Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Never Thought It Could Happen To Me...

I have a confession to make.  Something that I'm not proud of, but I still do it regardless.

I make fun of people with high cell phone bills.

There, I said it.  It's out there.

It's not that I don't think that cell phones are necessary (they aren't) or that cell phone companies are greedy (they are), but the amount of money that people pour into their cell phones is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  Do you REALLY need to be in touch with everyone THAT badly that you're willing to shell out over a thousand bucks a year for it?

I have a theory: nobody is really that popular, but cell phone (and smart phone users especially) overcompensate to justify the amount of cash they shell out on a monthly basis for it.  Kind of like the first people to have a fax machine: nobody else had a fax machine, so you were pretty much just sending faxes to everyone you knew that had one just so you could justify having bought the darn thing.

I used to work in a customer care centre for a cell service.  All day, I would field calls from people calling to complain about their phone, the service, their bills.  Oh the bills.  People with phone bills in the thousands of dollars - and this was at the end of the 90's when thousands of dollars were worth something! - all because they couldn't stop themselves from being as popular as they thought they were.

It's definitely worse these days.  Now that we have text messaging and data plans, the opportunity to go overboard is much, much higher.  If the cost of the phone itself doesn't do you in, your monthly bill sure will.

Now that I've said all that, I should also admit that I have a smart phone.  I've been using cell phones for over a decade now, and I like having one.  Not because I'm so popular that I need to be connected all the time (I am) or because I'm made of money and feel like I can fritter away my future children's college funds (I can't, but I'm going to steer them toward community college or a technical school so they can get a trade and support us in our old age so I'm only looking at two years instead of four plus graduate school for something foolish like a major in Theatre Studies).  I just really like the convenience of not having to find a public phone whenever I want to make a call.  Also, "public" is one letter too close to a word that makes me giggle and feel uncomfortable with when standing in an enclosed space.

Because of my experience in handling irate customers who just can't understand how they could possibly have gone over their included minutes or text messages, when all they ever do is talk and type on the damn things all day, I have always been extra cautious with using the cell.  So much so that we eventually switched to a prepaid service because it was a fraction of the cost of having a contracted monthly plan.  (I've never been comfortable with that saying - a fraction of - because when you think about it, it could be a dollar cheaper and that's still a fraction of the original cost.  Think about that the next time you hear about government savings.)  In our case, the fraction was somewhere around 30% of what we were paying on a monthly plan, so it was a good fraction and I like good fractions.  Fraction.  Just wanted to see if I could use that word one more time.

We had saved so much money by having one prepaid phone that we got another.  Our bill doubled, and we were still ahead from where we would be if we were using a monthly plan on just one.  Go prepay!

And then the penny dropped.  And it took almost 10,000 of his friends with him.

The smartphone that I bought is an incredibly powerful piece of technology.  It blows me away when I look at it and realize that this is the stuff that Star Trek episodes are made of.  It's my favourite kind of technology to buy.  My phone would have been INSANELY powerful and crazy... five or six years ago. It would have blown the socks off of almost everything else on the market, and it probably would have cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars to buy.  It would have made more sense to sign up for the three year contract and get the phone for "free" than to try to purchase it outright.  But technology advances.  What was once huge and expensive becomes smaller and cheaper.  My phone is smaller than most of the phones you'll find out there today, but it also only cost $100.  For that amount, if something horrible happens to it, I can afford to replace it with something else with nothing more than a "aw, man, I can't believe I dropped my phone in the toilet!  Why would I do that?  I sure hope that I don't blog about this later..."

To set the record straight, I did not drop my phone in the toilet.

We have our prepay accounts set up so that when our balance reaches $5, it automatically hits our credit card and tops up the account.  This prevents us from having to track down prepay cards at stores and/or deal with an automated system all the time.  It's worked out well for us.

I did not pay any attention when I got the text message last week that my account had been topped up.  I never pay it much attention.  It's something that happens once a month, and it just means that I can keep using my phone like I've paid to.  Woo woo.

I didn't really pay any attention when I got another text message three days ago saying that my account was automatically topped up.  I sort of remembered getting one before, but I didn't really think about it that hard.

I continued to not pay attention when I received the top up text message two days ago.  "That's funny," I thought, "There must be something glitchy with my phone saying that this is a new text message."

Later that day, my feeling that there was something glitchy with the text messages was confirmed when I received yet another text thanking me for allowing them to remove money from my credit card.  "Ha ha," I thought "I shall think no more of this while I continue to sit here and knit and watch tv, for I know that I have not used my phone and therefore this is not something that needs my attention."

I did, however, pay attention when My Lovely Wife asked me "Weh, why has the credit card been charged four times for your phone?"  Then I was all action.  Checking my account, checking my phone, being all angry with customer care.

It turns out that something on my phone was using an active connection to the data network, beyond what my data plan gives me.  And boy oh boy, is it ever not cost efficient to go over your data plan on a prepay service.

I should clarify that when I said I was all angry with customer care, what I really meant was that I was angry and I was on the phone with customer care.  I like to think that I was that customer that the rep talks about with her co-workers later.
"So I ask how can I help you, and he said 'Oh, man, I really screwed up and I've gone over my data plan and I must have set something up on my phone to auto-connect or something and I wasn't paying attention and I know I went over my data plan so it sucks to be me, but can you help me turn off my data for now so I can figure this out?' And I say, sure, and I turn off his data so it won't charge him anymore, and I suggest he go in to one of our stores so they can show him how to use his phone, and he says 'I know where the store is and I'll head over there tomorrow.' And I ask if there's anything else he needs, and I'm totally sure he's going to complain about wanting credit or something so I have my speech all ready and he says 'nope, that's it, thank you.'  Seriously, he just got charged more in a week than he's paid in four months and he's thanking me!  And he had a really sexy voice and I bet his Lovely Wife is super happy that she married him and I wish I could meet a man like that someday.  Sigh."
It may not go exactly like that, but I'm pretty sure it did.

In conclusion, what I'm trying to say is that while I used to make fun of people with (what I would consider to be) outrageous phone bills because I thought I was better than they are, I am now going to make fun of those same people because I know I'm better than they are because I am one of them.  Not really one of them, because you know, those people will just never get it with their crazy iPhones and whackadoo bills every month. But still, it will be from a place of love and understanding.

Anyway, I'm off to run some errands which include getting a lesson in how to keep my cell phone from being a jerk to me and having lunch with My Lovely Wife.  Despite being really bad and racking up huge charges, she's still letting me take her to A&W for lunch today.  She's the best.

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