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For whom the smartphone ring bell tolls

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POSTED April 14, 2017 1:26 a.m.

There are times I miss Ma Bell. For those of you under 40, that is the affectionate name that some folks had for what today is known as AT&T.
If you wanted phone service you had to deal with AT&T unless you were in the coverage area of a weaker competitor such as GTE that has since morphed into Verizon. If you were in GTE territory and you wanted to call someone 20 miles away who was an AT&T customer it could cost 40 cents or more on each call. Now you can call someone in Maine and not see an additional charge on your phone bill
What brings up this trip down memory lane isn’t the confusing phone service package du jour that the likes of AT&T and Verizon piece together with the same methodology that folks use to design 1040 instructions for the IRS. Instead it is the joy of trying to figure out a smartphone.
I have taken a bite of the forbidden fruit — Apple. Actually my iPhone 6 is my fifth iPhone having recycled my previous iPhones including another iPhone 6 down to my grandkids.
In doing so I can access all sorts of things people desire such as knowing the weather forecast  for southeastern Outer Mongolia, a minute-by-minute update on how my miniscule stock portfolio is tanking, and the latest You Tube video of someone being humiliated in Google hell for eternity.
Actually, I don’t use it for any of those things. The Luddites would be semi proud of me. I use my $760 smartphone that I slip into my pocket that can run circles around the Univac which weighed 29,000 pounds and cost $1 million in 1951 or — as Verizon’s pitchmen would sell it — $416,667 a month for 24 months plus a $60 monthly line charge for making phone calls, texting, and taking photos.
The phone call function this week became a bit of a problem. It would vibrate but would not ring.
Apple — which is sitting on $178 billion in cash — decided after the iPhone4 that its profit margin was too thin so they tossed the small instruction booklet that used to come in their Tiffany class box along with the smartphone. While I understand the 6-year-old kid down the block knows his way around an iPhone 6 inside and out, I am a 61-year-old guy.
I did the usual button pushing. I went into settings. I turned the phone completely off then back on twice. Despite all that all I got was the vibrate buzz.
I then went online in search of an answer. Most of them were obvious even for me — hit the volume buttons, make sure the setting was right, and turn the phone off and on. It was even the same on an Apple help blog.
While not hearing the phone go off constantly — I actually use the smartphone to talk to people instead of keyboarding them as most people under 25 seem to prefer — was a joy of sorts, I was missing a ton of calls that went to voicemail.
This brings up another question: If “phone” is still in the name as in “smartphone” why can’t my phone store more than 20 phone calls in voicemail. You could download the Star Wars Trilogy and still have enough in your memory to download the entire Library of Congress in digitalized form so why can’t you store more than two dozen phone calls?
This of course didn’t become an issue until my phone stopped ringing. That meant all of the calls I got — at least two dozen a day — went to, or at last tried to — went to voicemail.
There was only one thing left: Head to the Verizon store in the Stadium Retail Center.
Within five seconds of handing my phone over and explaining the issue to the representative, my phone was fixed.
It seems there is a “sound switch” above the volume control on the side of my phone beneath the Otter Box cover. Apparently every blue moon or so — for those under 30 the phrase doesn’t refer to an Emoji — you can jar an iPhone 6 just right and the switch flips.
I like going to a Verizon store as much as the next guy but if Apple had bothered to provide even the basic instructions such as a diagram of the camera’s “buttons” and what they are used for I likely could have figured it out from the comfort of my own home.
And while having a smartphone means not being tied to a landline, you really could knock the weapons known as a rotary dial phone onto the floor a thousand times and the blasted things would still ring.
If you haven’t figured it out by now a smartphone for me is kind of like buying a $3 million Bugatti Chiron to use exclusively for trips to the grocery store. I’m carrying around a lot of high tech overkill in my pocket.
Remember I’m the guy who didn’t use my iPhone as a camera until I was in a remote canyon in Death Valley and dirt messed up my digital camera.
While it took me 10 minutes in the middle of nowhere to figure out most of the camera functions as it was a simple iPhone 4, I spent the next 30 minutes or so trying to get selfies right.
It wasn’t until nine months later and perhaps 800 or so solo selfies in remote locales that I edited down to 60 or so selfies that I realized there was a “selfie” button that flipped the camera.
I know. I know. If I wanted to know about selfies, there’s an app for that.

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