On being ... a generational thing

by Ingrid Sapona

I got a new cell phone last week. Yippee.

If my excitement is underwhelming, well, there’s good reason. You see, I didn’t really want a new cell phone. There was nothing wrong with my old cell phone. Well, at least nothing that was of concern to me. But, apparently, it was a 2G phone and my new cell provider’s network is 3G (which, I’ve come to learn, stands for Third Generation).

Despite the fact that I had a very basic calling plan (100 “talk” minutes per month and the only feature for which I paid extra was voice mail), including taxes I was paying about $44/month for my cell. Canadian regulators recently licensed a new cell phone company. This new company has pretty much the same plan for about $23/month (plus they’re giving you the first month free), so switching seemed like a no-brainer.

Of course, there was one hitch: I’d have to replace my “old” phone, which I’d only had for 28 months. Mind you, this new company made finding an appropriate G3 phone simple, since it just so happens the company sells them. (What are the odds?) I settled for the second cheapest, which cost me (including taxes) $170. Assuming: 1) I stay with this carrier for 12 months; 2) my new 3G phone lasts 12 months; and 3) Third Generation technology isn’t obsolete in 12 months, I’ll save just over $100.

Though I’ve only been a cell phone user for about 10 years, I realized the other day that this is my third cell phone. I can’t believe that. For the longest time, I refused to get one. I finally climbed on the bandwagon when my father was quite ill and I was driving to/from my parents (about 200 miles round trip). At that particular time I was driving an old car and the ability to call for roadside assistance offered me cheaper peace-of-mind than getting a new car.

Generally speaking, I take good care of my possessions. I don’t tend to lose or break things. (The one exception is shoes -- I’ve always been hard on shoes.) Indeed, I had my first cell for seven years. When I moved into the condo in 2007 I wanted to make my old home phone number my cell number and, though my original cell phone still worked perfectly, to transfer the number I had to upgrade from an analog to a digital phone.

One of the things that sticks out in my memory about getting my second cell was the fact that the salesperson tried to sell me insurance in case I needed to replace the new phone. I quickly vetoed the option, but I did ask why on earth anyone would get such insurance. I thought the guy was joking when he said, “Well, you know, in case you drop it in the toilette or something”. I told him that in the seven years that I had the first one, I had never so much as dropped it on the floor, much less in the toilette. He told me that was unusual -- apparently the ability to keep hold of one’s phone makes you some kind of freak.

Though I did bite the bullet and buy the new phone last week, doing so gave me pause. Besides being irritated that I was out-of-pocket $170 (the “spend more to save” notion has never sat well with me), electronic gadgets don’t excite me. I mean, really -- however useful it may be to have an “app” that rates public washrooms as “sit or squat” (even if you’ve never heard of this app, I’m sure all you ladies can imagine what that’s about), I don’t feel deprived not being able to access that info on my phone. (All these years my girlfriends and I have taken turns assessing this first-hand -- one time I go first and report back, next time someone else does, and so on. So far that’s worked just fine for me.)

And then there’s the issue of what to do with old cell phones. Sure, the phone can be “recycled”, but that’s not optimal either. I’ve seen many documentaries about children in third world countries who work tearing apart electronics to salvage bits and pieces while being exposed to mercury and other toxins found in the different components. And no, the fact that I’ve never lost or broken a cell phone and that therefore I’ve contributed less than others to the mountains of cell phone garbage, doesn’t make me feel better about it.

Another alternative, I suppose, is donating it. But what’s the point of doing so if the person who gets it isn’t able to sign on to this new generation of cell networks? And, given that I’ve input contact information in the cell’s phone book, there are potential privacy issues as well. Sure, I can delete it, but is it really deleted? I’ll bet it’s stored somewhere and if someone really wanted to, they could retrieve the information.

The thing is, at this rate, if I live to be 80, I could go through eight or nine more cell phones. (I guess my last one would be something like a Twelfth Generation phone.) Some may call that technological advancement, but I call it crazy.

What I don’t understand is why, given that telecommunications companies are regulated, the government doesn’t require that new generations of technology function alongside older generations instead of always superseding the older technology. That would be progress, I think. After all, people of different generations co-exist -- why can’t technology? Yes, I know … thinking like that is a generational thing.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... an exercise in free will

On being … an exercise in free will

By Ingrid Sapona

The role of fate versus free will is one of the philosophical questions I’ve wrestled with for a long time. Though I certainly haven’t got it all sorted out, I had quite a breakthrough about it this week. And, as fate would have it (just kidding!), my new insights came in a round-about manner.

The other day I was reading a back issue of Writer’s Digest that had a series of articles on memoir writing. Though I can’t see myself writing one, I was interested in what people had to say about the mechanics of them. There were all sorts of ideas and exercises but one in particular got me thinking: the idea of focusing on the turning points in your life. Immediately, two or three popped into my head -- things like moving to Canada, being let go from a job, and deciding to start my own business. Definitely nothing memoir-worthy, but interesting to reflect on for a few minutes before I moved on.

Then, a couple days later while I was working out, the idea popped back into my head. Unable to shake it, when I got home I started jotting down all the turning points and events that have made my life what it is today. At first it was pretty much just a list of events, most of which longtime friends and family members could probably have listed for me. To be honest, the inventory depressed me a bit, not to mention it confirmed that there was no memoir material.

It wasn’t until I found myself thinking about how I ended up at the different turning points that things got interesting. I went back through the list and tried to label whether each turning point was a function of chance, or something I controlled.

The first thing I noticed was that nearly all the things I chalked up to chance involved some stranger. So, no “chance” lottery winnings, but also no “chance” tragedies, like earthquakes. My going to Northwestern as an undergrad is a prime example of a turning point I had always chalked up to a chance meeting I had with a news director from a local radio station. The gentleman spoke at a high school career night I went to in 10th grade. Afterward, I asked what journalism schools he might recommend and he mentioned Northwestern – a school I had never heard of.

Another good example of a chance encounter I always considered life-changing was meeting Ted (not his real name), a lawyer who quit law and started his own business as a communications consultant. Ted was living proof that it was possible to make a decent living as a business writer -- proof I desperately needed before taking the leap into business for myself. I realize that talking with someone in a field you’re interested in pursuing isn’t all that unusual. The thing is, John (not his real name) the guy who gave me Ted’s name was just someone I worked with and barely knew and who certainly had no reason to even bother asking me enough to learn of my interest in writing. But, John did ask and when I told him I liked writing, he gave me Ted’s number. It seemed my life is full of stories like that.

The more I analyzed the various chance encounters I’ve had, however, the more I realized how much influence I actually had in them happening, not to mention in the results that flowed from them. Indeed, I realized that many of the most positive turning points in my life wouldn’t have happened had I not take a risk, or been open to something new, or even just followed-up. Looked at differently, it’s interesting to think how many of the key events in my life might not have happened if I hadn’t acted exactly as I had, setting off the series of events that led to a turning point. For example, if I hadn’t been interested in learning about universities I wouldn’t have gone to the careers night, or if I hadn’t actually called Ted, I may not have really thought it was possible to make a living doing what I do.

The other interesting thing about the exercise was that I noticed that though it started as pretty much a linear map of chronological events, as soon as I started factoring in people who have played a role, the diagram became much more complicated and a truer representation of life. It also made me think of an important point the articles on memoir writing didn’t focus on: the fact that most of the richness of one’s life doesn’t come from events, it comes from interactions with people.

As I said at the start, this exercise hasn’t completely put to rest all my questions about fate versus free will, but it has shown me see just how much my actions have helped nudge things along and that realization is pretty empowering. It’s convinced me that the direction my life takes is most definitely a product of both fate and free will and that I have more influence in that mix than I ever truly realized.

What about you? Have you ever pondered the role of fate versus free will in your life? If so, maybe you should give the turning-point exercise a try. Hell, even if you don’t care much about the philosophical question, the exercise might just make you realize you should write a memoir.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona