I will pay $154 a month for a cellphone that doesn’t work in most of my house for the next two years.
I can, however, still get text messages. This one -- “Do you want to meet me for lunch?” -- was sent at 10 a.m. yesterday and arrived at 4:15 p.m. today. What could I say to that? I texted back, “I’m going to be a little late.” My textee should get it about 3 a.m. tomorrow if things go as usual.
I could change my plan and pay for a phone that does work in my home, but doesn’t work anywhere else in my calling area. The dueling cellphone competitors in my area have both decided that I’m not worth having as a customer. Not that they’ve ever actually said so; it seems neither of them are actually reachable by phone. When I call them, they both say, “Please use our website for faster service 24 hours a day.”
Of course, I can’t use their phones to get on the internet to use their website. Which is why I pay another $128 a month to another company for a landline that will give me slow and unreliable Wi-Fi, the few times a day that it works at all. I can type faster than it can keep up, and I type about 18 words a minute. I’m now waiting for what I just typed to show up on my screen.
When I hear comedians and pundits complain about people being on the phone all the time, I know they don’t live in flyover country, because it’s not really a problem in many rural communities. Our biggest problem is tripping over the string connecting the paper cups between our houses. We were better off with party lines and crank wall phones.
When I hear on the news that we need to bring jobs back to depressed rural areas like mine, I wonder: What big factory with a gazillion jobs is going to move to a rural community with shoddy cell service?
Yet the solution they always come up with is not to improve communications, but to “retrain” people who’ve lost their jobs. What a good idea! Can you please retrain me to be a CEO? Or a hedge-fund manager? Or a professional tennis player? I really would prefer that to being retrained as a hamburger flipper. Or maybe they could retrain me to be a retrainer. I hear retrainers make good money, and there’s always an opening.
Back in the 1890s, when more people lived in rural areas than in big cities, the government started Rural Free Delivery so farm folk could get mail delivered to their homes for free -- just like people in the city -- without having to go all the way into town to pick it up. The politicians were for it because it made getting in touch with rural voters easier. In 1935, the government passed the REA, the Rural Electrification Act, to bring electricity to the countryside. It may be time to start the Rural Phonification Administration to bring reasonable service to huge swaths of the country.
Since more and more of our daily interactions take place online, factories in search of less expensive land and idle hands might be induced to try rural areas -- if it wouldn’t hurt their kids’ chances to shop, play games, stream movies and be bullied online, just like they do everywhere else.
When chance allows and I do get to talk to family and friends in the big cities, I always have to warn them that I’m in a Dead Zone and that the call may drop at any minute. I do it so often that “Dead Zone” has become my new nickname.
Well, it does beat “That Idiot.”
(Contact Jim Mullen at email@example.com.)