Cell Phone-Free

After not having a cell phone for over a year I feel like I have gained a perspective that is unique in this age where one is always connected. Allow me to set the scene; think back to a time when people had to be concise in their communication to meet up with one another. When you would wait at home for a phone call. When the phone was used for talking rather than browsing your choice of social network or pr catching up on the latest funny cat videos. The first few months of not having a cell phone left me feeling lost in the world. This is my commentary of how not having a cell phone and how it has changed my life for the better.

Lost is a relative sense of  not being in the right place based on those around you. In that moment when someone feels awkward and pulls out their mobile devices to escape from the reality of their surroundings, I would find myself relishing in the moment by holding my head up high and actively trying to engage my surroundings. Some places are better for this. The ideal places were where you could become engrossed in a situation, like a classroom or waiting in line at the store. Disaster strikes when it is in a social setting; such as a bar when your friend goes out for a smoke and you are sitting alone hoping someone will come and talk to you as to avoid looking like the loser sitting all by yourself watching sports on the television. As a by product of not having a phone to escape into I have begun starting conversations with random people. These chance encounters have increased my social abilities and also caused me to see people on a deeper level. I usually start with a normal and subtle comment, like “Great weather for (activity that the individual is presently engaged in)!” Followed by an intrepid sense of curiosity with, “I couldn’t help but wonder,…” and try and find something that is appropriately curious. And amazing enough a conversation ensues.

Of course there are times when not having a cell phone when life falls apart quickly. The most disastrous, in terms of not knowing what to do, came when I got locked out of the apartment by my boyfriend at the time. I did not have my laptop or tablet with me, which caused me to quickly panic. My first thoughts were how to get on to the internet to get a hold of my friend to pick up my spare keys. At first I figured I would just drive to my friends house to see if she was home. Of course she wasn’t home. Perhaps the library? I quickly shot down that idea, as I was looking rough with no shower after working out and besides I had never been there before so who knows what requirements I would have to fulfill for just a smidgen of internets. Finally I sat down and accepted the reality of the situation and thought about how people used to solve this problem before cellphones. Then it popped into my head, “A PAYPHONE!” Of course they are rare and becoming even rarer, but I remembered seeing a gentleman on one at the local gas station. And with the insertion of 50 cents my problem was solved. I felt silly for having to jump through so many mental hoops just to solve such a simple problem.

Meeting up with people is difficult with no cell phone, if not nearly impossible in some situations. From the ability that google maps gives us to share our locations effortlessly to the call and do you see me yet trick, I learned the value in pre-planning meeting locations. The desire to call and alert the waiting party while stuck in traffic becomes an exercise in futility where you must finally release the inner urge to call; accepting your punctual failure.

In terms of solutions, Google Voice has been my saving grace. With a reliable internet connection calls can be placed to anyone in the United States for free. With an internet connection, being the key feature here. While having access to the internet at my fingertips at home, I felt like I was thrown into an ocean and forced to find islands of WiFi when out and about and needing internet. McDonalds has free internet and is the easiest to find due to it’s dominance in the fast food arena and iconic golden arches. It blows my mind that in 2012 people treat their internet like it is some rare commodity that should be hoarded.

As far as how not having a phone has changed me: it made me appreciate access to data, the internet, and the small things in life. I grew to be very concise in where and when I would be meeting someone, which has allowed me to overcome my tardiness. I grew to love the world around me and embrace living in the moment; becoming the type of person who greets strangers with confidence and a cool demeanor. I look down upon people who bury their noses in their phones the way a former smoker or fat person would look down upon their past peers. I feel like in a way I got over the novelty of having such a piece of technology integrated into my life.My levels of interacting with the world are ever increasing as I challenge myself to interact with people through a combination of rejection therapy and the simple act of engaging in casual dialogue.

The cell phone is burdensome due to how effective it is at disrupting workflow. Getting a text message starts out as a small vibration which is sometimes accompanied by a tone; these alerts are able to attract your attention on some sort of primitive level akin to a baby crying. And once you are indoctrinated to this habit it becomes invasive throughout your life. Because when that text message comes in your brain becomes preoccupied with the other party’s message and starts a thread that will unravel even the most carefully crafted trains of thought. So you in essence you are worshiping this device that enables people to alienate themselves in public.

At the top of my list is the embarrassment that comes with not having a cell phone, which is an entirely false fear that stems from the bandwagon fallacy. While it is true that 87% of Americans having cell phones, life is more exciting without one and it forces your brain to not be lazy and hustle its way to a solution.  The sole problem that has a merit is if there was an emergency, how would I go about calling 911. It is safe to say that with 87% of Americans having a cell phone, there would be a good chance that someone else would be willing to lend assistance. And perhaps the most superficial inconvenience is when coming home at 2am and not being able to know where the nearest Taco Bell is in order to acquire that fourth meal horribleness. And finally, the worst part of not having a cell phone is trying to meetup with someone.

As for solutions, there are a menagerie of answers. The default one being Google Voice as a cloud-based phone provider, but mostly it is about changing your state of mind and learning to adjust your behaviors to make the situation beneficial to all parties involved. When meeting someone at a set time, make sure to tell them that you may be late ahead of time. This is to ensure that even if traffic or some other variable outside of your control prevents you from showing up on time, the person you are meeting will not start blowing up your Google Voice number wondering where you are right before they abandon trying to meet up with you. This tip is more for the folks who carry an internet-only mobile device: pick a location that has internet. This way if the other party is late or lost you will be able to receive their messages. Google Voice is capable of functioning on a plethora of platforms. For those who do not wish to talk over the computer, there is a product called the OBI-100 which is a device that allows google voice to be used with a regular telephone.

What started out as an experiment has turned into a beneficial lifestyle change. I am grateful for being able to break my mobile addiction and I challenge anyone who believes that they could not live without a cell phone to try doing so by using the above solutions. I look forward to growing as a person and seeing how my lack of having a cell-phone affects me relative to my cell toting peers.

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