Hello, Gilligan?

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Oh yeah, this is just what the world needs. There are companies out there right now working hard to bring us broadcast television programs on our cell phones. Oh, Happy Days! (Pun intended.) As Victoria, the trusty and trusted editor at MC Press said when she directed my attention to this news item, "Now, instead of overhearing people's inane conversations while we try to dine in peace, we'll be subjected to Gilligan's Island reruns." Right on, Victoria! (By the way, I, and undoubtedly Victoria as well, mean no disrespect to the recently deceased Bob Denver who played Gilligan in that classic show. I trust that he's gone to the great tropical island in the sky, and I offer my sincere condolences to his loved ones and fans.)

Following on Victoria's thought, I sometimes feel that the primary purpose of much of our modern technology is to provide us with more, newer, increasingly offensive ways to be incredibly rude to our fellow human beings. Whenever I'm ignored by friends or colleagues who cannot overcome their compulsion to answer their cell phones or BlackBerrys in the middle of our conversations, my mind already turns to the behavior modification possibilities of, as Woody Allen once suggested, a large sock filled with horse manure. I can't imagine what forms of corrective punishment will pass through my feeble mind should the day ever come when some friends leave me with nothing to do for a half hour other than meditate over the bubbles slowly rising in my Steam Whistle beer because, despite what they believed when they suggested that we get together, they realize that, no, in fact they can't bear to miss their favorite TV shows.

And here's another thing that bothers me: A lot of people talk on their cell phones while driving. That's distracting enough, but what do you think is going to happen when someone, thanks to being able to get TV on his cell phone, decides that the best time to watch the latest fictional episode of The OC is while driving at 65 or more miles an hour on the typically crowded 405 freeway of the real-life Orange County? I predict a disaster that could not be shown in all of its gory detail on an episode of the show.

Can you believe it? Some companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars, and collectively billions of dollars, to develop new phones and upgrade the bandwidth of their networks in order to give us cellular television. What I want to know is why. I can think of a plethora of far, far better ways for them to spend their money. Just one example off the top of my head is they could magnanimously stuff the cash into their customers' pockets. I'd be happy to wear baggy pants to make it easier for them.

Another question that comes to mind is, what television programs are so darn compelling that anyone would want to spend the money that the phone companies will no doubt charge us to view them? What are people going to watch? Maybe they'll tune into Survivor series number 526 in which two tribes, the Soccer Moms and the NASCAR Dads, stripped of all of their cash and debit cards, are deposited with only two expired credit cards among them into the middle of a suburban Wal-Mart store. For 10 miles in every direction beyond the desolate store, there is nothing but barren parking lots. Each week, one contestant is voted out of the snack food department and banished to the diaper aisle. Sorry. That doesn't sound like my cup of tea. I've got many considerably more exciting things to do than watch Survivor on my cell phone. For instance, I have friends who are redecorating. They've asked if I wouldn't mind dropping by and keeping an eye on their walls while the paint dries.

Or maybe fans will watch their favorite game show, Wheel of a Deal, in which, after a half-hour of vigorously competing to see who can look the most foolish, someone has just won whatever is behind door number one and a year's supply of Cheetos. Now, the winner has to decide whether to keep these fabulous prizes or risk it all and go for what's behind door number two and two years' worth of Cheetos by being even more juvenile than next week's two new contestants. Again, I think I'll pass.

Of course, there's always the riveting daytime soap, All My Bold, Beautiful, and Guiding Hospital Days. In this week's episode, we'll finally find out if the beautiful Adrianna will bear the child of Chad, the roving cad who is about to die a slow and painful death from an exceptionally rare tonsil disease that he picked up on a recent vacation that he took with his mistress, Clarita. (Despite valiant efforts throughout all of the past year's episodes, his team of psychiatrists and psychologists has not yet been able to cure him of his inexplicable fetish for women whose names end with the letter "a.") Unfortunately, in addition to catching the dreaded disease, during the vacation he also unwittingly delivered amphetamine to a Columbian drug lord. The drugs were given to Chad by an organized crime boss who told him that the parcel contained a teddy bear for a poor child dying of a broken heart after being deserted in a rat-infested back alley by her cruel and selfish parents, and would Chad please deliver the package to the child's guardian, the caring nun, Sister Pricilla, who, unknown to Chad, was not a nun at all, but really the drug lord. Once again, I don't think I'll be clearing time on my calendar for that.

And don't get me started on the all news networks. They can't bring themselves to report on any major news story until they've first developed a catchy, apocalyptic-sounding tag line; a dazzling, gory graphic to display behind it; and a heart-pounding, attention-grabbing fanfare to lead into and out of their coverage. Instead of watching that on my cell phone, I think I'll just use my cell phone to call up a friend and ask him to give me a brief synopsis of what's going on in the world.

Rather than wasting perfectly good electronics, expert programming skills, and valuable bandwidth to give us cellular television, here are a few things that I'd rather see the cell phone application developers put in my phone.

  • Give it the ability to share its excess computing power with my cell phone carrier's billing system so that it can get my bill right. That way, I won't have to spend an hour talking to a string of customer service representatives about the erroneous $200 charge that, at the end of the hour, they finally admit is, in fact, a mistake on their part that will be corrected on my next bill.
  • Build in a speech synthesis feature that is capable of perfectly mimicking my voice. Then, whenever the phone rings, have it answer and discern whether the caller is a telemarketer. If it isn't, the phone can put the caller through to me without any further delay. If, however, it is a telemarketer, the phone should, without giving the telemarketer time to start speaking, use my voice to try to sell him or her on the idea of switching to a new long-distance phone plan. If the telemarketer stays on the line for that whole pitch, the synthetic voice should then ask him or her to participate in a very brief 20-minute survey, that absolutely, positively, definitely is just for research purposes and won't try to sell him or her anything.
  • Better yet, combine these first two features. Give my phone enough smarts to review not just my cell phone bill, but all of my bills and spot any errors. If it finds one, use the speech synthesis feature to call up the company and argue for the mandatory hour until the mistake is corrected, while I go off and do other things.
  • Install a speech-synthesized version of the friend speech. Then, whenever I profess my love to a woman, I can pull out my cell phone and press a button to play the speech through the built-in speakerphone, thereby sparing her the trouble of saying it herself. Maybe they could also install a French version. I've always wanted to be given the friend speech in French. It's so romantic.
  • The vibrating feature on my phone should be greatly enhanced so that if I call 911 upon feeling a heart attack coming on, the phone can begin CPR before the paramedics arrive. (Could someone please check on Victoria? She might have had a heart attack herself worrying about where I was going to go with that vibrating feature thing. I'm told that, among some of the people at MC Press, I've gained a reputation for being incorrigible. Who, me?)
  • Provide a special transmitting function that, whenever I'm in close proximity to anyone else, will jam incoming calls on all nearby cell phones so we won't be disturbed.

As far as I'm concerned, when, and only when, they've developed all of those things, they can then feel free to work on giving us broadcast television on our cell phones.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He might consider buying a cell phone television when someone launches an all Marx Brothers and Woody Allen network, but not before then.

Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and formerly president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. He has 30 years' experience in various IT capacities and now specializes in writing articles, white papers, and case studies for IT vendors and publications across North America. Joel is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto.

MC Press books written by Joel Klebanoff available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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