Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Choose Your Cell

The main reason companies don't market to the huge Baby Boom generation is that we're basically immune to the compulsions of fashion and conformity. They may satirize us for returning to the brand names of our past, but besides "nostalgia"-- the ripples of memory and connection to the past we get from them-- often enough it has more to do with sticking with what works, and seeing the wearying pitfalls of the new and needless.

Take cell phones. Younger folk who are still competing to be the coolest of the conformists, rushed and rushing not only to early adopt, but to keep getting the newest, fastest, fanciest and inevitably most complex of the cellular toys. Besides adding immensely to the toxic waste overflow--literally hundreds of millions of thrown away cell phones--they've been part of changing everyday exterior life for nearly everybody, and in mostly dubious ways.

I've never owned a cell phone, so the ten reasons not to own one in this Wired Magazine commentary today were already known to me. Still, I recognize this as a reasonably brave statement, especially in the place it appeared (though it didn't stop the page from being advertised by a cell phone brand.) I recognize the few advantages--mainly having to do with emergencies--and I did experience a nice moment when one of my oldest and best friends who was visiting handed me his cell phone as we walked back from a dinner celebrating our 60th birthdays, and our third friend was on the other end. It was as if he were walking with us for awhile. That was nice.

But technology is always a prison as well as a liberation. In this case, the cost, the fact that I use telephones of any kind as little as possible, and the expectation that I would be accessible to everyone 24/7, and so with no privacy whatsoever, etc. means I haven't even been tempted, except when traveling. On the other hand, I am likely to buy an Ipod type device soon--though it's going to be a lot of trouble and require a lot of time, it's either that or another portable CD player, and they have their own increasingly frustrating problems. (The best portable device I have actually is a small, sturdy tape recorder, which I use to do interviews and also to listen to audiobooks.) And I certainly was early to adopt blogging, since it suited my purposes.

Then there's the ergonomic questions (part of that top ten list), which I've raised here before: screens and buttons with no learnable logic especially if you can't see them. I've been certain that this alone was a market opportunity that sooner or later somebody was going to fill, and apparently it's begun. I saw an ad in a magazine for a cell phone that's marketed for Boomers as being simple and with large, easy to understand buttons. The Jitterbug phone is unfortunately ugly, and the First Street ("For Boomers and Beyond") catalog is currently pretty thin and junky, but it's a start.