“I’m tempted,” I said, “but I know the monthly bill for a smartphone will be more expensive than what I pay now.”
I’ll never forget the salesman’s response. “Do you subscribe to the newspaper?” he asked. “Well, just cancel your subscription and with the money you save, read the paper for free on your new iPhone.”
If I’d been able to reach down the phone line — which, of course, was not a line, but a series of invisible waves pulsing through the ether — I would have throttled the guy.
The really galling thing was that the wireless company I used for my family’s personal cellphones was also The Washington Post’s corporate wireless provider. My employer was paying a company that was calling me to tell me to stick it to my employer.
I told the salesman that as I worked at the newspaper he was suggesting I cancel, I would not be taking him up on his offer.
When I got to the office that day, I sent an email to an executive on the business side here explaining what had happened. Was it possible, I wondered, that this sales pitch — cancel your newspaper; save some money; spend it on a new phone — was part of the marketing boilerplate that was read to every prospect?
My colleague got back to me at the end of the day and said he’d talked with the cellular company. Chastened, they claimed this was a rogue salesman and that he would be spoken to.
The explanation for the paper’s demise was that with WiFi throughout Metro, people could read their smartphones, or, as they are called now, phones.
Whatever the reason, it’s sad to see Express go. It was launched in 2003 as a preemptive shot across the bows of foreign publishers that were eyeing Washington after having success with free commuter dailies in other cities.
Express didn’t have to be as good as it was — those other publishers never came — but from the beginning it had an endearingly frisky tone, especially in its briefs, headlines, captions and front-page displays.
And the hawkers at the Metro stations were a throwback to an earlier time, a time before cellphones.
It’s interesting being alive at a time when we can witness the introduction of a new technology and follow its trajectory, from its adoption to the way it disrupts the things around it. We’ve seen that in a lot of areas — from radio to cigarettes — but as we’re talking about cellphones, allow me to share some benchmarks in my personal history:
1988: The first time I saw someone using a headset to talk on a cellphone. I thought the man was having a psychotic episode as he walked up Connecticut Avenue NW. Why else would he be muttering to himself?
1992: The purchase of our first mobile phone. It was my in-laws who bought it, actually. My Lovely Wife was driving to Baltimore every night for law school, and they thought she might need it in an emergency. The phone came in a zippered bag, its handset connected to a transceiver by a coiled cord.
2004: The first time I saw someone look at a message on his phone while standing at a urinal. This was in the fifth-floor men’s room at The Post.
All of these things have now become commonplace, from owning a cellphone (96 percent of U.S. adults, according to the Pew Research Center) to using it in the bathroom (75 percent of Americans, according to phone trade-in company BankMyCell) to dropping it in the toilet (25 percent, according to cloud-based online service MiMedia).
There was a time when a telephone in the bathroom was sort of tacky. A TV in the bathroom was even tackier. What are you gonna do in there? Make yourself comfortable?
Now, thanks to our Apples, Samsungs and Androids, we have a telephone and a TV that we can take anywhere.
Of course, people used to take their newspapers everywhere, too. Now? Not so much.