my deal.. when I don't want to be accessible, I'm not.

And you know? I don't know anybody that uses all of the crazy "features" on cell phones. So who's the market demographic for all this?

tadd barnes
9.15.03 @ 10:08a

Cell phones are ok when it comes to using them as a convenience. It's rare I use any of the other gizmos on my cell phone, other than the phone book part of it. I actually don't have a land line phone, my cell phone IS my only phone. This is coming from a gimic gizmo type of guy too. Now if we can fix those annoying ringing tones...

heather millen
9.15.03 @ 4:22p

My cell is my lifeline. I don't have a landline. And in the event that I lose the cell, I will know nobody's number.

I text message ocassionally. Not for stupid little gossip, but if I'm trying to make plans or something. And sometimes it's just more convenient when you really don't have time to talk. Kind of like email.

erik myers
9.15.03 @ 9:40p

So, I turned on my phone this morning after it spent a weekend off, and it was doing this weird new thing that it had never done before... setup kinda stuff.

So, I went through it, mostly because I didn't know what was going on and I was bored... and what was it?

A jackass friend of mine that sent me a message after reading this column: "OMFG U R 2 KOOL"

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