Chronicles of a writer abroad

A cell phone hang-up


Hi, all. My long absence (in case it was noticed by any of you) was due to a cold that really knocked me out last week. But I’m up again, and I’m back with a bit of a rant.

This has to do with cell phones. It could get virulent. You’ve been warned: this content may not be suitable for your Siri.

First, a little backstory. Like many other teenagers of the time, I spent most of the ’90s with a phone receiver glued to my ear (not literally, though I might have wished for that at the time, to reduce neck strain). I talked to friends for hours upon hours about everything and nothing. I did my homework on the phone. I listened to music through the phones of my friends. I watched TV on the phone with a friend watching the same show, both of us silent except when we giggled along with the laugh track. Yes, this was a complete and utter waste of telecommunications resources.

Perhaps this is why I no longer care to talk on the phone. After all, I logged more phone conversation-time in the space of a few years than anyone probably should in their entire life.

I like e-mail; it suits me as a person who loves the written word, and I appreciate the opportunity to edit my words before they are transmitted. I understand that some people are uncomfortable with e-mail and feel much more like themselves on the phone, so I try to balance my needs and those of others. But there is a type of e-mail/phone clash that annoys the heck out of me and is, to my mind, completely unnecessary.

The situation might go something like this. A friend and I are planning to meet for coffee. We make this plan over e-mail: I will meet you at such-and-such place at such-and-such time.  I am a reliable person, so my friend has no reason to believe I will not be there when I say I will. Yet, if they happen to send me a confirmation text hours before (“we’re still on, right?”) on my phone and I fail to reply, they might see this as a reason not to show up.

Fair readers, we have come to the heart of the rant. Why must I be sentenced to carrying a phone around with me everywhere I go, vigilantly responding to its every vibration? This makes me feel as though I am a prisoner on parole, or some kind of professional on call. Why is you must not have gotten my text from a few hours ago a fair accusation to lob at someone? When did not being glued to your phone become synonymous with being unreliable? I must have missed something. Do we have a new social contract provided by Verizon Wireless?

I know people love their iPhones, their Androids, their Blackberries, und so weiter. But I have none of these: I own, instead, what is known in Switzerland as a “budget Handy.” It is pre-paid and wonderfully old-fashioned. It does nothing but voice calls and text messages, and I’m not so good at ministering to its need to be charged. Sometimes it’ll languish in my handbag or coat pocket for a couple of days before I’ll bother to check if it’s conscious, battery-wise, or if I’ve missed any calls. (I know, I’m never going to be popular this way. I’m entirely okay with that).

There are a few other reasons that I dislike cell phones. In Canada, when I could understand what people were saying, I often had to listen to incredibly inane conversations during long commutes to school or work. These conversations were as boring as the ones I used to have in the privacy of my home (“Oh…you painted your nails? Purple? Ohh….”), but they were unignorable  to a whole busload of people instead of  just one family (er, sorry about that, guys). I also fear the degeneration of language that is taking place as a result of texting (u no wat i mean?). Finally, cell phone companies are, to my mind, some of the worst corporate offenders out there (me, to Bell last fall: “I’m leaving the country, so I’m gonna need to break my contract.” Bell, to me: “But we expect your revenue. So you still have to pay us.” Me: “Yes, I’m sure you’d be destitute without my revenue, you weasels.”).

Okay, this has gone on long enough. I think it’s clear that I’m taking a stand here. I understand that the arguments I’ve outlined will make me seem like a Luddite or a 99 year-old, or both. But let me say, in closing, that I have found one brilliant use* for my cell phone, which does not depend on its being charged or on a contract. Outside of one of the supermarkets that I frequent, there is commonly some group or other trying to raise money or convert me to their religion or otherwise persuade me to do something. I don’t like to donate money on the street, and I’m not generally in the market for new dogma, so I want to avoid these people. It can be hard to deflect them, though, when I can’t understand what they’re saying in rapid-fire Swiss German. But if I have a cell phone held to my ear, they are magically repelled. I can look directly at these people and even dare to smile without being harassed by them, and that’s beautiful.

*I concede that no-frills cell phones are also useful for situations requiring rescue, grocery-clarification-in-supermarket conversations, and finding people you’re trying to meet in large, crowded places.

I look forward to hearing how wrong I am in the comments. Bring on the dissent!


2 thoughts on “A cell phone hang-up

  1. You will get no argument from me, dear granddaughter, although I probably qualify as either a Luddite or a not-quite-ninety-year-old! We don’t even have a cell phone and haven’t missed it one little bit. As for answering the wretched phone, cell or landline, an answering machine is the best invention yet, in my opinion. I’m smiling as I write this because I know I must be the only person in North America who doesn’t have a cell phone.

  2. Pingback: The Tyranny of the Doorbell | Milchtoast

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