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I don’t need no stinking cell phone! Do I?

I had just started on my way to work last Saturday when I decided to listen to a book on audio.  I began digging through my monstrosity of a purse to find my phone, but…  but…  no phone.

No phone?  But this can not be.  It can not…be.  I always have my phone – always.  I never leave home without it – never.  Well, apparently I do now.

My first (and perfectly natural) instinct is to turn around and go back to get it.  I mean…I need it, I want it, I will go get it.  If you left your kid at home by accident, wouldn’t you turn around and go back for her?  Okay, okay – I concede that this is slightly less urgent.

I’m only about two miles from home, so it’s feasible, but annoying.  No place to turn around; I wonder how far I’ll have to go to the next driveway?  The thought crosses my mind that my attachment to this phone is ridiculous.  Why do I “need” it?  Is it merely that I’m used to having it with me?  Is it akin to my purse, or my underwear, in that I feel naked without it?  It bothers me that I’m giving serious consideration to turning around.  It bothers me that not having the phone truly bothers me.  

I decide to do an experiment on myself, so I keep going (yearning backward mental glances).  I keep driving.  Driving, driving.  Not gonna stop.  I don’t need no stinking cell phone.  I want it, sure.  I really, really want it.  But I don’t need it!  Do I?

So I’ve chosen to leave my phone behind and see how it affects my night.  Mostly what I felt in the beginning was vulnerable.  I got my first cell phone in 2002 when the so-called Beltway Snipers were terrorizing my area.  I was headed home after work and suddenly the traffic on 95 came to a standstill.  I thought, “He’s hit someone down here.”  (At that point, they didn’t know it was two guys.)  Of course I was right; a man had been shot in the Ponderosa parking lot in Ashland.  (Fortunately, he survived.)  I was working in Richmond at the time, which meant an hour drive, both ways.  This was the first time they had come this far south, and it was scarily close to home.  As I sat in that sniper-induced traffic, I thought, “Maybe I should get a cell phone.  For emergencies.”  I bought one the next day.

What causes my anxiety is that my phone has become a kind of security blanket.  What if I break down?  What if I’m in an accident?  What if something bad happens?  I don’t like the idea of not being able to call for help.  I guess it’s knowing that I am never alone.  Even when I’m physically alone, there will always be someone a dial away.  I remember driving to work when I was 17 or so and the car just giving out on the highway.  I remember sitting there in the excruciating heat, waiting for I don’t know what.  Someone eventually stopped, so…  It’s not the end of the world to be phoneless, to be disconnected.  I suppose.

I have to remind myself that over four billion years passed by, somewhat successfully, without the aid of cell phones.  T-Rex didn’t need no stinking cell phone.  (Of course his little arms wouldn’t reach)  He survived without it.  Well, no, he’s extinct.  They didn’t exist when my mother was coming up.  (She has little arms, but they reach.)  We didn’t have them when I was a kid and I did just fine.  We had something called a pay phone, but I think they’re extinct as well.  I’m sure it’s hard for my nephews to imagine living so long without a cell phone: “What, you didn’t have cell phones when you were a kid?  Did you have cars?”

I have an android now and I use it more for entertainment than for a phone.  It’s basically my connection to the world – to the internet, to information, to Facebook , my email, my blog, twitter.  I don’t make or receive very many calls, which is fine by me.  It’s more like a I’m carrying around my laptop in my pocket.

I’m sometimes surprised by how much I carry it with me around the house.  I don’t realize I’m doing it until I set it down somewhere and can’t find it.  Obviously at some point I was conscious of the fact that I was holding the phone.  But I’m so used to it that it becomes like an extension of my hand, and I’m carrying this thing around without really being aware of it.  Consequently, I set it down to free up my hand without paying the slightest attention to what I’m doing.  Then it’s, “Where’s the phone?”  I have no home phone, so I can’t call it.  At that point, it’s basically a search and rescue mission.

So, getting back to the experiment at hand, How does it go?

  • I pretty much think about my phone the whole way to work.  I initially felt unprotected, but I was able to talk myself out of that.
  • When I get to work, I remember my boss sent me a text with the information I need to pay someone.  No problem, I can do that tomorrow.
  • While driving to the bank, I realize I’ve done something ironic.  I will tweet it.  No phone to tweet with.  How ironic.
  • I’m fine at work, because I’m working.  Actually, that’s the truth 😉 .
  • Leading up to my break, I think, “I’ll listen to my audio book while on break.”  No, I won’t.
  • When my break starts, I have the vague idea in the back of my mind that I can’t listen to my book, so I think, “I’ll just read instead.”  No, I won’t.
  • Five minutes into my break, I think, “I’ll check my emails.”  No.  I won’t.
  • I have mentally reached for my phone 3 times in a 15 minute span.  It’s less about forgetting the phone is not there, and more about everything I want to do is on the phone.
  • I get in my car to go home and my first thought is, “How’s the battery, do I need to plug it in?”

As I’m sitting at the light, I wonder if this should be an android free weekend.  “It was fine today, maybe I should try this again tomorrow.  I can break this attachment if I want to.”  Almost immediately, I start to feel a bit anxious.  Come on!  I’m already feeling separation anxiety for Sunday?  I don’t yet have the phone back in my possession, and I’m worrying about not having it tomorrow.  It’s almost comical.

Driving home, I was happily anticipating what would be waiting for me.  Maybe that’s part of it too, the AOL, “You’ve Got Mail” mentality.  It’s the exhilaration of knowing that something good is coming right through the air, right to me.  It’s the thrill of opening little presents all day long: email, a new blog post, a new comment, a funny tweet.

So is wanting my phone with me at all times purely habit?  Have I gotten too used to having the world at my fingertips?  Is it my need to have a lifeline in case of emergency?  Is it the pleasure I get from staying constantly connected to the fun stuff?  All of the above?

PS: It was not an android free weekend.  But you knew that.

Skip on over:

How lazy is too lazy?  In which I say, “I hate retracing my steps.  I hate it.  Sure, I’d go back for my cell phone, but I can’t buy another one of those at work.”

Items of interest:

Seeking Simplicity on the Rim of the Grand Canyon, by atomsofthought: “I want the freedom of isolation, the freedom to constrain myself and disconnect from the noise of the twenty-first century.”


12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I get twitchy without my phone, and that was before I got my new, super-whizzy phone. Walking the dog of a morning, before I take the Weasels to school, I hate to be without the phone, just because one of them might call. Or Mrs Dim might call. They never do, they never have, but I hate leaving the phone behind. Plus, it’s my camera, and there are all kinds of things to photograph on a morning walk. And sometimes I have ideas, which I can record on the phone too.
    Like you, I have my entertainment on the phone now. I think they’re more than just communication devices, and that’s great. I don’t carry a diary, an mp3 player, a camera, a notebook, a contacts book and a yo yo anymore, I just carry my phone. Which doesn’t work as a yo yo.

    June 14, 2011
    • Well, it can – a bit of string, an understanding of knot tying. I bet it would take a lot of practice, being completely the wrong shape and all, but you’d be the hit of every party!

      Same thing for me and the photos and recorder. My phone is mostly my back-up for those things, but so convenient (and ever-present). I love my digital recorder and carry that thing around almost as much as my phone. Of course, my blog is a lot about questions and I ask so many that I ended up having to record most of the answers – too much interesting opinion out there to miss any of it. Too much to remember with the terrible memory I have! Speaking of which, I just read your post about getting a new phone, and didn’t make the connection that I had posted a phone one – that was so last night.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I subscribed to your blog and I’m looking forward to learning more about writing. So far I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who (fill in the blank)… That’s probably as important a lesson as any to keep me from being discouraged.

      June 14, 2011
  2. I feel your pain! It is amazing, isn’t it, how dependent we have become on technology? I can remember way back when, when I did not even have email. I am not as advanced as you–my phone is pretty much my phone–that’s it. It can take pictures and receive texts, but I do not use those features. My lawyer sent me a text the other day that I never even noticed until he called much later and asked if I had gotten his message–I had not and it had not really mattered! Nora Ephron–wrote “You’ve Got Mail” I am pretty sure–talks about how email was initially great–a message from a friend was terrific, but that was before there are 400+ friends on a Facebook account, ads attached to messages, the potential of spam, etc. I go back and forth on liking the technology. Maybe I will try a weekend without–my phone got turned off the other day (no clue how, gremlins?) and I did not notice it all day because I was not being interrupted with it ringing. My memory says it was a good day. Take care–keep in touch!

    June 14, 2011
    • Haha, I’m not advanced at all. My phone may be, but not me! My pattern has been to use my phone like I use my car – that is to drive it into the ground before I spring for a new one. The great thing about phones is that if I wait long enough, they’ll give me a new one in exchange for “signing” a new 2-year agreement. Even that’s done electronically. Last year, Best Buy was doing a free phone Fridays promotion. I kept checking back until one of the ones I wanted was free. Just following the pattern! I definitely would not have this phone if I’d had to lay out a chunk of change for it. Make that a wad of bills. I have a bigger phone bill, but I get a group discount through my employer, so that helps. And I gave up two other monthly services to justify the increased phone bill, so it worked out just fine.

      I didn’t do texts for a really long time. I didn’t have it in my plan, because, why? But there were a few people who kept texting me, even though I would tell them not to – this is costing me money. I finally had to add it to my plan. My dad doesn’t get texting at all. For me, it does add an element of convenience that can be lacking in a phone call, in that you can put off your response. Also, it’s quiet, so you can do it practically anywhere. For the most part, I like it because it means I don’t have to talk to people. That sounds terrible, but there it is.

      The thing is, I was fine without all this stuff. Before. I could go back now if I was forced to, but I really do think it would require force from the outside. I’m addicted. But I don’t expect an intervention. On the contrary, my mom has been making noise about getting one for herself. There is no hope for us. Does Betty Ford do technology addiction?

      June 14, 2011
  3. Vicki #

    Michelle you crack me up! I was excited when I got my new phone with a QWERTY board on it so I could text. I have one of those pay as you go plans. I too though like to text so I dont have to talk to that person. Enough with the chit chat just get to the point. Although i only use the phone as a phone I feel very lost without when I am driving just in case i break down in my many miles of travel. Which is kinda ironic because knowing my luck I will break down where no cell phone anywhere would ever have service. So I just pray for my safety.

    June 21, 2011
    • Yeah, with you being all over the place, it’s important that you have a phone with you. But you’re right, it won’t do you any good in some parts of the mountains, which is kind of scary!

      And I don’t absolutely NOT want to talk to people, but texting is a great way to get to the point, like you said. Also to get back to them when it’s most convenient for you! 🙂

      June 22, 2011
  4. Reaching for our phone has become such a reflex. Whenever I do forget my phone at home (which isn’t that often) I remember going to my jacket pocket and then realizing it isn’t there. It has become such a necessity!

    When people are taking the morning commute, a lot of us are glued to our screens (there are even those who use their laptop while on the bus…why is that?!).

    Apparently in Japan people are suppose to silence their phone while on public transit because it might disturb the rest of the passengers. They also aren’t suppose to answer or call anyone while taking transit. I’m not sure if this also applies for texting or fiddling with your phone. I tried to apply this in my life and not whip out my phone whenever I was “bored”. In the end, I have to admit that the Android market does offer a lot of games and apps that I enjoy. The invention of wifi also enables my relationship with my phone. I really enjoyed reading your post.

    July 9, 2011
    • Hi! Thanks for stopping by! That was my thing, too – it was such a habit and reflexive action. I even kept reaching for it mentally!

      I do love having my phone when I have to wait, for my car, at the dr’s office, even in line at the grocery store. It’s way more entertaining than really old copies of People magazine. Plus I can access the other things I can’t live without (on an hourly basis) – such as answering my blog comments like I’m doing now. 🙂

      I liked your site, and I already found something there to link to on my next Query!

      July 9, 2011
  5. I can’t stand when I forget my phone (which is hardly EVER). I don’t think I even remember how to entertain myself anymore!

    November 17, 2011
    • Haha – I was wondering who clicked on that old post. I like the slide show at the top, but few people ever look at those old posts :(.

      I hardly ever forget mine, either. I often carry it around with me without even realizing I have it. Then I set it down somewhere to free up my hands, without realizing I’ve done that. Then I can’t find the phone in the house. My first instinct is to call it, but then I remember that I got rid of my home phone years and years ago because I never used it. Because I always use my cell phone.

      Now that I have my android, I can’t imagine living without that. It’s my email, my instant answers to every question I could possibly think to ask, games and books and tv and blogging, and, and…

      Who am I kidding? I obviously do need my stinking cell phone!

      November 17, 2011
  6. Margaret Aldridge #

    I get it! You are very brave to spend the day without your phone! I’d rather have needles stuck under my fingernails!

    December 29, 2011
    • It wasn’t so much bravery as it was forgetfulness 🙂 I’m still forgetful, but not about my phone!

      December 31, 2011

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