Contract Killer

Hello again, I have been asked to discuss the pros/cons of cell phone contracts. This is an issue which I’m sure impacts almost all of you, so hopefully you’ll get something out of it whether or not you actually care.

First of all, in the 8 or so years I’ve owned cell phones (don’t quote me on that number), I have run the gamut of plans and contracts, so I consider myself a wealth of knowledge in this area. My first cell phone was a pay-as-you-go throwaway phone from Telus back around the start of high school. When I describe it as a throwaway phone I mean that it was being sold for $30 with $30 worth of pay-as-you-go included on the account. The phone was a piece of junk, but it was really only for emergencies and arranging rides with my parents, so all in all it was a good first experience, but a short lived one. My second phone, the first one I got without my parents, was also pay-as-you-go, with Bell. It was a beautiful Nokia bar phone which I loved with all my heart. I knew even then that contracts were a terrible idea, and that at that time I also didn’t have the money or requirement for a plan, so paying 15c/txt wasn’t a huge deal, and I rarely made calls with it. That setup also didn’t last long, which was the beauty of paying for service as you use it, because there was no commitment to any particular carrier. Next I moved on to Virgin Mobile, still on pay-as-you-go. I had the same Nokia phone for a while with Virgin, but I think I went through 3 phones with them in the span of less than a year. I was working part time in high school and had disposable income with nothing to buy, so spending $50-80 on a phone every 3-6 months wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and I enjoyed always having a new phone, so I was never bored. Through first year of university I still didn’t have any need for a plan since I barely used my phone, but I was suddenly hit with the knowledge that I could sign a piece of paper, receive a phone, and with the promise of paying a bill every month, I would be set for (at that time) life!

December 9th, 2007 was the night when my life changed. My shiny new Motorola W510 arrived in the mail and I hurriedly called to confirm and activate my service. I had locked in a 36-month contract with Fido and with the awesome phone number 613-255-3311 I was off to the races. In my adolescent naivety I had signed up for a 3 year contract in order to save $100 dollars on the price of my phone, which was originally $150. My plan was $60+change/month, and included several instances of the word unlimited. At the ripe old age of 19 I was all too susceptible to reacting favourably to the word unlimited. My plan came with UNLIMITED text messaging, UNLIMITED incoming calls, UNLIMITED evenings and weekends starting at 7 PM. It had all the call display, voicemail and call waiting options included, and it was more than what I needed. That is all well and good, but I didn’t use all of my minutes, and ended up that most of the time I used was both incoming as well as evening, so both weren’t really necessary. After 2 years, Fido changed their plans and so I was able to change my options and  save about $10/month getting rid of the redundant unlimited options. I also decided at that time to add data to my plan, as well as upgrading to add unlimited picture/video messages and extending my evenings/weekends to begin at 5 PM, which only cost $5/month all together. I was very frustrated with having a contract at this point, but it didn’t bother me too much because I was very happy with my plan.

Fast forward now to December 9th, 2010. I still have the same plan, and I am now paying $45.20/mo consistently for 100 daytime minutes (ie. 9-5 weekdays) a month, with unlimited everything else (data and texting) besides long distance. I have the ability to make calls through Google on my phone as well as any computer with a microphone, which is what I do for long distance since the long distance I use is always from home this isn’t a big deal anyhow. I am still extremely happy with my plan and expect to continue to use it as long as I can. I bought my last 3 phones at cost without the contractual subsidy because I have come to realize that contracts are a gigantic rip-off (in most cases) designed to take advantage of people who don’t have the money to buy a snazzy new phone up front but still want one. People see this as an advantage because as humans we find it extremely difficult to think long term. That being said, there are certainly cases, especially with smartphones, where you are saving up to $500 with a contract. This contract though, is worth over $2000 to the carrier in most cases, and in the cases where you are saving $500, you are usually still paying anywhere from $50 to $300 dollars for the subsidized phone. With new phones being pushed out every few months, and older models being made obsolete within a year or two, three year contracts have become a little bit less pervasive, with some carriers also offering two year contracts, which are a little bit more reasonable. Even still, contracts are certainly not worth it for me without considerable perks.

I have decided in light of some discussions I have been having with friends that I would like to show reasons people why iPhones should be jailbroken, as well as why Google+ is the future of social networking, not just a fad.

Jailbreak Tweak: SBSettings

This utility allows for quick toggling of items such as WiFi, bluetooth, brightness, and gives the ability to close processes. If you are tired of going into settings to change these things, they are accessible with a quick swipe of the status bar on a jailbroken phone. It is a very easy convenient way to access these settings, and I recommend everybody jailbreak their phone, even if just for this tool. A quick visit to http://www.jailbreakme.com is all it takes for the time being!

Google+ Feature: Sharing options

Lets you choose who specifically [or which groups (called circles)] you would like to share things with. You can add a photo (or album), a video clip, a link (or embedded video or photo) and your location (even from desktop computers) should you so desire. It is a beautiful smooth interface so you don’t have to share new baby pictures of your cousins with your acquaintance you met last night at the bar, and you don’t have to share pictures of you cheersing your bar mates with your boss when you call in sick the next day. It is a beautiful thing, and extremely easy and intuitive to use.

A Time to Kill

I wonder from time to time if I am too dependent on technology, and more specifically on being networked at all times. I currently have a cell phone service plan with unlimited data as well as a broadband cable internet package with a 300 GB cap. I do not have cable or subscribe to any sort of internet TV/movies package. My ultimate goal is to be paying one small price for my telephone and internet services and not pay for absolutely anything which I don’t use. I also often dream of what life would be like if I didn’t have a cell phone and/or data on my phone. This would save money, but I’m sure I would miss it and in fact be worse off without it. The one problem is that if I try to scale these things down, like for example if I cut my phone usage down to nothing for a month to see if I can survive (or thrive) is that I would still be paying $45 for the phone if I’m not using it. Some people might say that this isn’t a huge deal, but I’m a student, and if I’m paying for a telephone plan, I’m not not going to use it. There are much better cheaper replacements to SMS and voice calling using cellular networks, but they are not widespread and so adoption of them would simply serve to break my communication up many different ways. In this manner I suppose that settles the issue right there, in that clearly it is more affordable to just pay the $5/mo for unlimited texting just because it is convenient.

I am however, a firm believer in the idea that doing something only because it is convenient is ridiculous. SMS is a horribly outdated technology, and the fact that it exists only on your cell phone and nowhere else seems incredibly silly to me. I had a Sony Ericsson phone 2 summers ago which connected to my computer via USB and had an application interface which would be able to see my texts, and would send me a notification when I had a new one, which I could respond to without touching my phone. I now know this sort of thing is possible, and so I cannot understand why we are forced to send texts on the tiny little keyboard if our computer is the device we’re actually using. On a WiFi network this seems like it would require very little extra work on the part of the programmer, and yet we live in a world where the majority of messages we send rely on actually having one specific device in our hands. I am hopeful that with the widespread adoption of smartphones one day we can be freed from expensive texts. (PS, I know that if Google Voice ever came to Canada, this would be a moot point, but it seems like that may never happen, so this is the best we can do for now)

I could continue on this point for a long time but I feel like a long-winded rant is super pointless, so if anybody wants to talk further on this, or has something working really well in this regard, please let me know, I’m curious to talk about it more.

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekends!

-Robert

I am not in denial!

Welcome back! (Sorry this one is so long, I got into a zone a little, but I would really appreciate if you do read through at some point)

Since my non-technology post was so well received, I thought it would be wise to add another one before trying to head back to more familiar territory (for me). I hope to approach this subject with a little bit of humility because it could end up being a fairly controversial one. I recently had a discussion wherein I asked people who know me fairly well if I get angry very often. I think of myself as a very mellow, yet opinionated person. I was told that in fact I get angry quite often, which didn’t sit right with me. I personally could only think of a few times even in the last year when I had been angry.

This brings me to what I guess would be the main point of what I am trying to say here, namely that there IS a difference between anger with something/someone and disagreement with it. The more I think about this statement, the more it appears to apply in everyday life. I find it extremely difficult to be legitimately angry with people or things, because in my opinion such strong emotion does little to change the situation. Anger is rarely reasonable and thus often stands behind unreasonable people. In my case, I think people often confuse my disagreement with them (however vehement said disagreement may be) as anger with their point of view. I don’t often get the chance to actually discuss these things with people, because reasonable argument between two people on a strongly polarizing issue can be very difficult. However, I will now attempt a rational, objective argument with myself on the subject which brings up this issue in my head.

LMFAO are a decently popular electronic pop/rap duo consisting of Sky Blu and Red Foo, and the songs in question are both produced in part by a gentleman referred to as Goonrock as well. Their new album, Sorry for Party Rocking, was recently released, and the first two singles from the album are called Party Rock Anthem and Champagne Showers. I have posted both videos below for those of you unfamiliar with the works. It has been declared to me that these two songs are “the same”, almost as though music from either song could be played with either video. While it is clear to me that they are wearing the same outfits and the stories are in fact different chapters for the same story, this is not the discussion I was having. 

I would argue the fact that both of these songs are different works of art in their own right, while arguments from the other side suggest that two different works of art rooted in the same formula (similar timings of critical musical elements and choral repitition for example) don’t need to be different works. My argument is exactly the opposite, I think these songs NEED to be considered as different, even if only because the artists themselves presented them separately. In having these discussions, I find that trying to make the above arguments is met with repetitive chants of “they’re the same”, and no manner of argument will change that fact in others’ minds. While I try to state my case, I have been told that I come off as angry, even though no form of anger occupying my brain. The closest emotion I could safely say I feel in these situations to anger is frustration, and even then this is only because I cannot get my points across, but I am used to this as so it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to.
The more broadly applicable topic here is that of politics and political discourse. I find myself siding more and more with excellent political pundit Jon Stewart. The fact is I am not angry with the opinions of (to use Canada as an example) Liberals, or Conservatives, or even Bloq supporters. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but with these rights there come certain responsibilities. When approached with new and unfamiliar points of view, it is VITAL to understand not only what is being said, but also why it is being said. This is why major news organizations which are privately funded will not report both sides of a news story. It is in nobody’s best interest to solely report what is going on, especially with a 24-hour news cycle to fill. Without even feigned balance of opinion, there is nothing to keep people watching beyond the half hour or even hour nightly news shows such as CBC decide is important enough for all to hear. Back to the responsibilities of citizens though, most people, even those who are well-meaning, will end up bickering over abortion, or gun control, or political party lines, or the legalization of marijuana, or religious freedoms…I could go on and on. The fact is, we will and should discuss these things. Our society is largely based on communication and discussion of this nature, and these kinds of discussions are much more important than the weather or last night’s episode of Jersey Shore. It is critical that we have differences of opinion, because without them there would be no progress.
The current difficulty is that we are living in a sea of information which boggles our minds and clouds our judgements. I have an opinion on each of the topics I listed a few lines up, and would love to have a discussion about any of them with anybody will to share their opinion. What I am not interested in is people who will try to convince you their opinion is the absolute, be-all-and-end-all correct opinion simply because it is what they already think. My problem with this is that the reason people often have such strong opinions is because they heard a clear, convincing argument one way or the other, be it from a celebrity, a public figure, a journalist, and most commonly, a parent or loved one. The trouble with convincing arguments is that they don’t require logic or factuality. A argument which is believable based solely on truthiness is a bad argument, which is the point Stephen Colbert tried to make in the opening episode of his show. Opinion based on a gut feeling is generally pretty solid, as in the case of murder or theft, but making an argument based solely on these grounds is a slippery slope. The content of people guts varies widely on many issues, so some form of rationality is also required for a cogent argument. 
Back to politics, I would like to add another small point to news networks and the flaws inherent in their design. By law, it seems, all shows on Fox News must discuss the same stories on any given day. Typically there is not enough going on to require 24 hours of news, so some blanks must be filled in with repeated opinion. I don’t have a huge problem with this, because people need to make a living, and if people are going to watch your network for 24 hours, that is absolutely their prerogative. I have a problem with cycling news with opinion, and then referring to the opinion your network has just presented as though it is news. It allows stories which have no large scale clout to float to the top of the news pile, and allows political talking points to be endlessly circled and rehashed until the original story can’t even been seen through all the partisan siding which has been added to it. I do not agree with this procedure, and really wish it would stop. Watch the Daily Show for many, MANY examples of this.
Anyhow, I hope this post is not also taken as anger, because it wasn’t written as such. Frustrated, maybe…
The crux of this matter is, it is extremely important that we discuss things which we encounter on a day to day basis and the things we deem pertinent. More crucially though, it is necessary that before making an argument or defending a position, that we have thought about why we feel the way we do, why we think what we think, and most important, why do others have the opinions they have, and what can we learn from them.
-Robert