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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Phone-y Baloney

As I threatened earlier this week, I went looking for a phone today. My current carrier, Big Magenta, had a weekend sale, so I figured the time was ripe. A sale is always good, right? What could possibly go wrong?


The thing about phone carriers is they’re never straightforward. This is doubly true on weekends, when the salespeople are overrun with people. It’s quadruply true if the store is a mall kiosk, with distracted undertrained kids manning the counters. And double-fourply true during a sale. When the closest store is at a mall, on a Friday, during a sale, the math is astronomical, and as convoluted as the details of the “savings” plans (my finger-quotes) you’re likely to hear.

“Since I’ve switched phones, they’ve come up with completely new ones and zeros to transfer data around with.”

I thus decided to do the smart thing and look into a new phone online. I’m a current customer, so they know me. I’ve got an account, and it’s always popping up windows and notices and shiny blinking reminders to upgrade my phone. It seemed the perfect way to skirt the dilemma and avoid the madness at the shoppatorium. So I logged into my account and was greeted with this message, in large bold friendly red letters:


Disappointing, to be sure. But it actually presented a superior solution. I could talk with someone about my options, live. They would throw numbers and models and terms & conditions galore at me, yes — but I could write them down. I could ask questions, rather than facing down the cold unfeeling magenta web collective. Yes. This was no setback; it was an improvement to the plan. I grabbed the phone and let my fingers do the walking.

Three manual inputs and a voice-recognition vignette out of an Abbott and Costello routine or a Blue’s Clues episode — “I said ‘new phone’, not ‘go home’!” … “No, I don’t want to talk to ‘Joe Stone’ Arggghh!” … “Yeah, hi, Joe. You know anything about cell phones?” — I reached the “upgrade phone” line. It rang twice, and picked up almost immediately. I couldn’t believe my luck, until the human voice I expected was supplanted with a robotic:


So I went to the effing mall. Because clearly, that’s what was going to happen all along, and I was a fool for valuing my sanity in the first place. Silly me.

I waited through a line shorter than I’d anticipated, and got the one sales rep who looked old enough to grow a decent mustache. This was going alarmingly better than I’d thought. I fully expected to have the kiosk topple onto me or my pants catch fire to compensate. And I’d have welcomed such a disaster, if only it would have saved me from a dizzying barrage of buzzwords and plan options.

But it wouldn’t have, of course. I was in Kioskland. On a Friday. During a sale. FSM have noodly mercy on my soul.

We sparred for a bit, and eventually narrowed our chat down to a few parameters. I knew the phone I wanted, and what plan I had. He said yes to the phone, but sadly informed me that my “legacy” plan was no longer available. I’d been grandfathered into it from quite a while ago, apparently, and — his words, now — “our new networks can’t even see plans like those”.

Yes, that’s how old my handset is. Since I’ve switched phones, they’ve come up with completely new ones and zeros to transfer data around with. Maybe they’re using threes now, or capital cursive ‘K’s. Magical times these are, indeed.

I conceded the data point, and asked what sorts of newfangled modern plans actually were available for this phone. He gave me two options:

Option A: I pay X now for the phone. The current sale gets me 2/3 X back through a mail-in rebate, and I pay another X-plus-a-little, split up per month over the first twenty months of a two-year contract. My monthly data charge is Y, about what I pay now.

Also, Y happens to be roughly 1/6 of X. So (I gathered, after much negotiation), Option A costs roughly X-and-a-half total for the phone, and another four-times-X over the course of a two-year contract. Five-and-a-half-X total. Fine.

Option B: I pay X now for the phone, and the sale gets me 2/3 X back, as before. That’s it for the phone cost. But the monthly fee is now two-times-Y.

So I pay only 1/3 X for the phone, but eight X over the course of the contract. Eight-and-a-third-X total.

I asked, “So, you guys really don’t want people on Option B, right?

No, sir. We do not.

At least the guy was honest. I liked that. I just had one more question:

If I’m taking Option A — and by god, I’m taking Option A, there, Greenspan — can I just pay for the phone now? Forget this ‘pay X, get 2/3 X back, and pay X-plus-some over most of two years, but not in a full moon in leap Februaries, or something’. Let’s inject some sanity into this process, for once.

I’ve got X-and-a-half right now. That’s what you’ve got me paying for the phone. It’s more than you’re asking for up front, so you’re happy. I’ll have the same monthly fee I’m used to, so I’m happy. This mail-in rebate nonsense is out, so the trees and the mailmen and Mother Earth are happy. What am I gonna do, spend it on Christmas presents? Please. Let me give it to you, right now, and we’ll Occam this baby right up. Whaddaya say?

I’m sorry. I can’t do that, sir.

Fine. Rules are rules. Even mustache guy doesn’t have the power to buck Big Magenta, I guess. Except that he followed up immediately with this:

However, under this plan you can pay the phone off at any time, with no penalty.

Wait… lemme make sure I have this. I sign up for the plan, just like we discussed. I pay a little more than half the phone’s cost now, get most of that back, and pay the rest over time?

Yes, sir.

But any time I want, I can take all those little bits together and pay them off, and go back to the monthly amount I’ve budgeted for?

That’s right, sir.

I can do this next week?

Absolutely. We’re open seven days.

I could come back tomorrow?


So theoretically, I could sign the papers, walk down to Orange Julius for a pick-me-up, and come back in ten minutes? Pay the whole thing off, right then?

Well… yeah. Theoretically, I suppose you could?

But I can’t pay it off now?

I’m sorry, sir. I can’t do that.

The guy was starting to sweat, so I let him off the hook. I didn’t want to get all existential on him. So I shut my trap, bought the phone, and pretended that logic and simplicity just don’t have a place in modern consumer culture.

(Riiiiiight. “Pretended”. Wink wink.)

Maybe I’ll go back — tomorrow? next week? — and pay the phone down. I’m pretty lazy and my remembery is shot, so maybe I’ll just knuckle under and be part of the goofy process they’ve cooked up for us.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new phone. So I’m gonna go play with that, and see what neat tricks this generation of technology can do. At least that won’t be as damnably complicated as actually buying the stupid thing. I hope.

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