“The cell phone has become the adult's transitional object, replacing the toddler's teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.” Margaret Heffernan
“People have no memory of phone numbers or directions now because of the cell phone - their address book and their maps are all in a cell phone.” Gordon Bell
I got a new cell phone and I upgraded. That is a normal occurrence for most people, and it is not a big deal; I have done it several times before. This time, though there were complications that I neither expected or had experienced before, and they led me to some interesting realizations. These realizations have been very interesting to me and have helped me look at my relationship with a bit of technology in a deeper way.
The first problem with the process of upgrading was a technical one. The SIM card my carrier sent me turned out to be defective, but we didn’t discover that until I had spent the better part of two hours talking with a tech person trying to activate the new phone, taking a trip to STAPLES to see if their tech people could help, and being back on the phone again with another techie from my carrier. My carrier finally agreed to send me a new SIM card. The catch was that it was going to be delivered in five days, when I would be in Ohio birding. So I would have to wait even longer before I could have my new cell. Oh well-disappointing, but no problem; I still had my old model to use.
Except that I didn’t have my old model to use. Somehow in trying to activate the new phone my old account stopped working. So I again had to call my carrier. We tried everything to get my account up, but for some reason my account from the old phone wasn’t working. Then the phone itself stopped connecting with the carrier. We tried a variety of things; taking out and putting back in the SIM card; going through what the ICIS number was and trying to synch with the carrier, turning off the phone, leaving it alone for half an hour and then trying to restart it. Nothing worked. And then the final indignity: the phone just died. Expired. Passed on. Bit the dust. Out of here. Gone. I was suddenly cell phoneless for the first time in some 20 years.
That meant I was to spend over week without a cellphone, some of it while I was away in Ohio. When I first started using the computer I quickly realized how dependent I was becoming on that technology. Many of my contact with friends, family, clubs, booking agents and more became e-mail contacts and not phone calls and actual conversations. I have not hand written a letter in ages aside from birthday, sympathy and other greeting cards. And I rarely receive them. My school before I retired had become very computer centered-every student had and was encouraged to use a device of some kind-laptop, tablet, etc..I knew there were some social losses connected with that, and I think I have made my peace with that. It was simply the way of the world I was in, and I needed to get along. But when I got a cell phone (and later a smart phone), I was determined I was not going to be become overly dependent on it. I would not be one of those people having loud conversations on my phone in a restaurant or on a bus, constantly looking at a screen rather than around me and at the sky on mornings at the train station, or sitting with someone in a coffeeshop and spending more time texting and checking e-mail than paying attention to my companion. I did not go to those extremes, but I realize now that I had only partially limited my ties-and my dependency-on the phone. Unconsciously I gave over a lot of things that I used to do over to my device, and over the next twelve days I came to realize that very quickly and very suddenly.
Before the days of cell phones I knew what time of day it was within 5 minutes-I just knew it. I realized after a couple of days without the phone, though, that I had lost that ability-I gave it away to my phone. I also used to know by heart the schedules for the Chestnut Hill West rail line, the general times for H, 23, and L buses in the morning and in the evening, and the addresses and phone numbers of family members and close friends. I just knew this. But just like the people in the Gordon Bell quote above, I had forgotten most of that because I put them on my phone or used apps. I now had to try to recall those things, and it panicked me for a day or two. I did eventually recall most of the public transit schedules; the info had been dormant, but it was still there. That was a relief. But I still do not remember most of my family’s numbers, and addresses, and that disappoints me.
There were other realizations I had as well. Some were physical ones. I usually carried my cell in my front left pants pocket. That side of my body now felt strange-unusual. No phone. It took me days to get used to not feeling it in my pocket. I would often check my e-mail and text when I was in the bathroom, and I found myself for several days, unconsciously reaching for the phone that wasn’t there when I was in the john. I had not been aware of how much that was now a part of what I did automatically. When I was on the bus or train I realized I was now actually reading more of a book-I wasn’t interrupting the reading to respond to a text or a call. And when I was in Ohio, I felt lighter-less pressured. Part of that was due to the birding, of course. But part of it also had to do with not having a cell phone. The band, my family and a few close friends have my landline number, and if someone really wanted to talk with me they had to call my landline, leave a message and wait for me to get back to them. I would call in to my home once in the morning and once in the evening. If you left a message for me, I got back to you that within 24 hours. And no catastrophe happened. Another good thing was that there were no texts while I was phoneless in Oho; none! I found it a great freedom to not be “on call” all the time or feeling that I had to get back to someone right away. I could spend more time being in the moment of where I was. That was so refreshing;-I was with myself where I was..
I do have my new cell phone as of a few weeks ago and it is working. I am glad to have it; I have sent some texts, checked my e-mail a few times, and learned how to synch my computer calendar with my phone calendar. I have a transit app, Google maps for directions, a calendar, and a search engine on it. And I also have a new commitment to be more aware of how I allow the phone to be a part of my life-what I give over to it and what I don’t. There have been some changes, and I think they are changes for the better. I am not necessarily responding immediately to a text, call or e-mail. Yes, if it is expected or important I do. But the vast majority of calls, texts and e-mails are really not so important that they need an immediate response. Most things can wait until I have finished my book, finished hiking, finished eating or whatever it is I am up to when the contact comes in. From the experience of those 12 days I know that I do not have to give huge chunks of myself over to my device. It can respond to me rather than the other way around. I do not have to give it control,and that gives me relief and peace. I can spend more time with myself. And that is a good thing.
(ps: If I did have your phone number or if you had mine, I need you to please send me an e-mail with your number. I was not able to recover the contacts that were on my lately expired cell phone. so I need the numbers again. This time I will put them in my computer as well as on my phone. As my mother used to say, “Better to have done it and not needed to than to not have done it and needed to.” Thanks)