I’m Not a Mac #1–The Great Migration

(Graphic: Out with the old metaphor, in with the new metaphor.)

This post is part of my “I’m Not a Mac” series, chronicling my controversial migration away from Apple Computer after 15 years as a Mac user. Find other entries in the “I’m Not a Mac” series archive.

This Apple fan has officially downsized his digital life and I couldn’t be happier. For the first time since the mid-1990s, I’m down to one phone number and one email address. I know, I can’t believe it, either. I’m officially calling Wednesday, June 17th, 2009, the date of my long-needed virtual house cleaning.

Like most modern humans, for many years I amassed a hefty collection of phone numbers, email addresses, and diverse means of accessing them all. You name ‘em, I had ‘em: blog email accounts; client email accounts; home numbers; mobile numbers; virtual numbers. Not to mention multiple desktop email clients, separate mobile-based email clients, and far too many voicemail accounts to keep up with.

My saving grace right before I made my last exit from Brooklyn was having at least ditched my land line to go exclusively, telephonically mobile. That didn’t last long. When I arrived in my Marina City high-rise home four years ago, I was disappointed to discover my mobile service didn’t make the move up to the 38th floor with me. Nor did an industry-standard phone jack, for that matter. (Oh, the angst I could have saved if only I had opted for a lower floor.)

At the time, the last thing I wanted was to once again fund a customer-opaque traditional telecom giant, so within short order, I got a cable modem and a shiny, happy, area-code-312 Vonage VOIP line. And for the next four years, almost every inbound caller groused to me the following words: “Why do I keep hearing my words echoing back to me?”

Sucking up my disdain for BigTel and switching to an SBC DSL modem fixed none of Vonage’s annoying echo, though it did add a trip-worthy new wire across my apartment floor from the one working phone jack until I rearranged my furniture last winter.

Next, I hoped being an early adopter of a shiny, aluminum-backed Edge iPhone in 2007 might be the telephonic Holy Grail I was looking for. But all the handset’s metal rump did was eliminate any possibility of a 2G signal actually getting through. Instead, I spent two years giving out my Vonage number and setting it to simul-ring my iPhone. So in order to have my mobile ring at all, I couldn’t event tell people what its number was.

Oh Arturo, prince of irony.

I found myself hiding the unhappiness and shame of my foiled attempts at making it easy for people to contact me by fetishizing my email points of contact. Specifically, the numerous folders I could populate with the myriad email addresses I was signing into from my Macbook’s Mail.app client. Sure, I couldn’t access or even see those same folders on my iPhone with it’s aggressively POP-friendly interface, but, hey, aren’t Apple products cool? (I must think so, since I’ve had 11 Macs in 12 years.)

Like iCal, for instance. Without paying $99 a year for magic MobileMe service to sync appointments between iPhone and Macbook on the go, I couldn’t be completely sure of schedule conflicts in my calendars until my nightly tethering of one device to the other. And To Do lists done on my desktop simply stayed in jail there with no hope of parole to my mobile handset. But with all my telephone heartache, I had to believe in some form of 21st-century technology.

And then my neighbor, Mattcountant, came over last week with his 3G iPhone and I saw the light. With the device’s smudgy, radio-friendly, black-plastic backplate, the guy had all sorts of 2G and 3G service all over my apartment.

Oh how the floodgates have fallen since.

It took me ten minutes to upgrade to a (quietly still in-stock) $149 iPhone 3G at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store (no “S”, thanks, the new feature set wasn’t personally compelling), though my mobile number retains its erroneously outer-neighborhood area code 773.

It took me 11 minutes and 37 seconds to disconnect Vonage. I’d read all the cancellation horror stories regarding attempts by the seemingly desperate VOIP provider to cajole/beg/bully subscribers into sticking around, so I had my script ready.

The call would have been shorter if I hadn’t had to repeat five times to an increasingly aggressive customer service representative, “Please disconnect my service and cancel my account. I am not telling you why, and I’m disclosing no further information to Vonage.” Although I thought trying to suck me in by asking me if I was related to famed British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a particularly inspired ploy.

After ditching my $420-a-year buggy Vonage number (and tossing the dusty blue router in the trash), just to hedge my bets I laid down $30 for a year of Skype service and downloaded the Skype mobile app to my iPhone. I didn’t need to. While 3G is spotty in my apartment, 2G works like a charm.

To wit, dear AT&T: I apologize for dissing your local 2G service for the past two years due to Apple’s 2007 decision to place metallic form over function. Though with not a small sense of gleeful vindication I would note that Skype over my iPhone on my home WiFi network works better than Vonage wired into my modem ever did.

So telephone pare-down sussed. But wait, there’s more. No hyperfocusing ADDer worth their unnaturally tenacious salt–like me –would ever stop at that. There was still that pesky email issue to deal with.

But what was a boy with a lifelong addiction to Apple software to do?

In my case, get over it. I hopped into my technological time machine of shame, set course for 2006, and spent the first three days of this week teaching myself how to use Gmail and Google Calendar. The former exclusively via its online interface. The latter for the first time at all.

Then on Wednesday, I:

  • Set Gmail to check the mail at my legacy email addresses;
  • Imported my four-year legacy email archive into my Gmail All Mail folder;
  • Imported my iCal calendars into Google Calendar;
  • Downloaded Google’s menubar notifiers for my Macbook and Google’s Mobile app for my iPhone;
  • Dragged my Mail.app Dock alias to the trash (I know you Windows folks are all like Huh? at this point); and
  • Readded Gmail to my iPhone via cloud-friendly IMAP.

Then for good measure, I added my To Dos into the Tasks list that lives in Goolgle Calendar.

By Wednesday night I was thoroughly exhausted. But here’s what the exhaustion got me:

  • One phone number. Period.
  • One email address. Period.
  • The ability to manage all of my email messages, appointments, and To Dos equally, in real-time, from my desktop or mobile phone. For free.

That and lots of peace of mind from not having to juggle so hard to keep many needlessly duplicative bowling pins of my online life flying through the air at one time. My email signature, letterhead, and Facebook have all been happily edited to reflect the changes.

I know some of you are sneering at how late to the game I am here. For the others among you who read this post with some awe, trust me, I tell you the effort was worth it. Now do me a favor and throw my old 312 number in the trash.

After all, what good is an allegedly prestigious area code in an age where the stock answer to “What’s your number?” is “I’ll call you so you can put it in your phone”?

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