"I think I'm going to shave my mustache," the message flashed across Harriet's iPhone screen. "What do you think?"
Harriet looked up from the device with a frown.
"It's almost like we never broke up," she said. "He won't acknowledge what's happened -- he just keeps texting. It's painful enough as it is, but instead of taking a time out to heal, I have to dodge these constant reminders. I told him I needed my space. I got my house keys from him through a friend. I thought he understood, but it really is like this guy has emotional Alzheimer's. Our breakup is clear as day sometimes and other times, he's confused and angry and blowing up my phone like he can't understand why I'm not answering him."
Photo by Md saad andalib. (Flickr)
Another message hit her phone with iPhone's standard ding. It said: "I went out tonight."
Then another: "Can I ask you something?"
Two minutes passed, then another: "Why not block me? If you didn't like me contacting you, wouldn't you just block me or tell me to stop?"
Then another: "Guess it feels good to be desired."
Two more minutes elapsed: "Why not say anything? I don't get it."
Five minutes: "I'm going to shave my mustache."
Four minutes: "Pretty soon, I'm gonna fade away and I'm going to have a bare upper lip. Maybe not bare, I'll keep some stubble."
One minute: "Take it from my experience -- it takes a lot more energy to hate and ignore someone than it does to acknowledge them."
One minute: "You could block me if you wanted to."
The problem -- which was probably unknown to the Ex With Emotional Alzheimer's -- is that while smart phones make a lot of things a breeze, blocking phone numbers is a somewhat more complicated procedure.
Harriet's carrier, AT&T, charges $4.99 a month for their Smart Limits for Wireless service, which enables users to control who contacts them (for up to 30 phone numbers). It's not available for 4G LTE devices and the terms of service have a nice big disclaimer that let you know that AT&T is allowed to end your Smart Limits service at any time, for any reason. Sweet.
Verizon allows users to block numbers with their Safeguards intercept feature, but each number block only last 90 days before it has to be manually reestablished by a user, and only five numbers can be blocked at any given time unless you want to pay a monthly fee. Frankly, I'd rather buy a vanilla soy latte.
T-Mobile allows users to block calls and texts for free, but users don’t get to select which numbers unless they add their Family Allowances service, which is part of a family plan and not really an option for singles. As an anti-spam measure, T-Mobile lets users to select key words to block, however -- much like an e-mail spam filter that would throw messages with certain keywords (like, say, "Cialis") directly to a spam folder -- and in that way flag incoming texts. But there is only so much this feature can do for one when trying to avoid an ex -- which is to say, not very much.
Sprint is probably the only carrier that allows users any semblance of range in this regard at no cost. To block a number, a user need only text "block" and the phone number in question to 9999 (so if you wanted to kill calls and texts from 555-555-5555, you'd text "block 555-555-5555" to 9999).
That only one out of four major U.S. carriers allows free and simple call and text blocking is an outrage -- it shows just how much more carriers care about the bottom line than they do about consumers.
This isn't a question of limited technology: it's a question of boundaries erected by individual carriers and it's wrong. It's one thing to charge for tethering, hot spots and navigation (things most smartphones come equipped with to begin with), but to charge for or otherwise limit something as important to peace of mind as number blocking is seriously pushing it.
Some devices come with integrated number blocking (like Blackberry, for instance), but this tends to be limited to phone calls, not SMS. So what do we do? Here are three options for Android, Blackberry and, yes, even iPhone.Mr. Number
By far one of the most popular blocking apps out there, Mr. Number enables you to block any number you want, an entire area code, or the whole world.
While you're at it, you can set it to automatically reject known spammers, telemarketers, debt collectors and harassers, which the app collects from reports submitted by its 5,000,000 users (they've even got a weekly top 10 worst spammers list!). You can either send rejected numbers straight to voice mail, or your phone can hang up on them, disallowing them to leave a message at all.
The app does automatic reverse lookup on all incoming calls too, so you always know who's trying to reach you. It also lets you set how you show up in caller ID for other people as well. Neat extra feature: you can text for free with any other friends who have the app to avoid text messaging fees (though it will impact your data plan unless you're on wi-fi, just like with IMing).
The app is free, available for Android phones and Blackberry. You'll even find it at the Apple App Store, but don't get too excited. The blocking and caller ID features are not available for iPhone thanks to Apple's draconi -- err, awesome, magical policies.Call Blocker
Call Blocker enables you to block unwanted calls, with an option to forward them (to the Rejection Hotline, perhaps?), black list delinquent text-senders, backup your phone contacts to a server so you never lose them, and transfer your old data cross-platform (Android, Blackberry and Symbian).
The app also lets you erase your call and text message histories in a few easy steps. If you're thinking this sounds like a perfect app for a cheater, you're right. Call Blocker Premium lets you take calls and receive texts in Private Space instead of your phone's actual call and SMS logs. It also allows you to create a fake Private Space that you can show your (clearly not very) significant other to prove you're upholding your vows to be loyal, even (especially) when you're not.
(Cheating is never honorable, but if you’re going to do it, please have the decency to do it right.)
Anyway, the free version of this app is available on Android (for Eclair, Froyo, Ginger Bread, and Honeycomb) and now supports Chinese, German, French, Portuguese and Spanish. And it plays nice with Google Voice, for those of you who use it -- though Google Voice has a whole array of settings for controlling who can call or text and when. Seriously, you wouldn't need any of these apps if you'd given your ex your Google Voice number to begin with. iPhone users unfortunately need not apply -- the App Store doesn't offer Google Voice. Apple just wasn't down with the competition.iBlacklist
iBlacklist is a simple app: you open it up and add the numbers you don't want to receive calls or text messages from. You can add as many as you like, either by group or individually. You can make the app direct a caller to voicemail, give them a busy signal, or hang up on them immediately. Blocked and restricted numbers get the same treatment, so you don't get caught unawares.
You can go reverse, too: instead of blocking a few numbers, you can specify which numbers you want to allow to reach you by creating a whitelist. This option enables only the whitelisted numbers to contact you and rejects everyone else -- perfect for when you're expecting a call or text from one person and don't want to deal with any other interruptions. The app also allows you to schedule your blacklists and whitelists, so, for example, you can set your phone to enable only family and friends to reach you after business hours.
This app is targeted for iPhone, and the fact that you can't buy the $12.00 beauty from the Apple App Store should be a fairly big hint. Basically, the only way you're going to be able to use this app is if you're willing to jailbreak your phone. For the record, as of 2010, the legality of jailbreaking is no longer ambiguous: jailbreaking is perfectly legal in the U.S.
The downside of jailbreaking is that Apple disallows jailbroken phones from gaining access to software updates, so basically, every time an update comes out, if you want to get it, you have to restore the device to factory settings, update, then jailbreak it again when the updated jailbreak for iOS becomes available. There are a lot of forums online that can help you figure out if an upgrade is worth the trouble or if there are apps you can download to achieve similar results.
It's true that jailbreaking might void your warranty but if you really need to take in your phone for repair, you can restore it to factory settings and book it to the Apple Store without a Genius really being the wiser.
It's easy to embrace the simplicity of devices that do everything without us having to give it much thought, but there is a danger in that as well. The less we understand our devices, the easier it is for manufacturers and carriers to dictate what we can and cannot do with our gadgets. Four dollars and 99 cents may not seem like a lot of money, but that's almost $60 per year -- and it still wouldn't give Harriet half the options she could get by jailbreaking her iPhone and installing an app like iBlacklist. And for those of us who don't have iDevices, the possibilities are even more varied -- and in most cases, completely free.
You can accept what carriers and manufacturers demand of consumers and be a good little sheep and fork over the money and expect little in return or you can dare to, you know, Think different. Rethink Possible. Rule the Air. Etc.