Like Fish for Parking Spaces

My mobile phone is a gadget that has many of its cool-circa-2005 features going unused in my hands. Hindsight tells me I shouldn’t have spent a small fortune on it — money that I could now be putting to better use (camera lenses and beer) — and that whenever I next buy a phone (i.e. whenever this current one conks off) it’ll be cheap, tough, and filled with features that were cool circa 1995. For I never use it for anything beyond the basics of mobile phone communication; voice calls and SMS text messages. I can’t update my facebook status, or twitter a tweet, make a scandalous desi MMS video that spreads like wildfire, or tell you how to get from one end of the mall to the other using GPS, and god knows when the massive tsunami that is the Google Wave eventually crashes into our always-on internet lives, it won’t be doing any waving whatsoever.

And I like this about it.

Every morning or so around eleven, just like today, I get a text message from my service provider. It’s always an ad for something, at least as far as I can tell, because it’s always in Arabic. I know it’s an ad because invariably there’s things like ‘25%’ and ‘sale’ written in English wedged inbetween the indecipherable Arabic words. It’s become something of a routine: hear the phone buzz, pick it up, delete the message after a cursory glance at the two English words in there, and get back to work.

I wonder if there’s some kind of database flag in the telco’s mainframe that can tell them I don’t really respond to cryptic Arabic ads, but given their usually stellar levels of customer service (look, sarcasm!) I don’t dare broach the subject lest I lose several hours of a day I could spend daydreaming about camera lenses and beer. And besides, what if they message me about an impending earthquake or extraterrestrial coup*? Surely they’ll put the relevant Richter scale measure in English? Or at least, ‘Dont Panic! Also the economy is just dandy!’?

* (Hey, I do live in Dubai. If anywhere, space aliens will land here first just to laugh at the awkward attempts at terraforming.)

An aside which brings me neatly to the half-deciphered subject of today’s ad burst. The one English word in the message was ‘mparking’ — and unless it’s a simple spelling error I’m guessing they’re going to introduce some way to pay for your hourly parking ticket with your mobile phone.

“Fantastic!” you’re probably saying. “It’s just what I’ve been waiting for! Soon I’ll be able to sync up my twitter with my GPS and get Google to wave at the parking meter to spit out a stub whenever I set my Facebook status to ‘finding parking’, my mood to ‘frustrated’ and my my latest selection to Pentangle’s ‘Hunting Song’!”

And you may well do that, but alas, my phone is neither capable, nor am I, so the concept (as I understand it) of getting out of a car, walking up to one of those bright orange sentinels in 45 degree summer heat, hunting on its surface for a phone number to text to, then texting to that number and hoping to get a parking stub afterwards, doesn’t exactly fill me with joy.

Technology baffles me sometimes. It’s not just the mechanics of a given technology itself (though that occurs often enough), but the rationale. Some advancements don’t actually make sense. Sure, if you’re a thoroughly modern man then you have several credit cards (and therefore, credit card debt), and have little to no cash in your wallet. Any cash you do have is only in denominations normally used to buy camera lenses with (and not beer), so a way to pay for your parking ticket with your mobile phone must be a welcome new innovation.

On the other hand, I have a couple of technologies that serve me well. The first is a small pocket sown into the right leg of my jeans and most of my other trousers. It’s not a very old technology — it’s practically modern — and like most modern technologies its use is niche and limited to the carrying of small, flat things. Individual breath mints, perhaps, or maybe even a compact vole.

The second one is much older. Positively archaic. Sometimes the best technologies were invented first. They’re elementary and seem crude, but they work, and what can be a complicated process involving waving, tweeting phones, can be boiled down to something as simple as dropping a small metal disc into a slot and picking up your stub.

Cash: it’s why we don’t barter fish for parking spaces anymore.