March 17th, 2013

Why I Didn’t Have a Cell Phone Until Yesterday–and What Changed My Mind

The first thing to recall is that I pre-exist cellphones. There’s a generation of whippersnaps now who have never known a world where it was fine to be out of touch for a few hours, and it troubles them to be. I get that, to a certain extent, though I don’t feel it myself. When I was teaching high school kids and tried to outlaw phones in class, their first reaction was, “What if there’s an emergency?” My first reaction, which I didn’t voice, was, “You’re 15–how much help are you in an emergency?” And the second, which I sometimes did, was, “Whoever needed you would call the school and get the secretary to come get you, like they did in my day. The whole argument was basically stupid, but I did understand the *idea* of feeling insecure without a thing you are simply used to having. If they turned off the landlines in my apartment right now, it wouldn’t fundamentally change my safety level, but I would *feel* unspecifically unsafe.

But I grew up in a world where you didn’t need a cell phone to feel safe. First because they didn’t exist, then because only bajillionaires had them so they might as well’ve not existed, for my purposes. Then doctors and international businesspeople and the occasional drug-dealer had them. Then long-distance commuters and people who had small kids in day-care or otherwise away from them for long periods. Then anyone who drove any distance regularly or had any kids or was just very social and hard to get ahold of. Then pretty much everybody.

Through all these developments, I’ve driven almost never, and even less alone. I have no kids and, while I’m moderately social, I am also amazingly easy to get ahold of. Except for two years of grad school, I’ve had deskjobs for a decade–that’s nearly 40 hours a week you know where I am, plus I write in the evenings and am all-too-eager to pick up the phone or answer an email while I’m writing.  I would be very surprised if there were many people out there annoyed that didn’t hear back from me faster.

But honestly, lots of people with cells have lives like mine–I can’t honestly claim that it’s because I’m *so* practical that I’ve stood up against a tide of commericalism. Being broke for a few years–the grad school years–helped me convince myself I didn’t need lots of things, and then when I had money again I remained sorta convinced. I’m also naturally pretty cheap and lazy–I didn’t want to spend money or learn a new technology I didn’t have to. And in the background of all of this is probably some sort of mini-inferiority complex, e.g., no one really wants to talk to me that badly.

So, in short–who knows why I didn’t have a cellphone until yesterday? But I guess getting one’s first phone in 2013–especially if you’re not 60+–is kinda a big deal. Why did I get one? Well, the ostensible reason is there was a confusion with a friend about a meeting place, and I wound up having to use a credit card on a pay phone to call someone to ask him to call her to ask her to come get me. Argh–annoying, expensive, embarrassing, and all my fault, no matter who made the actual locational mistake, because with a cellphone it would’ve been a ten-minute probably, without all those extra people and credit card charges. Confusion and human error happens all the time, to anyone, but it was starting to be only with me that human error would ruin an evening.

So, there–a perfectly good reason for getting a cellphone and I’m sure many of my potential dinner dates are already grateful. But it was actually a conversation I had with a friend a couple days after the above incident that probably tipped the scales. I ran into her at a bus stop while she was texting on her phone, but when she was done she seemed happy to chat. I asked her if she loved her phone, and she said she did. I said I would probably get one soon, and was interested in what social doors texting might open, since I’d never done it. She said it was great, because it was like an ongoing casual conversation–no committment, no need of an immediate reply, but a low-key way to be in touch. She said she spoke to her best friend every day, and that was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.

During the years of rising cellphone ubiquity I mentioned above, I’ve noticed the near-demise of the “hey how are you?” phone call, followed by the diminishment of the long newsy email. Folks simply don’t catch up in these long gluts anymore, because they don’t need to. Anyone who actually matters to you is following your twitter feed, friends with you on facebook, and readily available to text about minutiae in real time–everyone already *knows* how you’re doing. The first two have been great for me–I’m up-to-date on people I care about but who aren’t “close” friends. And I know some people do like the occasional multi-paragraph email or phone chat, or at least, they do for my sake. But I’m really excited about this whole texting thing–I think it might be a good format for me, because I’m so chatty with so little to actually say (she says, at nearly 900 words and counting).

So I’m now cellphonic and hoping to finally stop being useless to folks who leave the directions to the restaurant at home or are just running a bit late. But I also hope to hear from anyone who cares to be in touch, about anything at all.

3 Responses to “Why I Didn’t Have a Cell Phone Until Yesterday–and What Changed My Mind”

  • Gabrielle says:

    I still don’t have a cell phone and you haven’t convinced me, although I am aware that was not your intention necessarily. I turned 60 a month ago so I am in your 60+ category (couldn’t you make it 61 plus?). The reason I don’t have a cell phone is I hate talking on the phone, I always have, so why provide more opportunity for something I don’t want to do? Also I value private time and I don’t want people, even people very close to me, to be able to track me wherever I am (it doesn’t feel like freedom if someone can reel me in at any moment) although I know you can turn the damn things off, not that anyone ever seems to do so. Anyway, perhaps some experience like yours will compel me to go over to the dark side but until then I am happy to not have that weight in purse and not to pay the bill every month.


  • Rebecca says:

    Hi Gabrielle,

    I definitely didn’t set out to convince anyone. The reasons you give are compelling and if your life allows you to live without a cellphone and you prefer to, I’m in favour of that. The difference between us, I think, is that I DO like feeling connected wherever I am, feeling like I’m part of a network. My nature probably makes me an *ideal* candidate for cellphonicness. It’s just strange I held out for so long!
    RR


  • Jeanie Keogh says:

    I love feeling like I am not alone in not having a cell phone. In fact, every time I hear that there is some other freak out there who doesn’t have a cell, I become as speechless as I would if I were to discover I had been talking to a celebrity for 20 minutes without knowing they were famous. Such am I humbled. And then when this person gets a phone I feel like someone in mobile phone marketing land does a victory dance with lots of arm pumps and hip thrusts because they have won over one more of the near-extinct No Cell Tribe. But that’s just a conspiracy theory – there may be no arm pumps.

    As a No Cell citizen, you were a Siberian tiger. With a cell, you are as common as a housecat.


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