23 November 2009

Hanging up.

My finger wavers over the power button, moving closer and closer to turn the device off, but in the end, my cell phone always wins. It never turns off.

I was listening to an interesting NPR commentary this morning from a woman (I didn’t catch her name) saying that she had spent more than $7,000 on a cell phone over the past decade and had never once used it for the sorts of emergency calls (stuck in a ditch, stranded at the airport, etc.) for which they are apparently most useful. The commentary ended with her saying that she was going cold turkey, and shutting the phone off. I wish I had her courage.

I don’t like the thought of being reachable at all times. The simple answer I get to this statement is usually something along the lines of “Well, why don’t you just turn the phone off?” My reply is equally simple: because of voicemail. Even if I shut the phone off, someone could leave a message – a message that I, being the completist that I am, would feel compelled to answer. So, along those lines of thought, shutting the phone off saves me nothing but the ring of the phone. Its obligation is still there. Waiting.

Cell phones have changed us, as this commentary stated. We’ve become ruder, we have shorter attention spans and, perhaps most egregious of all, are more self-centered. I think cell phones are perhaps a prototypical antecedent for why Facebook and Twitter exist. It is communication not for a purpose, but for simple communication’s sake. I don’t really need to tell anyone that I am having a sandwich for lunch, but with modern technology, I can, and, according to media professionals whom I seek to emulate, should. Remember – it’s not what you say, it’s how much you can say it, and in how many platforms.

I don’t want people to be able to reach me at any given time. I don’t want my work to be able to reach me whenever they want. Granted, neither of these things happens very often, let along at odd hours of the night, but they could, and that’s what bothers me. The potential for interruption has become an interruption in itself.

In the end, I think we were all lied to. Cell phones haven’t improved our lives; they’ve simply changed them, in my opinion for the worst. We all buy into the advertising, showing photogenic people talking to their photogenic friends in their photogenic calling circles, and the implication is made that we too could be one of those people – wanted, needed, and reachable for all sorts of fun and excitement. My reality does not jibe with this. If anything, the silence that my cell phone’s lack of activity during its first few days of operation reminded me that nothing had changed, that I was not one of these people – but before, it wasn’t an issue, because there wasn’t a phone not ringing to prove it.

I wish I had this woman’s courage. I wish I had the ability to just chuck this stupid thing in the water where it belongs, and have enough faith in myself and in those who know me that I could still hear something important in a timely manner without this electronic ball and chain. I wish I had the courage to hang up, and really start living in the moment, without the distraction of what might happen when the phone rings, and brings me an electronic stimulus that never fails to make me drop what I am doing in the hopes of some greater reward.

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