A Life on the Techno-Fringe

phone bank

I grew up in a house without a television. When I was a kid, and classmates would learn this tidbit, they would follow up with, “Do you have a phone?”
“Yes, we have a phone. My dad’s a doctor. We have to have a phone,” I would say.
“Then why don’t you have a tv?”
“My mom doesn’t want one,” I’d say.

This is a teensy prologue to the question I often get today: “Why don’t you have a cell phone?”

There’s so much implied in that statement, most of which can be summed by either a) can’t you afford it? or b) what kind of Luddite misanthrope are you?

The other day, a fellow writer I’ve met on Twitter said this:

I responded with:

Mr. Khalifa asked me how I managed to live without one. Which is usually what most people ask. And I’m going to attempt to answer that question.

A couple of years ago I was having this conversation with someone, and they said, “Well, what if something were to happen to J?”
I thought about it, and said, “I’m not a first responder. If something were to happen to her, I hope someone with more training would help her first. I would find out whenever I found out.”

That’s the short answer.

Here’s a longer one. I’m not a spontaneous person. I like making plans. I don’t mind not knowing. I despise the environmental impact. I don’t understand the whole phone contract/plan thing, which just seems like a giant scam. I have a long list of peeves about how people behave when they are using cell phones.

And my girlfriend would remind me to tell you all that I’m not really that cut off. I have had an iPod Touch for the last few years, which allows me to get online whenever there is wi-fi. I’m actually finding free wi-fi is becoming more and more ubiquitous, which is diminishing what minimal desire I might have to get a phone. I can send text messages via google voice if I can get on wi-fi. And trust me, no one ever wants to talk on the phone. Except my mother. And sister.

A couple of weeks ago I made plans to meet up with some friends for tea, and that went off without a hitch. After tea, I planned to meet up with my girlfriend. On the quad at the UW. At peak cherry blossom time. On one of the first warm, sunny days in Seattle. Even though it was packed with people, we did eventually find one another. It would have taken less time if we both had cell phones, but it didn’t end up taking that long in the end.

The only time I ever wish I had a cell phone is when I’m traveling in the country. Trying to connect and meet up with people would be easier if I did have a cell phone. But it’s not impossible to meet up. It’s only the expectation around meeting up that’s changed. Ironically, when I’ve been abroad, if I’d had a phone, it would have been exorbitant to use it. Wi-fi was almost always included in my lodging. Even domestically that’s becoming more common. I was just at delightful set of beach cottages last week that had wi-fi.

Beach dreaming

I’m not holding out or trying not to not have one. I don’t want one. Because when I want something? I just get it. I see how it might reduce a small amount of friction in my life, but for now, the cost just isn’t worth it. I am either in a place where I am available and can connect, or I’m not. I like the structural limit.

But maybe I’ll take Beth Wodzinski’s approach, the next time someone asks me:

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4 thoughts on “A Life on the Techno-Fringe

  1. Frances KR

    Thinking about this. I like my phone pocket computer that also makes calls (although I use it for calls maybe three times a week if that) a lot, but I do not love the vague and nagging guilty sensation that I should always be available to people who try to contact me.

    This isn’t something that happens via phone. It happens via chat or text message. Phone is sort of a last resort if someone has a really time-sensitive question and I’m not answering the other two modes of communication.

    Maybe I will give up the instant communication for a week or two. See what that’s like.

  2. slowbloom Post author

    Yes, Frances, precisely. There’s an expectation of instant and universal availability. For many years, people would use this argument in attempting to convert me to acquiring a cell phone. But in my experience, no one answers their cell phone when I call, nor do they respond very quickly when I text. It’s there for their convenience. I joke that I can be just as unavailable without paying for it.

    Rather than giving up instant communication altogether, consider having times when you are available for it and times when you aren’t (e.g. when you’re out of the house/grocery shopping/at the gym/etc.).

    The point for me is to be aware of when I’m being a slave to the technology/expectations. Would love to hear how it goes for you!

  3. johnnyMtaigne

    I can totally dig this..my wife Beth didn’t like cell phones either..and I was ambivalent until I was assimilated by the dark side! lol. Then was caught in the trap..of needing one! Or thinking that I needed one. And coincidentally it was an iPod that was the gateway drug for me!! Getting hooked on the connectivity! That instant gratification of instant communication! Next thing I know I have an iPhone and I am fondling it nearly 24/7.. But as I examine things, as I am won’t to do nearly as much as check for emails or latest tweets or play a song on YouTube that just popped in my head ( omg I heard ‘3 strange days’ from School of Fish, today!) I see that my family situation needs me to be tightly connected communication wise, and will only increase as my daughter grows in these next couple of years -she is 12yrs old w/special needs, autism. and i have decided she needs to learn to use the phone to keep contact with me or other close fam. as i am away from the house 8hrs + long Story short..my wife died from Breast cancer 2yrs ago and I just went back to full time work. My 2 grown sons 25 & 21 are helping me and btween the the three of us we are making a new reality for us but it takes constant communication..By phone and family dinner meetings 😀 So I applaude your commitment to your beliefs and really do wish I didn’t have to give apple so much of my hard earned resources and I continue to be appalled at the vast amounts of the earths resources and pollution the mfg of cell phones require and produce. So I am in a quandary but remain hopeful that someday I will ween off and ironically it may be returning to an iPod that will do it ! 🙂
    Great post.
    J.

    1. slowbloom Post author

      Hey Johnny,

      Thanks so much for sharing your story and experience. My condolences to you on your wife’s death. If I had children, I think it would be a very different situation. I’m glad you have support and a strong family!

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