cell out.
© 2000 Jamie Zawinski <jwz@jwz.org>

Sadly, I realized that because of my new business, I was finally going to need to get a cell phone. I had resisted this for a very long time, because I absolutely hate the things: I think they're the rudest invention of modern times. A cell phone says that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you're at the beck and call of anyone anywhere. When someone answers a cell phone around you, they're telling you that the fact that you are face-to-face actually gives you lower priority than everyone else in the world.

I don't wear a wrist watch for a similar reason: if you wear a watch, it means that your life is structured such that you frequently need to know what time it is. And that means that your life has taken a wrong turn somewhere. (That's the great thing about being a programmer, even my very first job was flexible enough that as long as the work got done, it didn't matter when we did it.)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, getting a cell phone. To complicate matters, I'm going to England in a few weeks, and so it seemed sensible to try and get a phone that works both in San Francisco and in England.

This turns out to be harder than you might think, since England, Europe, the US, and Asia all use different standards, and finding a phone that speaks the two or more protocols you are interested in is difficult. Especially since all the marketing literature on the various phones doesn't actually explain what any of the numbers and acronyms mean: it took me hours to figure out exactly how dire the situation is.

I did eventually find such a phone, but I didn't end up buying it, because PacBell apparently has no grasp of the concept of ``service.''

I went into the PacBell store, the fourth I had visited. ``Hi, I'm going to England in a couple of weeks, and I need a phone that will work both here and there.'' Unlike the other three stores, the answer here was yes: they had one such phone (and only one), and it was a bit larger than I would have preferred, but it would do. It seemed like a decent phone.

I was asking the sales guy questions about the phone, and about the various services, and after just about every question, he reminded me again that they were going to have to do a credit check before the service could be activated. He pointed this out to me four times in two minutes. Finally I said, ``I understand that there will be a credit check, and it won't be a problem, ok?'' That flustered him, and he said ``Sorry, Sir, but we have to tell everyone that.'' Yeah, you're getting off to a great start here, buddy, giving me that ``you don't dress like you should own a cell phone'' attitude or whatever the hell was going on in his head. I should have grabbed him by the ears and yelled, ``I could have you killed!'' but I didn't, because I actually wanted the phone.

So I finish the paperwork, except that I left the Social Security number field blank as I habitually do, but no, there needed to be a credit check you see, so they needed my SSN. Which irks me every single time: your SSN is pretty much all that is required for identity theft, and yet, you need to give it to everyone to get anything done.

So he called up the slightly-more-trained monkey who does the credit check, and I passed, leaving me feeling momentarily like a Productive Member of Society (I belong! I'm one of you!) Fortunately that passed, too.

Then he said, ``Ok, that's about it then; there will be a thirty day waiting period before roaming can be activated...''

``Hang on,'' I said, ``I told you that I'm going to England in a couple of weeks. Waiting until after I get home before the phone will work in England would kind of defeat the purpose.''

``Well, I'm sorry Sir, that's not my decision...''

``Ok, I guess this was a waste of time then. Looks like I'm renting a phone in England instead of buying one from you.''

``Well, I could call them and ask...''

``Why don't you do that.''

So he called up three different supervisors, and after quite a lot of waiting, the best answer he came up with was that I should buy the phone, and then later, fax them my last phone bill and driver's license, and then they would waive the 30 day waiting period. This was obviously Not OK, because I knew that as soon as I gave them my money, my leverage was gone, and I would (there was no doubt in my mind) not have roaming service for 30 days, no matter how many hours I wasted on the phone with these pigfuckers.

So I explained this to him (without using the word pigfucker) and even said, ``look, I'd be happy to make any kind of deposit you want, I'll pay for months of service in advance, I don't care, but there is no way I'm walking out of this office with a phone that is anything less than fully functional both here and in England. Why are you making it so difficult for me to give you money? You're just not trying hard enough here, man!''

``I'm sorry, Sir.''

And so that, basically, was that: I left, and I still don't have a phone.

The thing I found most interesting about this whole experience is that, if this had happened last year, I probably would have caved: I would have said, ``oh, well, if that's the best they'll give me, I guess I'll take it,'' and, a lifetime of experience to the contrary, I would have trusted that they would live up to their word, and I would have gotten to England with a phone that was perfectly usable as a paperweight but little else, and I would have spent hours if not days on the phone (someone else's phone), long distance, trying to straighten it out, and failing.

But having spent so long fighting with the SFPD over permits gave me a whole new perspective on situations like this. Fighting with a phone company over their failure to understand that they are supposed to be providing service to customers just seemed so trivial compared to what I've gone through. I'd been in a far bigger battle than this and prevailed, so there was no way I was going to cave for these chumps.

So I think that not buying a phone from them felt almost as good as winning the battle would have felt. Because even though they were unwilling to sell me an acceptable product, at least I didn't let them fuck me over.

I consider that a victory.

(PS: please stop emailing me recommendations for cell phones. Thanks, but I no longer care.)

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