It used to be when a person got something new all she had to do was cut off the tags. Then presto, the new thing was ready to be worn or plugged in or filled with Chex mix and passed around the living room.

It used to be when a person got something new all she had to do was cut off the tags. Then presto, the new thing was ready to be worn or plugged in or filled with Chex mix and passed around the living room.

Well, I have a new phone, and I've cut off the tags and peeled away the plastic and peeled away more plastic; you'd think the phone was a packet of anthrax and not a new wireless device but am I happily passing it around the living room? Not unless someone who works for the phone company is sitting next to the piano.

I realize that times have changed since my most technological possession was a skate key. As I've mentioned often enough, I keep up as well as I can when all around me have phones in their hands or clamped to their ears or hanging from their belts like scalps.

I want a phone, too, of course. I admit it. And I don't mean a black desk model with a cord and a dial. I want what everybody else has: a smooth little number that responds to my touch as if it wants to please me. Is that too much to ask?

You wouldn't think so, but so far my new phone is like a dog sniffing at something in the grass even as I'm shouting for him to come, shouting from only about five feet away, but is he coming? Is he a good dog? No, his screen is going black again and I have to for the zillionth time click on first this button and then that button to make the screen light up again.

"There's a way to fix that," my husband will say when he sees me ranting at the dark phone. I know there is, I reply in the voice people use when their teeth are clamped together, but I haven't found it yet.

It's my own fault, I suppose, because I have yet to read the 67-page book titled "Tips, Hints and Shortcuts." No doubt "Tips, Hints and Shortcuts" includes the hint that will allow me to look at my phone's screen longer than two seconds. It could tell me how to turn down the volume too, probably. The volume now is a shade louder than Roger Daltrey screaming, which means when the phone rings everybody in the vicinity snaps to attention, wondering if the time has come to crouch in the hallway, protecting their neck with one arm, the way they were taught in first grade.

They don't wonder this for long, of course, because I answer the phone and my husband it usually is my husband says at a booming volume that's audible even in deep space, "Your phone says your voice mail isn't set up yet."

"Well, it should be set up because I set it up," I retort. "I've recorded my message and everything. Twice."

In fact, I've recorded my message more than twice, but never with any confidence that my phone was listening. Most of the time, it wasn't even pretending to pay attention. If it had fingers, it would have been buffing its nails.

I know I should be studying "Tips, Hints and Shortcuts," not to mention another book that came with the phone titled "Product Safety and Warranty Information."

I've started to read that one, and frankly I found it so alarming that I stopped.

"Do not use in high explosive areas as the phone may generate sparks," this book says. "Make sure that no sharp-edged items such as animals' teeth or nails, come into contact with the battery. ... Do not damage the power cord by bending, twisting, pulling or heating. ... Do not handle the phone with wet hands while it is being charged. ... Do not disassemble the phone. Be careful that children do not swallow any parts."

And this: "Never place your phone in a microwave oven as it will cause the battery to explode."

Goodness, I thought the last time I tried to read this book. What kind of crazy, cockamamie life does this phone manufacturer think I'm living, anyway? Animals biting the battery, people taking the phone apart or heating the power cord, other people deciding to microwave it. ... Listen, I don't claim things are perfect around here, but I'm not as disorganized as all that.

On the other hand, I still haven't managed to save my new message.

So maybe I am.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at