Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Confessions of a Phone Nerd

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a cell phone nerd. Ever since I first got a cell phone years ago my practice has been to carry the thing around on a belt clip. I've never used a cloth or leather holster. It would take too long to get to the phone. No, I carry my phone around in one of those plastic clips that grips the phone on one side and clips to my belt on the other.

My affinity for the plastic belt clip is purely functional. I do not believe it has anything to do with aesthetics, although, some would argue that the cell phone belt clip is an identifier of sorts. Most cell phone users do not wear their phones like I do. They keep their phone in their pocket. Wearing a cell phone in a holster or clip is today’s version of wearing a pocket protector. Pure nerd.

I have my reasons for my unfashionable phonewear. Back when I got my first cell phone, it was large enough that nobody would ever have thought of putting it in their pocket. So I got used to the belt clip right away. I also think that back in those days having a cell phone was sort of a status symbol, so it was worth showing off.

Over the years, my cell phones became progressively smaller until I went from a standard flip model to one with a full qwerty keyboard. It was only slightly larger than its sleek predecessor, but I could tell the difference.

During this same time, cell phones became more generally used. It seems like everyone has one, from senior citizens to elementary kids. One New York City denizen recently described seeing a beggar on the way to work every day sitting with sign in hand talking on a cell phone.

In other words, having a cell phone isn’t really much of a status symbol anymore. The kind of phone you have might serve to increase your social standing, but just having a cell phone is such a minor deal that wearing one has gone from being a status symbol to being a dork symbol.

Still, I don’t like keeping my phone in my pocket. I’m not going to put it in my back pocket because it would get smashed when I sit down. I keep keys in my front pockets — car keys in one and house keys in the other. I don’t like the idea of my phone jumbling around with my keys. The kind of abrasive treatment the phone gets hanging on my belt is nothing compared to what would happen in my pocket.

Besides, when my phone rings, I want to get to it right away. That’s relatively easy when it comes to retrieving it from my belt clip. Digging around in my pocket for my phone isn’t my idea of fun. I have tried keeping my phone in my pocket a couple of times, but I don’t feel it when it’s on vibrate and I don’t hear it ring otherwise. When I do sense the ring, I end up fumbling around in my pocket and inadvertently pushing buttons. Somehow I always end up cutting off the caller or putting my phone on mute.

Speaking of ringing, I use my phone in vibrate mode pretty much all the time. I don’t want to have to worry about changing the ring settings when I go into someplace that should be quiet. I hate to have my phone sound off in the middle of a meeting.

In noisier settings the sound of my phone ringer seems to blend in regardless of volume and ringtone. I end up missing calls because the ring seems to mingle with the ambient noise. I can’t tell which direction the sound is coming from, so I don’t realize my phone is ringing. The vibrate setting seems to work OK as long as the back of the clip is tight against my hipbone.

I see many people walking around with a cell phone in their hands as if they never put the thing down. I guess that most people of my generation don’t use their cell phones continuously, as do some members of younger generations. I like to have a convenient place to keep my phone when it’s not in use. A belt clip serves that need.

My phone carrier has bugged me a number of times about upgrading my current model, which finished its required contract months ago. There has been quite a push to go to a smartphone, which would necessitate a significant jump in monthly charges to pay for a data plan. I love smartphones. I’m just not ready to pay for one yet.

I suppose that someday I will end up going to a smartphone. I queried a couple of younger smartphone owners at work about belt clips. They looked at me like I was from another planet. “I don’t think they even make one for my phone,” one said. I searched the web and found that one is available. But these guys’ reaction told me everything I needed to know about the social acceptability of wearing a smartphone on a belt clip.

So maybe I will eventually become a convert to storing my phone in my pocket. Perhaps I’ll find a way to make that work for me. But for now I’ll continue to play the nerd.

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