Pixels and PEBKAC

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Me buying a new cell phone

My husband and I recently began having cell phone problems. My phone was almost three years old, and its storage capacity was exhausted. I periodically had to delete apps and empty caches and the like so I could download my email. I couldn’t take more than a few pictures before I needed to offload them to my PC. I had already replaced the battery once, and it seemed to be discharging more quickly.

My husband’s phone was a generation newer than mine. He bought it six months after I got mine, and it had just passed its two-year contract expiration. But his screen randomly flashed and went black. He could get the visuals back, but all signs indicated a developing illness in his phone. Probably fatal.

So I decided it was time to buy new phones. I did some Internet research and identified several acceptable options. Then I read that Verizon (our provider) was offering a BOGO50 sale. My husband wasn’t eager to upgrade, but he knew we had to do something soon. I convinced him to set a shopping date for a recent Friday afternoon.

That Friday I raced home after my lunch appointment to meet him. He wasn’t there. A note on our kitchen table revealed he had a hastily scheduled meeting and might miss our phone excursion.

He showed up about 4:30pm. We decided there was still time to head to the Verizon store, though I warned him it was likely to take until about 6:00 or so to handle all the paperwork and phone setup. Neither of us does well with extended shopping events. I also emphasized that we didn’t have to buy anything that day, if we didn’t like their choices and prices.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a TV camera inside the store. Uh, oh. I was afraid the salespeople would be tied up with publicity and wouldn’t focus on us. But we’d made it this far, so in we went.

A very nice sales clerk talked us through our options and showed us how all their deals could be “stacked” (as she put it) to allow us to get two latest-technology Google Pixel phones—the second for around $200. She said for the same monthly bill we’d been paying, with the same shared data level, we could get two brand new Google Pixel phones with protection plans.

Of the options I had identified, the Google Pixel was the phone I secretly wanted, so I was happy. We proceeded to pick colors, cases, etc., and she transferred all our old data to the phones.

Meanwhile, the TV cameraman asked my husband and me if we would be willing to be interviewed about our phone-buying experience. We didn’t want to be curmudgeons, so we agreed.

And about 6:15pm, interviews recorded, we walked out of the store with a box of chargers and our new Pixels still downloading the apps we’d had on the old phones. We went to out to dinner, ran another errand, and got home just before 8:00pm, phones still downloading apps.

“We’ve used 75% of our monthly data already!” I exclaimed. “And we’re only two days into our billing cycle.”

I immediately logged both phones onto our home wi-fi to stanch the data bleed. Then I texted our kids, proud to report we had brand new Google Pixels. We’re rarely the coolest people in the family, but I thought this might upgrade our status with the next generation.

Our daughter called me back. It took me five swipes to figure out how to answer the phone.

Two days later I was on my way to the airport to retrieve our son. He called me, and I still couldn’t answer my phone. Of course, I was driving so I couldn’t look at the screen for instructions.

And when I later tried to hook up the Pixel to my car via Bluetooth, it didn’t work.

I had to install the fingerprint reader on my Pixel, because pushing the power button every time the phone went into screen saver mode hurt my thumb.

Then I read a November 20 article in The Wall Street Journal on the language of start-ups and found the term PEBCAK—an acronym I’d never heard before. It stands for “Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard” or “Problems Emerge Between Chair and Keyboard.” A variation is PIBCAK (”Problem Is Between Chair and Keyboard”). According to The Wall Street Journal, these phrases are a “programmer term for what happens when users are too dumb to use software correctly.” Though I think it applies to hardware as well.

Count me as a PEBCAK when it comes to cell phones.

I don’t like telephones, and my dislike of faceless oral communication has extended to cell phones. I like smart phones as data devices—for checking email, giving me driving directions, and taking pictures. I like having the safety of a phone for emergency calls.

But I don’t want to be accessible to anyone anywhere anytime the other person wants to contact me. I only want my smart phone for my convenience.

So call me PEBCAK about cell phones. Just don’t call me on the phone.

Still, I’m getting to like the Google Pixel. It’s taken days of playing with screen savers and apps and home screens to get the Pixel to look almost the way I want. I managed to turn on the Safe Mode to avoid data surcharges until I decide whether to buy more data for this month. It took three tries, but I figured out how to connect the phone to my car.

Soon I may be functional with my phone again. As functional as I want to be.

What PEBCAK experiences have you had with technology?

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