Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Unwired Minority

I am one of the unwired minority.

According to CTIA, which tracks wireless use internationally, about 233 million people in the United States have cell-phone service. That is more than 76% of the U.S. population.

I guess that puts me in the 24% minority. I do not have a cell phone. I do not want a cell phone. If you gave me one today it would probably spend most of its life turned off and laying on my dresser half buried in a hand full of loose change.

Sure I recognize that cell phones may occasionally be useful. But I don’t feel the annoyances of being available to any and everyone 24 hours a day is worth the occasional convenience. I submitted to pressure from my dear wife a couple years ago and got her a cell phone. Since she drives to a remote location for work each day I felt it was a good investment. Mostly because it makes her feel better to know that she can call for help if she needs it. Two years later, we added a cell phone for our daughter when she started high school. But I refuse to join the pack.

I cannot begin to describe the looks of shock or astonishment I get from people when they ask me what my cell phone number is and I tell them “I don’t have one.” I actually had a receptionist at a doctor’s office tell me “No really, I need your cell number in case we need to contact you” I looked her straight in the eyes and said, slowly and as clearly as possible “I. Do. Not. Own. A. Cell. Phone. You may leave a message for me at either my home or work number.”

I have tried carrying a cell phone. Last month while my daughter was busy at her volleyball camp in Laramie, WY for 12 hours a day I carried around her cell phone. This was because my dear wife and the twins were vacationing in the Black Hills with my Dad. My dear wife wanted a way to get a hold of me if she needed to. So for 6 days I carried around an electronic leash. I only got about 3 to 4 calls a day. Most of them from the friends my daughter and I were staying with. But I swear that stupid phone has a processor in it that would tell it to hold all my calls until I was busy, then it would ring. I could sit around watching the different coaches and drills at the volleyball camp for hours without being disturbed. But let me start a conversation with someone, go to the bathroom, start driving the car or start eating and that stupid phone would ring every single time.

Most of these calls were useful; it was just that their timing was bad. Especially the morning I discovered that the battery had died in the van. I called my friend who had already gone to work and asked if they would mind running home and taking my daughter to camp so she would not be late. Then I would deal with the non-running van. While waiting for him to get back to the house to pick my daughter up I found a battery charger in his garage. I was hooking the battery charger up to the van battery, which was tucked into a corner of the engine compartment where it was hard to reach. As I carefully reached past the one terminal of the battery to connect the charger to the hard to reach rear terminal I was thinking to myself “don’t let you arm touch both terminals at the same time.” I was worried that the van not starting was not the battery but the starter and I didn’t want to short the battery with my arm. So just as I get my arm twisted back in on top of the battery, the phone which was in my front pocket, and set on vibrate – rings. Or rather, starts vibrating. This is the exact sensation that I was trying to avoid by concentrating on not touching both terminals of that battery at the same time. I dropped both connectors of the battery charger and jumped back away from the van, banging my knuckles on the edge of the engine compartment, all the while verifying for my teenage daughter that her old man is very familiar with many words that she hears other kids use at school. It wasn’t until the phone rang (?) a second time that I figured out what was going on.

The worst part of this experience was that the call was from my friend who was only three blocks away. He wanted to tell me that he was bring his van home and would leave it with me so that I could use it until I got ours running again. This was a very kind, generous thing for his family to do. But did he really have to call me and tell me that, just 60 seconds before arriving there in person?

My experiences with a cell phone that week helped cement my opinions of cell phones that I had formed while watching my daughter’s volleyball teammates and their cell phones over the last year. I do not want to carry around anything in my pocket that is going to create a psychological need to play with it. I have enough troubles with my addictions to television, the internet, volleyball, books, candy, pizza and soda pop. I don’t need another obsession right now.

That is what I see many people’s cell phones as – an obsession. One volleyball player on the high school team at every water or rest break during practices rushes to the sidelines and grabs her water bottle in one hand and her cell phone with the other. She opens the phone, looks at it, the closes it and sets it back down again. The other day when she did this she glanced my way as she laid the phone down and I guess my rolling eyes and shaking head led her to think I was disapproving of her habit. So she told me “I’m just checking the time.” I kept my face and voice as bland as possible and replied by pointing at the large clock on the wall and saying “6:45.”

Several other players on the team can’t get through a practice without text messaging someone. I have never been able to figure out what is so important that it couldn’t wait until practice is over. Don’t even get me started on the whole text messaging thing. It’s a telephone people – you are supposed to talk over them.

Last season there was actually one player on the club team who took her phone back onto the court with her so she could finish her text message as the practice commenced. Her coach was not amused.

I watch so many cell phone users who seem completely incapable of living their lives without the phone in their hands or fastened to their ear. Count me out. I prefer to remain unfettered, for now. Maybe some day when the technology arrives that allows the earpiece to be installed directly into my inner ear, the mouth piece directly into my vocal cords, and the phone book integrated into the heads up display that is integrated into my corneal implants that automatically adjusts my vision so that I can see clearly both close up and far away. Then I only have to go into the doctor once a year to get fresh batteries shoved up my……maybe I’m not quite ready for that after all.


Unknown said...

I work in Trona at SVM. Searles Valley has no cell service, something that shocks people when I tell them. I check my cell for messages once a day when I get home from work. I originally got the thing when I was travelling nationwide for work. I only keep it now because my contract isn't up for another 15 months.

David said...

When I took my volleyball team over to Trona for our end of the season tournament last November I enjoyed watching everyone as they discovered that once you drive over that first hill outside of Ridgecrest you lose sight of Ridgecrest and your cell service.

For at least one day I was just like everyone else in town.

But it was still funny watching some of those middle school girls who kept checking their cell phones after each match. Like the expected to suddenly get service when they hadn't had it all day.

Even better is watching some of the new young engineers on base who are issued cell phones instead of land lines when they come to work. Then we take them over the hill to Salt Wells and their cell phones don't work anymore.

It's amazing that people still think that those things will work anywhere they can get to. My dear wife wasn't able to get signal the other day at Pizza Hut, and that is right in the middle of town.