I remember it pretty clearly. I came home to find the red light on the answering machine ominously blinking away, and checked to see how many messages there were for me (eight, as I recall). They were from a family member, and the gist of the first message was that this person needed to talk to me right now. The second message was a repeat of the first, mostly. The third through eighth were hit-and-runs of “where are you?” I called them back to stop the insanity and was immediately pounced upon with the statement, “You’re getting a cell phone this weekend. You are totally getting a cell phone this weekend. I’m fed up of waiting for you to return to planet Earth from your joyriding.”
When we finally got down to the question at issue, this person already knew the answer. I was just the superfluous bouncing-off guy; you know, the one people like to hit with rhetorical questions for the sake of hearing them out in the open. It’s not altogether a bad idea. You don’t know how many statements sound perfectly reasonable in one’s mind until they escape into the wind and return sounding ridiculous. I’ve been accused of such on several occasions. The salient point is that what was an apparent emergency was nothing of the kind and, thus, has no effect on my decision to not own a cell phone.
I know what you’re thinking and, no, I’m not a Luddite. I’m not a Cranky Frank, waiting at a green light while Little Miss Motorola chats away with a friend on her phone. I’m not inherently anti-social, so far as I know. I just enjoy those few moments in life when my time is my own and cell phones, seemingly, are nothing but tools for taking that away.
Other people have looked at me like I’m insane for not jumping on the bandwagon, with one instance being particularly memorable. My friend was a veritable salesman, informing me how his phone is his camera, his music player, his organizer, his everything, and how he simply could not live without it anymore. That’s when I mentioned my whole “time is my own” defense, asking him if he had made a single plan in the last six months that hadn’t been disrupted by a phone call. Going out? Could you pick up something at the store, at the restaurant, at the library? Could you pick up so and so from school, work, out-of-town, out-of-state, out of money, out of gas, out of luck? I said how I never have that situation because people know when I’m out, I’m incommunicado. For a moment, for a brief, starry-eyed moment, he understood. He glazed over with what it was like to be “free”.
Then he came back from reverie to define it not as “freedom” but as “irresponsibility.” I disagree. I feel I’m very responsible. I take on an awful lot in my life and do so willingly. That’s responsibility. To be the community herky-jerk, tossed around by the whims of others and the bars it takes to broadcast those whims? Now that’s irresponsible. Back during the dark ages, when I was assistant manager of a department store, I constantly had to make sure other employees weren’t on their phones during work hours. One employee was dragging her heels at her register while her phone friend gave her play-by-play from that day’s Maury Povich Show.
Incidentally, Playa #3056 was not the father.
Another frequently complained of a severe need to use the bathroom and, instead of relieving herself, would ditch into the lunchroom to make calls. I found that one out by accident, stepping in while she was unaware and her phone conversation immediately morphed from tonight’s pub crawling plans to something out of the book of Revelations. A third frequent offender kept constant track of his girlfriend, calling her as often as possible, ducking into the shoe aisles, crawling under shirt fixtures and slipping into fire exit stairwells. The last option never worked well — no signal in there! It never stopped people from trying. All of that is to say that emergencies seldom came over the cell phones. If they did come, they came over the store’s land line. Why? To reinforce the validity of the call to whomever picked up, usually a manager. There isn’t an adult alive who hasn’t overheard at least one conversation on those marvelous inventions that wasn’t total crap. Inane conversations happen on land lines too, I know, but that doesn’t affect me personally and thus, I’m fine with that.
I’ve found in recent months that I’m not alone, and a lot of the dissenters are phone owners themselves. They also remember those days of not being bugged wherever they are, of plans that flowed in linear, uninterrupted patterns, of car trips that ended exactly where they were intended to end, but for them it is too late. “It’s my only phone,” they say. “Once you’ve given out your number, you’re stuck.” Believe me, I do sympathize. You’re reading this article through the power of technology, not the printed page. You can communicate with me the same way and not need a stamp. Our world runs on pure information, hustled, sold and swiped on beams of light that can crosshatch the world in seconds. When it happens, we know. The presses stopped a long time ago, they’re only now receiving the telegram. We romanticize the New York Times, The Daily News and the mercury ink smudges now. We long for the days of the well-articulated love letter, the tear-stained hate mail and all the correspondence in between, but can we really ever go back there?
Probably not. Just as I probably will not be able to fend off hand-held, cellular servitude for very long. It’s just how it is now, starry eyes notwithstanding. I just want a couple more years of freedom before I succumb. That’s all I ask.
Playa #5472. You are not the father.