Friday, August 24, 2012

The New Ball and Chain.

I am the odd man of the few people on this continent, I believe, who does not prize her cell phone seemingly above most other things.  Seriously, wherever I walk, wherever I drive, wherever I shop, no matter what I do and where I go, people seem addicted to the technology they carry in their pockets or purses or on their hips.

A week or two ago, while I was in a restaurant with the kids, I noticed a couple sitting at a near-by table.  I was close enough to hear bits of their conversation and it seemed as if they were having an argument.  Not long after they sat down, the woman's phone rang and she answered, cutting her partner off mid-sentence.  He didn't seem to mind - heck, he seemed so accustomed to the intrusion that he barely seemed to notice.  She was talking and laughing on the phone with whoever was on the other end and the second she ended the call, her tone changed back to disgruntled and annoyed as she resumed conversation with her partner.  Over the next thirty or forty minutes, she took no less than four calls, and sent a number of texts.  Her partner simply sat there waiting each time.

That experience reminded me of an experience of my own about a year ago when I was that guy sitting at a table with a woman who continued to take phone calls while she and I were having lunch together.  I, too, sat by passively and waited (and waited), feeling less and less valued as our face time passed us by.  Our conversation were fragments strewn between calls and texts and prefaced by "now, where were we."  I'm sure my good-byes were tight-lipped because I was terribly annoyed and more than a little insecure by the time we parted ways.

What is that??  These instances do not even constitute an unusual occurrence anymore.

I hate it.  As much as I love technology and continually reap its benefits, I also resent its constant presence and intrusion into our lives.  Phones seem to be a classic example of this intrusion.  They seem to have taken over relationship management.

Why do we assume that people should be available to us at any given moment of the day?  Explain to me how instant access is always a good thing.

My experience last year resulted in my making a decision.  Quite simply, I decided that I did not want technology to take over my life in that way.  My cell phone became a tool for emergencies (and thankfully I've not had that emergency yet), occasionally for home message retrieval, and even more occasionally for some random call that I felt it necessary to make.  You may well think that I live in the dark ages for taking this position, and that's ok.  I consciously decided that my phone would not be used for the purpose of having instant access to everything/everyone, or for others to have instant access to me.

It took some getting used to because I was the woman who used to chat on the phone much of the time I was on the road - using my 'down' time to 'be productive.'

At home now, on my land line, I don't answer the phone during h/school hours; I don't answer the phone during meal times; and if I'm involved in conversation with one of my kids, I let the machine pick it up.

I know this bothers some people in my life, people who are accustomed to the instant availability that technology offers and who offer it to and expect it from the people in their lives.  My own siblings don't like that they can't always access me immediately by phone, though they're also both reluctant to leave messages for some inexplicable reason.  I get that my decision is annoying for some and I have become much better over the past year at promptly returning phone messages that are left for me.  But I refuse to kowtow, as yet, to the societal pressure that assumes that whoever is on the other end of the line is more important than the person I'm face-to-face with.

I'm not anti cell phone.  Far from it.

I have one and I occasionally use it.  A few months back, when I had to replace my phone, I eyed lovingly those beautiful iphones that have been tempting me.  I ended up not purchasing one, in part because they are ridiculously expensive, in part because I don't need so many options when I'm using my phone for such narrow purposes, and in large part because I knew that the awesomeness of one of those babies would challenge my decisions and thrust me right into the sphere of cell phone world domination.

I love that Geoff has a car phone because when he's on his long drive home I'm often getting dinner started and so we regularly have a chance to catch up on our days for five or even ten minutes.  That's also the primary way I get to talk with my brother, when he calls from the road.

Though it doesn't impact me on a day-to-day basis, I also love that there are countries in the world whose rural communities have been transformed by use of cell phone technology, which provides access that simply wasn't available before.  I was amazed in Ethiopia, for example, even in remote communities, by how many people carried cell phones; and I some time ago watched an online documentary about the amazing transformations that have taken place in other African countries where, for example, men and women are able to negotiate/barter/buy/sell their wares/livestock via access to this technology.  Amazing.

I also get that my strategy is not for everyone, and that everyone needs to decide what works for them for personal and professional reasons.  My use of a phone would surely change during working hours if I were employed outside the home.  I'm not judging anyone else here; this is about the change I made in my life and how it's worked for me.

It has worked well for me.  I've had a year to evaluate how my strategy is working and, on the balance of probabilities, I'm good with it.  Really good with it, actually.  It might sound silly to hear this, but my life seems a little more peaceful and somewhat less frantic having the phone turned off.  For this Mom, and in this season of life, it's working.


  1. Hi Ruth,

    I'm with you on this one. I appreciate cell phones as well, and do have one (somewhere- it's lost again), but I almost never use it. I have my cell more for emergencies- although as it is rarely charged, I'm not sure how much help it would be- this drives my husband nuts!!! I love being able to get ahold of my husband whenever I wish, and like you, we talk alot on his drive home and touch base throughout the day which is wonderful, I just don't see the need to have to make phone calls instantly.
    I often fail to answer our home phone as well, as I figure that is why I have an answering machine- so that I can call people back when it is convenient. We almost never answer the phone during mealtimes, and rarely when busy with the kids, or when company is over. I feel little pressure to return phone calls unless a message is left (funny how many hang-ups we get when I am not instantly availble. Thanks to call display, which I LOVE- I still know who called, I just may or may not call back :P) Maybe I'm annoying for being hard to get a hold of, but it works for me!

  2. Sounds like our approach is very similar, and for similar reasons...nice to hear I'm not alone on the planet!


  3. I thought I was nearly the only one left! :) I intentionally don't have a cell phone, but not sure how much longer I'll be able keep it this way. Life is so LOUD-it's one way that I've been able to be intentional and keep some of the noise out and focus better on my priorities.

  4. Wow, I'm starting to feel a little less like I'm the odd man out. Thanks Sharon! Yeah, it's hard to explain, but having moved from regular to very occasional cell phone use, I'd have to say that it DOES help keep out some of the noise of life. Well said!


  5. Hi Ruth, you're definitely not the odd man out. I got an iPhone last November and then quickly gave it to my husband in December. I felt completely ridiculous with it - something to play when when I was bored then feel badly about the time I wasted. I absolutely hated the thing. I then went cell phone free for six months and loved it. I would be on long drives when I would realize that no one could reach me and I felt so free! How silly is that? That's how people always lived until the last 10 years! What have we done to ourselves?? In June I dug out my very old and basic phone, put a few minutes on it, and I'm pleased to say I've only used it two or three times to text my husband.

    I also don't believe in answering my home phone just because it rings. Leave me a message (99% of the time I want a few minutes to ponder what people are asking of me anyway) and I'll get back to you. Probably.

    Cheers Ruth! Great topic! You seem to have hit a common nerve with people...


    *Still sending you anonymous comments because I still don't blog! I'm not on Facebook either! Eek! What can I say, I'd rather read a book - but I know you get that. ;)

  6. Ha ha Jill - you made me laugh when you said you'd rather read a book than blog/facebook!!

    Thanks for posting your common thoughts!


  7. I hate the fact that the person I am face to face with thinks I am less important than whoever calls. I hate listening to complete stranger's conversations and will often chime in just to annoy them. I hate the whole idea that we must be "available" to EVERYONE 24/7. The only time I remember that I have a cell phone is when I take a car trip and then have to use a car charger because otherwise it is never charged. Do I sound like an old fogey or what?? :)

  8. Hey Ruth,
    You are definitely not the odd one out! I am the exact same way..even at work where I am expected to have one. Who needs to be instantly available all of the time? We are just indulging the instant gratification monster. Not sure if you are at this stage yet, but I also learned the hard way that IPODS dramatically affect your kids and I regret that my two oldest have one.

    One another note, if you decide to go to the trial, I live 1 hour away,so you could have a place to stay!

  9. Thanks guys - guess there are a bunch of us old fogies around after all. Good to know!

    And Tracey, thanks for the offer of having a place to stay - how sweet! You are the third person to offer since the little note on my post - I'm rather blown away!!