When I met my husband eight years ago, I did not have a cell-phone. I was probably the only person he knew without one and it freaked him out a little. “You travel to and from South Carolina by yourself without a phone? That’s dangerous! What if something happens? What if you have an emergency?”
“I’ll deal with it,” I said and I would go on to assure him that people survived thousands and thousands of years before cell phones.
My resistance to buying a phone and a plan was rooted in three things:
1) Annoyance. I was already annoyed with how dependent people had become. No one ever had to use their own good judgment when making a decision. They could call whomever and that person would tell them what to do.
2) Commitment. When cell towers started going up, preservationists were against them—and I was/am a preservationist. The towers were ugly. They contribute to blight. And when they were new, we hated them like we hated Walmart. Of course, by the time I was discussing this with my guy, I was the only preservationist I knew still fighting this fight, but everyone still hated Walmart.
3) Cheapness. I was concerned that having a cell phone and a plan would eat into my Chinese take-out budget. God forbid.
My then-boyfriend/about-to-be-fiancé didn’t think any of this was a valid argument, and so he bought me my first little flip phone and put me on his cell phone plan. I let him. It felt good to have someone watching out for me.
And I was very happy for many years—on his plan and with my first little flip phone. The phone eventually died and I replaced it with my second little flip phone and continued to be a happy cell phone customer.
Then, crisis hit. My mother-in-law moved in with us and I hired a wonderful woman to assist in her care. Yeah, I know, whenever I write about a crisis, it begins with “my mother-in-law moved in with us…” but that is what this blog is about, folks—that sandwich generation thing and how it complicates my life on every level.
So, yes, I hired this wonderful woman, but she and I had a communication problem. She had a phone from Cricket and could only text, and on my phone, I only had voice—because I am always stubbornly behind when it comes to technology. And this probably wouldn’t have been that big of a deal other than she also had transportation and child-care issues that frequently prevented her from being punctual and reliable. All of this may have been grounds to let her go and find someone else, but I liked this woman–she put up with my mother-in-law’s bad attitude, she spoke Spanish, and she worked hard. I wanted to make this employer/employee relationship work. Besides, having seen what I could afford in the way of domestic help during the interview process, I was desperate to make this work.
And so I went into Verzion and made changes to my plan. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what happened: I was desperate and ignorant and oh-so-trusting. The sales dude was slick. Verzion’s customer service was the WORST I had ever experienced. My dissatisfaction snowballed every time I had to make an adjustment to the plan. My husband—yeah, the guy who insisted I get a cell phone all those many years ago—terminated my plan, but only after I had entertained fantasies of blowing up the Verizon store. Don’t worry. In these fantasies, the long-suffering Verizon customers were not harmed, but the evil Verizon employees all sustained life-threatening injuries that brought about enlightenment, and they sought very different careers as they slowly and painfully recovered.
And so, I decided to go rogue, live off-the-grid, run wild.
Okay, really, I just decided that I would go without a cell phone for a little while, but for a lot of people, this choice is as unusual as turning Grizzly Adams because I was willingly going without what so many consider a necessity. I went back to my three part argument for being without a cell phone, and here is what I discovered:
The annoyance factor is greater than ever because people are even more dependent on their phones. When you don’t have a phone, you notice that you are surrounded by people who not only have them, but are using them–constantly. I’d be in the grocery store, look around, and see that I was the only person left on the entire planet who could buy breakfast cereal without calling someone to ask, “Is it the gluten-free I need?” or “Can I just get the store brand? ‘Cuz it’s way cheaper.”
More dangerous than the super-stupid dependence fostered by cell phones is the neglect that occurs when so many sleep-deprived, bored parents have Smartphones. This is a true story: I was in a fast-food restaurant with one of those kiddie play-areas. Yes, I hang my head in shame as I type that, but it was a cold day and my son really needed to burn off some energy.
We were joined by a small girl who I would guess was about three. She came into the play area alone, but I had seen her arrive with a woman whom I assumed was her mother, but could have been an aunt or a sitter. The woman sat outside of the play-area staring at her phone. The girl had a toy with her—a floppy-eared plush elephant that she tossed up into the air until it landed on top of a play apparatus far beyond her reach. It was beyond my reach, too. I know because the little girl came to me for help.
“I can’t reach it,” I told her. “We need to find someone who works here and have them get a ladder.”
The little girl scurried off and returned with a woman with a nametag and a fast-food uniform. “Oh, I see,” said the woman. “I’ll get the manager.”
Then, the employee left the play area and returned with the manager. The manager assessed the situation, and she, too, left and returned with yet, another employee, a step-ladder, and a long pole. To the delight of the child, the team of three recovered the toy on their fourth or fifth try.
At some point, I stopped watching the play area ruckus and started watching the mom. I never saw her glance up from the screen to investigate the coming and going of her child and the three grown people retrieving the toy.
I’m not sharing this story to admonish the mother. God knows, I am the last person who should lecture anyone on Internet addictions. When I am at home, lack granny-care and can’t leave, I check my email and Facebook repeatedly. Sometimes, I have to put my laptop away just so I will be less tempted. In the months I had a Smartphone, I was always, always, ALWAYS tempted to check my email while sitting in the grocery store parking lot, while waiting for pre-school to let out, and while inching my way closer to the bank-teller’s drive-thru window.
I am sharing it because it isn’t rare. We’ve all seen people so tuned into a screen that they are oblivious to all that is happening around them. I find it odd that in a world in which helicopter parenting rules and people are super-paranoid about kidnappings, parents are as guilty as any other demographic of not being able to look away from the Smartphone. Apps, games, Internet access…it’s just too damn tempting for most of us!
And the texting! Oh, this is an area where people are even more annoyingly stupid. Laws have been passed and ad campaigns have been launched to warn people of the danger of texting while driving. Should that be necessary? I mean, who are these idiots who think, “I’ll just type a message on this tiny screen while operating a motor vehicle. Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe?” Apparently, it IS necessary because the idiots are plentiful—and they are all on the road texting and driving.
As for my commitment to preservation as a reason to abstain from cell phone usage, I don’t think it exists any longer. You just don’t hear much about it anymore. If anything, it’s now environmentalists who are concerned. Our wireless world is killing bees—or so I’ve been told. I’m very pro-bee and I really should investigate this claim further. If I still had a Smartphone, this is the very sort of topic I would google while waiting at the school bus stop.
And the money issue isn’t really a big deal anymore either. Phones and plans come in a range of prices. After a couple a months of being without a phone, I walked into Best Buy and walked out with a $7 phone and contract-free plan that costs all of $25 per month. I have to admit, I had no idea that such a thing existed until I read Gillian Flynn’s crime novel Gone Girl–apparently a cheap, contract-free cell phone is exactly what you need if you are cheating on your spouse or if you are framing your cheating spouse for murder.
So, yes, I have a cell phone again. A cheap one with a cheap plan. And it really is all I need. I used only 64 of my 250 minutes last month. I do miss using the GPS a little.
As for those months I went without one, I felt free—Ha, ha! No one can get in touch with me. And I felt very irresponsible—oh, no one can get in touch with me–even in the event of an emergency. I was concerned that my daughter’s school would call. I worried that my son’s sitter would need to reach me. My mother-in-law’s care-giver…yes, what if people couldn’t reach me when they needed me? Then, I figured, they would call my husband. They all have his cell phone number, too, and shouldn’t he be able to handle an emergency involving our children or his mother?
As for the calls I would have made from the cell phone during that phone-free period, they were all about meeting people at various locations. I became aware that I frequently called my friends to say, “I’m here. Where are you?” and “I’m running late. Are you already there?” When I didn’t have a phone, I made more of a point to be punctual as a courtesy to them, and I exercised a lot of faith.
Worried me: What if I don’t see my friends when I get there?
Faith-filled me: Is that really a big deal? If you see ‘em, you see ‘em. If you don’t, you sit through the concert alone. You can do that because you are a big girl.
Worried me: Oh, you are right. I’ll leave now. You stay and enjoy the concert.
Faith-filled me: Thanks. See ya.
Curiously, I met a friend at Ikea the day after I got my new super-cheap cell phone. She called to tell me she was running late. She called to tell me she had arrived. When I lost her in the store, I called her—twice. So, it took no time for me to resume my old habits of cell phone dependency, but at least, I’m aware of it, and the awareness has led me to use my cell phone a lot less.
So, if you are considering taking a break from your cell phone, I do recommend it. It’s good just to see what you notice about yourself and others.