I just read an excellent essay over at The Huffington Post where Anna Fonte describes what it’s like, in this age of high tech gadgetry, not to own a cell phone. “When people find out that I do not own a cell phone on purpose, they can move quickly from sympathy to scorn. I see it in their eyes: Suddenly, I’ve got some freaky social disease. They back slowly away before I infect them with whatever is wrong with me.” (click here, you’ll want to read the entire piece)
I was a reluctant cell phone convert. But I remember my first cell phone, and I remember when I started texting. My kids were grown and gone, thousands of miles from home, and they did not have landlines; they had cell phones. Cell phones they rarely, if ever, answered. I quickly learned that young people (under 40?) do not answer their phones (“It’s rude to call people.”) nor do they listen to voice mail (“It’s a waste of time, I can see that you called.”) Young people text, and they text instantly. If I wanted to talk with my children — if, in fact, I just wanted to make sure they were alive! — I needed a cell phone and I had to text with them.
That was almost a decade ago, and I see that over these years I’ve been slowly and steadily and completely sucked into the cell of having a cell. Not all of which has been bad. I have a horrendous sense of direction, so I get lost a lot less. I rarely wear a watch anymore, and since I don’t care for jewelry this is a huge bonus. I have entire “text message conversations” with my far away friend Lisa, and I can’t imagine with the 3 hour time difference that we’d be able to talk on the phone as much as we text back and forth. I don’t buy apps or play games, though I must confess I’m a Scrabble addict and had to delete my Words With Friends account. When my Aunt Mary was sick, when she could not get around quickly and was going to the hospital a lot, her cell phone was a godsend; she could carry her phone in her pocket. I could always reach her, and she could always reach me. My stepmother got a cell phone and we text back and forth; she’s in ill health and sometimes it’s hard for her to talk without getting out of breath, but she can text like a pro and this means we “talk” a lot more than we otherwise could. My stepdad also has a cell phone and he sends his messages in ALL CAPS; he always ends his messages with “LOVE YOU” … words I have never in my life heard him speak, but he sure can shout it out with a keypad and that’s been, as you might imagine, lovely.
I read Anna’s essay about not having a cell phone, on my cell phone. A big (really big) part of me is so envious — what would it be like to not feel shackled to my phone, to not feel like I have to answer messages immediately, to not spend free minutes hitting the refresh refresh refresh button? But I realize I’m not envious of Anna not having a cell phone; I am envious of Anna’s brave choice, and of her freedom.
Last weekend I flew across the country to visit my son. He’s 28. I texted him when I found out my flight was delayed; I texted him when I finally took off, and again when I landed; I used the Google map on my phone to guide me, in the dark, in the rain, to my hotel; I texted him when I got to the hotel and was checking in, and I no sooner hit *send* when I heard, “Hello mother!” and turned to see him already sitting in the lobby, waiting for me; then we got in his car and I used the Google map to see where he was taking me for dinner. The next day we went to a college football game and I asked the stranger sitting behind us to take our picture — a picture I wanted to post instantly to Facebook (“Here we are! See! having fun!!”) but couldn’t because the lines around the stadium were jammed … too many people trying to do the same thing at the same time. Because if we can’t post an instant photo saying how much fun we’re having, are we really having it?
As we left the game, I pulled out my phone — I still had to post that photo! — and saw my battery was dying. I panicked a little. Though, what did it matter if my phone was dead? I didn’t need it. And yet I could feel the low-buzzing panic — what if my husband needs me, what if I can’t check email or Facebook or read the news headlines on CNN, what if I’m getting left out of a funny texting loop with friends, what if what if what if what if what if. And for the next few hours I kept pulling out my phone and pressing the white button, pressing it and pressing it, just to make sure the screen lit up, just to make sure it was still there for me, that it was not dead. Or maybe to make sure I wasn’t.
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