Posted by: passedportsnyc | July 24, 2009

The Breakup

Okay, okay, I admit it: I am slave to my iPhone.  Yes, my phone has dehumanized me.  I have devolved into a mere appendage, clumsily attached to that marvelous, sleek little creature.  But, wait, it gets worse: I think I am in love with my iPhone.  It’s magnetism is more than I can resist.  A classic case of Stockholm Syndrome.

This took me by surprise.  I am not at all tech-savvy; I am not a person who always needs (or even wants) the latest gadget.  Until less than a year ago I had the very cheapest, most basic phone that LG manufactured in 2002.  It was super low-tech, even back then.

Then I got an iPhone.  In retrospect, I have no choice but to categorize it as a life-changing experience.

So what does this have to do with the upcoming adventure?  Everything, thanks to the AT&T racket.

Aahhh yes, that ubiquitous, exploitative, manipulative telecommunications conglomerate, preying on our uniquely American need (I’m talking meth-addiction type need here) for instant gratification.  They are geniuses I tell you.

Here’s the thing:  In order for my iPhone to work overseas I have to buy the international roaming plan. Which I can only purchase in addition to – not lieu of – my regular cellular+data service and the data service.  It would allow me to pay for the privilege of making international calls at rates of $1.99-$4.99/minute.  Don’t these people know about Skype?

Oh, but wait, they’ve also made it so that I can’t use the Skype application on my phone overseas.  Well, technically I could, for a fee of $19.95/MB of data transmitted.  How generous.

Ok, so I’ll resign myself to the fact that the AT&T racket entirely prevents international use of the phone and Internet functions on the device.  Obviously it would be silly to keep paying my regular cellular and data charges, which add up to nearly $100/month.  But, I have to maintain some kind of plan with AT&T in order to keep my phone number and avoid the hefty contract cancellation fee.

So I decided to do the most logical thing: downgrade to the very cheapest plan that AT&T offers (since I won’t actually be using any cellular or data service) so that I can keep my phone number, keep the device to use as an iPod, access contacts, calendar, and other information stored there, use wi-fi when it’s available (thus bypassing cellular service), and return to my regular phone and number when I return to the States.  This seemed very reasonable – AT&T would take my money each month but I wouldn’t be using any of their services; meanwhile I would be able to continue to access my own device, and my own information saved on said device. And I would have my same old phone number upon my return.

Except that AT&T won’t let you do that.  They have set it up so that the entire phone locks the minute you cancel the data plan (which alone costs about $40/month).  Yes, they lock you out of your own device – which you paid for – prevent you from accessing your own information and music – which you paid for – and all other data saved on the phone – which you input – unless you pay them an exorbitant fee each month, just to NOT use their services.

I could buy an alternate device for music listening, transfer all of my music, go through the tedious process of moving all of my contacts elsewhere so that I can access them from the road without a mobile device, pay that hefty cancellation fee, acquiesce to not being able to use a device that I paid good money for, and divorce my iPhone altogether (permanently, because I sure as hell would not return to AT&T after this… unless, of course, I can’t shake the Stockholm Syndrome).

So, my international friends ask, why don’t you just pop the SIM card out and replace it with a new one in each new country you visit?  Well, what do you know, AT&T has preempted that as well.  Other SIM cards do not work, not in an iPhone.

The obvious answer is to unlock or “jailbreak” the phone.  Which I may yet do.  (This requires more research on my end – I don’t totally understand what it entails or what I’m getting myself into. I am especially concerned about being able to use my unlocked phone back in the States upon my return. And I would still have to pay that cancellation fee.)

Some may say this potential breakup is a blessing in disguise – all those travel purists who admonish listening to music on the chicken-buses, who believe referencing Google Maps is “cheating” (god-forbid use the GPS function), who so firmly believe that you cannot experience or appreciate local culture if you call your hostel a day in advance or Skype people back home too often.  These critiques certainly have some merit, but I’m no purist.  Sure, I’ll strike up an conversation with a local sitting next to me on a bus when the opportunity presents itself, but given the choice between iPod and screaming baby, I’m going iPod every time.

This is going to be one tough breakup.


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