Friday, July 28, 2006

The Fascism of the Literal

Yesterday we got our two new Motorola Razr cellphones from Radio Shack. Our contract is with Cingular, but the deal for the hardware was much better than that offered by by Cingular, either online or in their bricks-and-mortar store in our neighborhood.

Will we live happily ever after with our new cellphones, or at least for the two years of our contractual obligation?

We'll see. Cellphone companies are the e coli of American commerce, pervasive, often unsettling, occasionally deadly.

But that's not why I asked you here today. What is a cellphone without an elaborate set of instructions? The first instruction is that you should charge the phone for 24 hours before using it. And I think to myself: What actually is the optimum time to charge before using?

It's not 24 hours -- I'm sure of that.

Maybe it's 17 hours, 24 minutes. Maybe it's 26 hours, 47 minutes. But that degree of fineness would produce cognitive overload, and there would be less compliance, not more. And more batteries would fail prematurely, and more consumers would be sad.

Of course, sad consumers are not the issue. The issue is consumers sad enough to behave in ways -- loud and long complaints requiring more operators standing by; animosity that changes consumer buying habits -- that are incompatible with the company's profit expectations. Anyway, no matter whether the calculation is practical, altruistic or deeply cynical, the cellphone people know they need to stipulate a nice round number that resolves itself into: "Start now; tomorrow at this time, stop."

I know -- I know -- that a 24-hour charging period is a useful compromise with what is actually the "best" number.

All that stipulated, today somewhere between 23 hours, 50 minutes, and 24 hours, 10 minutes, after I began, I will quit charging our two brand-new blue Motorola Razr phones.

1 comment:

B. Wieder said...

Gloria put this on our Check It Out list, finding in it, I gather, certain clammy echoes of the bit of jollity we just had with the Cingular people involving a cell phone provided by them along with a battery provided by them which was, while not larger than the phone itself, larger by far than the space the battery was supposed to fit into, which brought us face to face with Cingular's "can't just switch batteries, gotta switch whole phones, which will require that you speak to even more people in the Cingular customer aid family" rule, and that's why she now uses Firefly, designed for 6-year-olds and ourselves. Also read your Golden Oldie from May 05 which was so amusing that it makes me wish I'd read more than just two or three of Will's plays. Andy Dick as Iago? Truly you span your culture like a great railroad trestle. The SOO Line, actually.