When my cell phone got lost, I did what I usually do when I’m supposed to do something logistical: nothing. But I had a valid explanation this time.
This was an experiment. I walked into the Verizon store to cancel my plan. The Verizon guy said I was due for a free upgrade. I looked around at the razor thin miracles that could get me found when I got lost and let me work from anywhere so I wouldn’t have to sit in the office… No! “Thanks, but I don’t want a phone at all.” Was that a look of disdain? “It’s for environmental reasons,” I offered. It annoyed me that I felt sheepish. We ended up compromising. I suspended my plan for three months. How would my life change? Would I find peace in the cessation of chatter? Would the world leave me behind, as one friend warned me? (That sounded glorious. I’ll be here reading Proust, you go ahead without me.) The experiment had already turned up a cell phone-less role model: Robin Rose Bennett, the green witch featured in our last issue, finds that when she really needs a phone, asking people for help creates community. “Really, when I first learned years ago that birds were killing themselves flying into cell towers, that was enough for me,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I am also less scattered and more present because of this.” Here’s a sampling of what happened over two months and 20 phoneless days; first, the bad news. Logistics, never my strong suit, got more stressful. Scheduling a midwife consultation from your office before your co-workers know you’re pregnant is closer to a game of phone hide-and-seek than phone tag. I outsourced the task to husband Joe. The day of our consultation was also February’s only snowstorm. Cars were careening into ditches; we were an hour late. Joe had forgotten his phone so we couldn’t alert the midwives. I was convinced that – with all the phone runaround and then this – the midwives would reject us out of hand. I refused to speak to Joe for having miscalculated travel time. I jumped out of the car before we’d parked and ran/skidded inside. The midwife was totally chill; schedules were all screwed up, and the later appointment had gone in before me. I got lonely. Phonelessness can make solitary moments into group activity (I’m calling from so-and-so’s girlfriend’s phone; she has unlimited minutes), but it can also feel like – well, the world has left you behind. I missed, for instance, an invitation to my friend’s 30th that went out via text. Such invites probably didn’t return to sender, giving the impression that I didn’t give a crap. And sometimes you just need to talk to your mom. The urge doesn’t strike me often, but when it does, I find there is no substitute for maternal sympathy but to take up the slack by feeling inordinately sorry for myself. I had more reading time. On the train, eating lunch, in the bathtub, I read books I’d been meaning to read and books I’d found in an abandoned pile. I haven’t read like that since I was a kid, where the plot takes up as much brain space as your “real” life, and finishing a book feels like a break-up, you miss the characters so. I was present, here and now. With fewer demands on my attention, I had more to bestow on what was in front of me, like the guy who makes my sandwich. Not until I was phoneless did I quiz him: could he make it from memory? Almost, but wrong bread. Now he can. Spontaneity ruled. I went to Hawaii for an ultimate Frisbee tournament. Phoneless and planless, I hung out with the first ultimate players I happened to encounter for three days before the tournament. We rented mopeds, camped on the beach, and generally reenacted Easy Rider, Hawaii style. I rejoined the grid not so much because people were getting annoyed at having to go through Joe to reach me, or even because I didn’t find out that a relative was in the hospital until days later. If it had been an real emergency, well... they could have gotten me through Joe. I reactivated because someone close to me went through a hard breakup and I wanted to be reachable for him. I’m using an old discarded phone, so at least I’m not contributing to the landfill. The verdict is that cell phone-free living is definitely doable. As for its net effect on quality of life? After all that, I feel completely unqualified to call it better or worse. First trimester turbulence threw too many variables into the experiment. I’ll miss the peace, but at this moment, just keeping me fed is a multi-person job that requires fine-tuned coordination. I’ll be keeping my phone — on vibrate.