From the PLSJ archives: Anne vs. her mobile phone

Posted on Jul 31, 2012 in Everyday Life, Science, Technology & Society

Wednesday, 12 February, 2003
Anne vs. her mobile phone

As someone who spends so much time addressing the theoretical aspects of wireless communications, I would do well to note my *actual* experiences.

In the Spring of last year, I bought a Motorola Timeport 280. At the time, the only service provider who supported that phone was Fido, and it has since been discontinued. I didn’t need or want a PDA (fed gov’t workers here are decked out with BlackBerries), but I wanted something that could text, connect to the ‘Net and work anywhere in the world. Fine. Or so I thought.

Strike 1: Text-messaging is only available between mobile devices (phones, pagers, PDAs) on the Fido network. (To the best of my knowledge, this is true for each of the Canadian wireless providers.) Since I don’t know anyone (or don’t know if I know anyone) on the network, texting is pretty much useless to me. There’s something weird about community built around technology in this sense: what do I have in common with other Fido users besides using Fido-supported devices?

(Aside – I think one of HipTop Nation’s greater social strengths is connecting Sidekick users with non-Sidekick users in the common space of the Web. At a superficial level, I see very little interaction between the mobile bloggers themselves.)

Strike 2: It turns out that mobile Internet access is way too expensive for me in a cost-benefit sort of way. It insufficiently enriches my daily life, or more specifically, offers me little more than already afforded by the wireless LAN in my house. But then again, I’ve never seen an outside ad-hoc wireless network in action.

Strike 3: Game over. For a number of reasons, I have had no need to use my phone overseas. But today I called Fido to see what’s up with my phone while I’m in the States next month. It turns out that I have to request, in writing, the activation of roaming services 60 days in advance of when I need them. This phone is now officially *fucking useless* for every task I wanted it to perform.

As much as I hate Fido right now, I suspect this is also karmic retribution for my technolust.

Wow. I can’t believe the state of wireless technology (just) ten years ago!

I’d forgotten that I got my first mobile phone just ten years ago. That we had wireless internet in our house for the first time just ten years ago. That in Canada, in 2003, it wasn’t possible to send a text message to someone on another network, let alone another country. That the internet on my phone was just too bloody expensive (and the mobile web too limited) to even contemplate. That mobile service provision was based on such broken notions of social interaction and so difficult to actually use.

And now I’m remembering (probably badly) a conversation with Giles Lane, around the same time, about Proboscis‘ ground-breaking Urban Tapestries project — and how the test users didn’t have access to phones like the ones being used, and some were nervous about using such expensive kit, even worrying that it might make them targets for muggings!


Someone recently reminded me that my PhD dissertation was researched and written before the first iPhone was released.

Then, there were PDAs, urban computing and locative media. Now, there are smartphones, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and location-based services.

New and old actors. Old and new matters of concern.

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

It’s all still expensive. I just have more money.