I went shopping for a cell phone the other day and found out I’m not as special as I thought I was.
I have never owned one and for at least the past 10 years, that has elevated my status among the people I know, 99 percent of whom own, and religiously rely, on cell phones. Almost every time they see me, they address me with some form of: “You still don’t own a cell phone? You have got to be the last man in America without one!”
Even the salesman at the Apple Store was in on it. When he found out I was a 58-year-old cell phone virgin, he grabbed my hand and started pumping it like he just met the president.
“I just want to shake the hand of the last man in America without a cell phone,” he said. “This is unbelievable!”
He was genuinely excited. He couldn’t believe that he was talking to someone who knew nothing about an iPhone. I got the sense that he couldn’t wait to make this sale then go back into the break room and regale everyone with the story.
Only he didn’t sell me a cell phone.
And I’m not the last man in America without one. Not even close. There are 24 million of us.
The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., one of the most trusted sources of information anywhere, came up with that number on a recent survey. Pew says only 90 percent of America’s adults can be called, texted or sworn at 24 hours a day because they won’t answer. The other 24 million adults enjoy their status as quiet, conscientious objectors.
If they change their mind, which I think I have, handle them with care. Don’t send them to an Apple store. Or a Microsoft store or Best Buy or Office Depot or Costco. Been there and done that with unimpressive results. I left those places far less interested in cell phones than I was when I walked in.
At the Apple store, my salesman looked like Santa Claus doing a summer job. He was a plump, rumpled, late-50s guy wearing a golf shirt too big, shorts too small, socks too white and flip flops that completed a dreadful looking outfit.
He lost his enthusiasm for the sale once he began the monotonous, franchise-enforced pitch about the iPhone 5S: how much power, how much ram, how much it costs with a 2-year plan.
When I asked why I should buy a 5S with the iPhone 6 due out in less than a month, he looked like he just saw a ghost. “We haven’t heard anything about that,” he said, very nervously.
Does Apple not have internet? Check it out online Santa. You may be delivering a boatload of them this Christmas.
The 22-year-old salesgirl at Microsoft wasn’t any better. Like Santa, she was suitably stunned that I never owned a cell phone, but the thrill was gone as soon as she started pitching the Nokia or Lumia or Gotcha or whatever it was on the table in front of us.
She recited the numbers of gigabytes, pixels, rams and GHzs, but when I asked what kind of upgrades were in the works to compete when the iPhone 6 entered the market, she was stumped.
She glanced at the four employees right behind us for help. They previously were very interested in this conversation, but collectively bowed their heads and stared at the floor when she looked their way. “Uh, I’m not really sure about upgrades,” she finally responded.
Thanks. Can’t beat insight like that.
So I came back to the office and spent a day and a half pestering Google to provide me every conceivable form of cell phone review so I could read what the critics think I should buy. I bunched six or seven of the consensus top picks together for a final review and got really fixated on the Xiaomi Mi4, but only because it was the cheapest of the high-end group.
The more comparisons I read, the more I was fascinated by the Galaxy S5, LG G3, HTC One M8 and, of course, the iPhone 6 that no one in the Apple store has heard about. These are the top of the line models and their price tags prove it.
That’s a problem for the Frugal Man. Do I spend $100 on something that matches the ’94 Corolla I drive or do I go the Mercedes Benz route and spend $600-$700 on a cell phone purchase?
And will either one make me “special” again?
Maybe I need to ask the Pew Research Center.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].