Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A History of Phones

I was probably 15 or 16 when I received my first mobile phone - a clunky Nokia 6110 handset, with a stubby antenna poking out from the top of its curved head. It was still fairly large, especially by today's standards, and still had the green analog screen where you could type ACSII characters and form things like teddy bears and roses and stuff like that. Yes, there was a time before MMS became popular.

I never had a beeper. My best friend, Jilly, had one, and that was where we would leave messages whenever we were meeting up during weekends and stuff like that. When I got my phone - thanks to an uncle who had no need for his old handset and magnanimously gave it to me one Christmas, along with the SIM card, much to my dad's dismay - more than half of my high school batch already had one. So of course, everyone was getting each others' numbers, forwarding chain texts in the middle of the night...I'm sure you remember that kind of stuff. I was the only one in my immediate family that had a phone. My parents shook their heads in disappointment. The cell phone was just a fad, they said. It'll fade away.

But a few months later and the "fad" hadn't died off. In fact, it was stronger than ever. (These days, the Philippines has the second-highest number of texts sent and received per day in the ENTIRE WORLD.) And new handsets were appearing all over the market, and people were snapping them up like crazy. By the time I stepped into college, the cell phone had gone beyond the boundaries of being the latest fashion, to becoming a necessity.

I kept my first phone for about four years, until I was a sophomore in college. Then my mother (who had her own phone by then) bought me a sleeker Nokia model - a small 2200, which fit neatly into my palm, had a larger screen (so I didn't need to squint whenever I texted), and came in shiny candy colours. I loved that phone to bits and pieces. Granted, it was a call-and-text kind of phone, but I never got tired of using it, and I never wanted to upgrade it.

But I don't think it lasted more than a couple of years. By then, MMS phones were all the rage, and the camera phone was starting to make an appearance in the market. And one night, while I was going home from UP and passing through the jumble of carts and stalls along Philcoa, my bag was slashed and my phone was stolen.

I think it was then that I realized - like many of us - how precious a mobile phone is. It doesn't just call and text; those are the numbers of people you've known since forever, contacts that are as important as life or death, memories stored in text messages and ACSII symbols. Even the keypad is so familiar, you've memorized the sequence of numbers and letters even after they've faded away from so many late-night texting. It becomes a receptacle of memories, nostalgia in a small plastic-and-processor box.

My third phone was a silver clamshell phone that finally caught up with the times. The screen was coloured, instead of the usual green analog screen, and my mom said that it looked "professional" - which meant that whenever I would whip it out during meetings, it didn't scream "HIGH SCHOOL KID!" That was the phone I used during my two years working in Manila, and the first semester I was here in Singapore. My number, through all these years, remained essentially the same - the first one was the one that got stolen, and so I had to switch to a new number. Postpaid accounts were still for the rich then, so it was still more economical to buy a prepaid SIM and load up on scratch cards.

But obviously, I had to change numbers when I came to Singapore - my poor prepaid card couldn't support international roaming, and anyway, I couldn't pay for it. It was still infinitely cheaper to get a local number. But I couldn't help but feel bad that I was putting away something that had connected me to the world after all these years; after all, your mobile number is essentially a kind of signature already, a sequence of digits that connects you to another person, through the magic of technology. So in the spirit of being Filipino, I bought a prepaid card in Singapore and retained the number despite the fact that it was very cheap and very easy to get a postpaid account in Singapore. After all, I reasoned to myself, I wouldn't be staying here for THAT long.

Fast forward to today.

My current phone, a Nokia 7360 Amore phone, is the first phone I bought for myself, with my own money. I bought it using my savings from my first semester in Singapore. I figured it was cheaper to buy a new phone in Manila, so I took my savings and just got a new phone that I thought represented me very well. And it's been with me for almost two years now, and I'm thinking, maybe it's time for a new change.

So today, I started the change by marching into the nearest StarHub centre near my house and opened a postpaid account. My reasoning? Well, first of all, my company's sponsoring my line, so I figured, it should be all right to get one. And secondly, The Boyfriend is also on the same network, which makes it easier to communicate and gives us both free calls and texts. ^_^ And...well, I suppose it's also a sign of growing up, one of those steps towards independence. But I was attached to my phone number - it was easy to remember, had a rhythm to it, and was fairly cheap to maintain. But the postpaid account is roughly the same price as a prepaid card, had more perks, and wouldn't run out on me when I needed to make important calls.

And I guess a part of me is saying that maybe I hold on to the past for a bit too long that sometimes it's not healthy anymore. I was surprised at how much old numbers I had to purge when I was transferring numbers, so I guess that was a necessity. And of course, the burden of nostalgia became lighter, as it always does upon the act of forgetting.

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