The phone rings: it’s my friend checking to see if I can pick her up on the way to a dinner party. I ask her where she is and as she explains, I reach as far as I can across the countertop for a pen. I scribble the address in my trusty notebook I keep in my back pocket. I tell her I’ll be at her place in about 20 minutes, give or take a few. Then I hang up. Literally.
I physically take the handset receiver away from my ear and hang it on the weight-triggered click switch that cuts off my landline’s dial tone.
I take my laptop, Google the address, add better directions to my notes and head outside to my 1989 pick-up truck (whose most recent technological feature is a cassette player) and drive over. If I get lost on the way, I’ll need to ask someone for directions. If she changes her plans, she won’t be able to tell me or cancel at a moment’s notice. If I crash on the way, I won’t be calling 911.
I’m fine with all of this. As you guessed by now, I haven’t had a cellphone for more than 18 months.
I didn’t just cancel cellular service and keep the smartphone for Wi-Fi fun, nor did I downgrade to a flip phone to “simplify”; I opted out entirely. There is no mobile phone in my life, in any form, at all.
Arguably, there should be. I’m a freelance writer and graphic designer with many reasons to have a little computer in my holster, but I don’t miss it. There are a dozen ways to contact me between email and social media. When I check in, it’s on my terms. No one can interrupt my bad singing of Hooked on a Feeling with a text message. It’s as freeing as the first night of a vacation.
“My phone” has become “the phone”. It’s no longer my personal assistant; it has reverted back to being a piece of furniture – like “the fridge” or “the couch”, two other items you also wouldn’t carry around on your butt.
I didn’t get rid of it for some hipster-inspired luddite ideal or because I couldn’t afford it. I cut myself off because my life is better without a cellphone. I’m less distracted and less accessible, two things I didn’t realize were far more important than instantly knowing how many movies Kevin Kline’s been in since 2010 at a moment’s notice. I can’t be bothered unless I choose to be. It makes a woman feel rich.
When friends found out, I was told it was as insane a decision as leaving a rent-controlled apartment. But I was tired of my world existing through a black screen and even more tired of being contacted whenever anyone (or any bot) felt like it. I didn’t need to know every Facebook friends’ birthday or be emailed about a deal from Amazon on paper towels. These once novel complimentary services had turned as grating to my nerves as a little brother chanting “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching YOU!” as he incessantly poked a finger inches in front of my face.
I don’t like being bothered or bossed around. I hated that anyone, for any reason, could interrupt my life, and I could interrupt my life just the same. Even if I turned it off for a break from the conversations, I knew as soon as it powered back on there would be an hour or more of secretary work waiting for me.
I can only speak for myself, but it wasn’t the handy features that were the reason we broke up – it was the addiction. I was constantly checking emails and social media, or playing games. When I found out I could download audiobooks, the earbuds never left my lobes. I was a hard user. I loved every second of it.
I even slept with my phone by my side. It was what I fell asleep watching, and it was the alarm that woke me up. It was never turned off. I’m certain I texted while driving, in dark movie theaters, and out with friends around restaurant tables. It got so bad that I grew uncomfortable with any 30-second span of hands-free idleness. I felt obligated to reply to every Facebook comment, text, tweet and game request.
As an author I wrote it all off as reader interaction, free publicity and important grassroots marketing. These were the justifications of a junkie.
I’ve been clean a year and a half now, and I’m doing fine. I get plenty of work, I don’t miss invitations, and I’m no longer scared of my own thoughts. These are not small victories in a world where constant communication isn’t just a convenient accessory – it’s a second skin.
I got a landline and I got more sleep. I look people in the eye. I eat food instead of photographing it and am not driving half a ton of metal into oncoming traffic while looking down at a tiny screen. My business, social life, and personal safety have not evaporated overnight either. Turns out a basic internet connection and laptop is plenty of connectivity to keep friends informed, weekends fun and trains running on time. And while I might be missing out on being able to call 911 at any moment, it’s worth the sacrifice to me. Alcoholics can clean wounds with 100 proof vodka, but that doesn’t mean they should have it in their back pocket just in case.
I’m glad to be back in the world again. It beats waiting for the notification alert telling me that I exist.
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