Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What are you, some sort of Luddite?

Look at me, I blog! I'm on the Internet, high-speed! I use Google every day! I chose my doctor because she is on a wireless network with the entire medical community (and she's good). I have (and liberally use) TIVO. I have a satellite dish (actually, we were some of the first). I consider myself quite modern and adequately connected.

Apparently, though, I'm not.

I use a paper-based planner and pencil to keep my schedule and my address book. I jot notes and story ideas in a little suede purse-sized notebook my sister got me for my birthday. I haven't got a flat-screened TV or computer screen, and neither is high-definition. In fact, my computer is a refurbished hand-me-down. I don't have an Ipod, or any of the attach-to-the-TV-and-play type games. My transmission is manual, not automatic, and I chose it that way. I still own, and use, a phone with a cord. It comes in handy during power outages. I have clocks and watches with hands.

But most of all, I make and receive telephone calls at home, using a landline. To the shock and horror, and occasional stymie, of the world-at-large.

We met this world-at-large, again, last week, on our big night out. My husband and I decided to splurge and go out to a nice restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is large and popular, but takes no reservations. If you call in advance, you can get priority on the waiting list. They'll contact you when it is your turn.

This process apparently requires you to carry a cell phone. Which, it must be said, I do not.

"Okay, I have your name down, now I need your cell phone number," the chipper hostess, an early 20-something in low-rise black trousers and skin-tight black blouse, told me.

"My what? My cell phone? Why?" I asked, confused. Since when were cell phones de rigeur for dining? In fact, I had always opposed cell phones in restaurants. Nothing worse than trying to dine and chat with a friend, who suddenly whips out a cell phone to accept a call from someone who is apparently more important than you in that moment.

"Why, to call you of course, when your table is ready," she twinkled at me, sure I was joking about my confusion.

"B-b-but, I don't have a cell phone," I stammered, "is there an alternative?"

"What?" she practically shrieked, her eyes going way too wide in shock for my comfort, "You...what? Don't have a cell phone?"

She paused to process this unbelievable piece of information.

"I don't know," she said, "This has never come up. Everyone has a cell phone. I don't know what to do."

We all stood silently as the people in line behind us waited impatiently.

"I guess," she said slowly, "I guess you can sit on the bench there and wait. It might be forty-five minutes. If you had a cell phone..." she trailed off.

"That's fine," I told her, "We'll wait. I can check back in regularly. Every five minutes if you like."

As I walked away, I heard the people behind me say, "Don't worry, we have a cell phone," and they and the hostess laughed (her in relief, I bet).

When cell phones became common, I got one, of course. I had one for years. It cost a blooming fortune. And was an unhappy stressor. People could call me, any time. I was expected to always be available, with cell phone on and in reach. I didn't count this a good thing.

Not to mention, somehow my contract kept getting renewed without my overt knowledge, and it was never as good a deal as was advertised. My bill was always more than I anticipated, calls were regularly dropped, I could barely get service out at my house, and all around it cost more time, pain and money than I felt it was worth.

I cancelled and never renewed when my last contract expired. We planned to get a new phone and plan, someday, of course. My holdup was waiting for a plan that looked flexible and cheap enough to me. My husband's holdup was waiting for enough money for a phone that not only does calls, but snaps photos, records film footage, keeps his schedule, uses a plethora of ring tones, and even makes coffee for him, or something like that.

So we looked and waited, and a lot of time passed. With no cell phones. And yet, we lived to tell about it!

I lived, quite well actually, with no cell phone whatsoever.

Until my father could not stand it.

And he dragged me to the store and chose and bought a cell phone for me.

This time I got a pre-paid cellphone. It's up to me entirely. I buy minutes whenever I want. And nobody owns me. Not Sprint nor Verizon, not Cingular nor T-Mobile.

My husband bought $50 of minutes and it lasted over a year. He uses his even less than I do mine.

I guess I'm just not a huge phone person. I never feel like I need a cell phone all that often. Just now and again, for urgent or emergent situations only. I don't use it to chat with people. I can use my cheaper land line at home for that.

Then one day I realized that my preference for an at-home number was extending beyond myself, possibly to the annoyance of those who prefer cell phones and use them as their chief means of making and receiving calls.

It's true; I typically don't ask for people's cell phone numbers, and am reluctant to call a cell phone, unless I understand that person does liberally use that phone and is fine receiving calls on it. It takes time for me to get comfortable calling a cell. When I do, I tend to apologize, "Sorry for calling you on your cell..."

I just keep hearing a ka-ching noise in my head with each passing second.

Still, I will follow the other person's prefernce, or try to, if they nag me enough.

"Call me on my cell," my mother had to specify to me, over and over, before I finally quit calling her house and leaving messages, "Really, you're more likely to reach me and I'm more likely to get your message that way."

I do appreciate being able to reach people at my convenience, just as I appreciate the convenience my own rarely-used cell phone brings me.

I am always glad my phone is there when I need it, such as the time I lost the directions to a friend's house and had to call. I was glad I had it the time my tire went flat, and it was crucial during the hurricane evacuation.

I know there are other examples, but they elude me at the moment, or are times that I can work around not using a cell phone, such as the time I used the doctor's land line to alert the ER that we were on the way in with my daughter.

A cell phone is a convenience, for sure. But for me, it is an unecessary expensive luxury.

However, at every turn, they seem necessary, and people triple-check to make sure, "Umm what? Are you sure? You don't have a cell phone number you'd rather us call you at?"

"No," I explain, getting impatient, "The home number IS my telephone number."

Repairmen, doctors, schools, and apparently even restaurants want my cell phone number.

"I have a machine at home," I try to reassure them, "If you can't reach me, you can leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

They are shocked speechless. Leave a message? Wait until I return home to get a call back?

"I have a cell phone," I feel compelled to explain at times, "But it's pay by the minute and for emergencies only. I don't hand out the number."

"Well let me have that, in case of emergency," the person tells me, impatiently.

"No, I'm sorry, I'd rather not," I say. "It's okay. I understand. I might have to wait. Just use the home phone, please. Okay?"

They make sure I clearly understand the ramifications---consequences even---of not being immediately available at all times by phone.

I don't want to be immediately available at all times by phone. In fact, sometimes I actually resent being expected to ACT NOW! and to be available for others to ACT NOW! so frequently.

If I'm not immediately available, it doesn't per se indicate a problem. It indicates I am otherwise engaged and unwilling to interrupt my current activity.

Perhaps I am out, maybe grocery shopping. Perhaps I am reading books with my kids, and I opt to let the machine answer, instead of me. Perhaps I am cleaning house, or playing outside, and that is why my email sits for a day or two. I realize we all have busy lives, and have to triage the many priorities all demanding our immediate attention. For me, adding in a cell phone meant more things competing for my attention---and stressing me---in each moment.

It took me--did I use past tense?---it's taking me a long time to figure out how to juggle my life, and just when I get a clue, everything changes. Ultimately, I've grown to understand that I can't control all the dynamic elements of life, but I can control some elements that add to the stress, including a cell phone that used to ring too often for my comfort and which demanded attention from other activities too frequently, putting me in the, "This? or That?" decision-making stress more than I enjoyed.

I've learned to eliminate things like cell phones because I simply don't need to add in that sense of urgency or immediacy. It's not my responsibility to always be accessible, or to make everything a priority all the time. I know, call the news hounds; while for most this is common sense but for me, the Queen of Takes on Too Much Responsibility, this is a stop the presses moment.

I don't think I have always given myself enough understanding about this---the idea that sometimes, it's okay to be inaccessible or take time for myself, or to ask for understanding of time and space---and I get the impression I'm not alone in this. I know for a fact that asking others for this understanding leads to some feeling very impatient and frustrated.

We're so impatient and immediate these days, almost too much so for my taste. I'm a big instant gratification person, but even I understand that sometimes, things take time. And that's okay. Sometimes, we need to let go of that sense of urgency.

Recently, a friend (yes, I know you are reading this and I mean you, my friend) told me to let go of my sense of urgency, to calm down. It was good advice. I was about to take a huge step, make a big decision. Cost our family a lot, more in emotion than in anything else, although the money was significant.

My husband invested time and energy trying to talk me out of my, "Wait, just wait, we need a moment to process," frame of mine. He held on to that sense of urgency and I don't blame him. It involved our daughter, and parenting is nothing if not an ongoing sense of urgency at times. It comes from love, it does, and is well-intended. But sometimes, patience and reflection is required, instead.

I said to him, "We need to be less urgent. This doesn't mean do nothing. It means, be wise. Be calm. Decide rationally. And then do something after having thought it all the way through."

Too often he and I have been governed by our sense of urgency. Too often it has cost us too much, such as with our cell phones. Too often we racked up huge bills using the convenience of the mobile phone, when really, the call wasn't that important, and could have waited.

My cell phone lives in my car and is for those times I really need a phone while out and about. I have given out the number in an emergency, but caution that I pay by the minute and to use second-guess judiciousness before calling me. Some people get it, some not so much. That's cool. We all have different priorities. A limited-use, low-tech mobile phone that lives in my car isn't a pain point for me at all, in fact, it feels quite convenient. Sometimes, it sits, with only two minutes on it, because the budget doesn't allow me to purchase more at that time.

It's a small thing, perhaps, but is one of those things I have taken back control of, in my life, emotionally and budget-wise.

It might make me the object of surprise, and ocasionally of teasing, but I can take it. I know I am part of a minority. I rule my cell phone, it doesn't rule me.

All text and images exclusive copyright 2006 by Julie Pippert.

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Bones said...

I fought and resisted until just a few years ago. I simultaneously love and hate my smartphone. I’m not sure how it’s smarter because it can send email, too, but apparently it is because they call it a smartphone. I love my phone when I’m in NYC and trying to meet a friend coming from the other side of town and we’re meeting at a shop on Canal Street and blah blah. I don’t even ever actually CALL anyone. I just text. I also got rid of my home phone, and I deduct much of my cellular bill from my taxes.

But still, you’re right and I miss the simple days.

Gwen said...

I'm also a troglodyte about cell phones--about phones in general--and maybe for some of the reasons you are. But for me, it's also a reaction against my mother's devotion to answering her phone any and every time it rings (yes, I am the youngest 37 year old you'll ever meet). It drives her crazy to sit in our house hearing my phone ring with no one rushing to pick it up because we're in the middle of something. Which is naturally why I do it. The ringer on my cell phone is never on for the same reason: I don't want to be contactable (is that a word?)while I'm shopping or driving or whatever. I should probably buy minutes, too, since I use mine so seldom. My husband keeps pestering me to get rid of our landline but we live near woods, where the cell service is spotty, and bad reception drives me batty, so I'm not ready for that. Still, when my sister gave birth to one of her children in her minivan six years ago, we all rolled our eyes at her lack of a cell phone. At least my inconsistency is consistent .....

Julie Pippert said...

Bones, any machine that calls itself smart scares my pants off. LOL ;) I think I worked in hardware and software engineering for too many years. I admit there are some lifestyles to which a cell phone PLUS! type gadget is indispensable, but I caveat that with *some of the time.* And, hoo boy I forgot about texting LOL. Consider yourself admired for that ability.

Gwen, my husband tried the "get rid of the landline" campaign too. Our landline is pretty basic: it rings and I can call within my town. Yep, that's all. But I won't get rid of it. Or the phone with the cord. LOL

Birth? In a minivan> You MUST have that entire story somewhere! Link me! Or get to writing! (I mean, if I may boss you. ;) )

I require inaccessibility and a ringing phone does not disturb me.

I just thought of the BIG plus my "no phone" is: my time for myself and my time out is uninterruptable.

My mom friends and I went out to dinner and one mom had her cell ring several times (all her husband).

You know...maybe you guys have helped me hit on my chief reason:

That is way too tight an electronic leash.

There we go, always fall back on the grunchy granola rebel chick reason. :)

Mad Hatter said...

Hey, back at ya. I was thrilled to see your Perfect Post nod today. Very fitting.

jen said...

good for you. not only do i hate cell phones, but i hate phones in general. (yet I have a cell phone, for work, but still)

i often wonder who everyone is talking to, and what they did before they had a cell phone, and if they miss that alone time with themselves.

bubandpie said...

My cell phone is a very expensive insurance policy. I've never been pressured to give the number out, though - or asked for my number by a restaurant hostess. I used to use pay-as-you-go, but the minutes always expired before I could use them, and then on the rare occasion when I actually needed the phone, it was always out of service because I'd forgotten to buy more minutes.