You can view it as a personality quirk, a protest against the establishment, an annoying denial of the era we live in, or a symptom of insanity, but I don’t own–and have never owned–a cell phone.
This fact alone puts me in a distinct category, especially considering my age. Most holdouts from the mobile-toting trend have several decades more life experience than me. As a millennial (technically–but I resent my generation, so that redeems everything), choosing not to waste my time and money on a cellular device is a social statement as much as it is an eccentricity that inconveniences my friends and family members alike.
As such, I thought it was time that I articulate exactly why I haven’t given in to the “necessity” of cell phone ownership.
Before I justify what many consider an untenable position, let me begin by addressing a few of the common questions that people usually ask once they have recovered from the shock and dismay of learning the truth.
Q: How do you navigate?
A: If I’m travelling alone, I look up where I’m going (online–I’m not a caveman), memorize or write it down, and then follow those directions to my destination. Yes, it requires use of my brain, but failing that, there used to be things called maps, remember?
Q: What do you do in case of emergency?
A: Fair point. Luckily I haven’t had any, but previous generations relied on good Samaritans to not screw them over. Cars broke down for a solid century before cell phones became commonplace. I like wearing ties and fedoras, so I look inherently trustworthy.
Q: How do you contact your friends?
A: Mostly through Facebook Messenger. I have to make some concessions. I got a Facebook account because one of my friends made it for me and gave me the password. Otherwise, I’d still be using smoke signals. In terms of social plans, I am the old fashioned sort–date, time, location, show up.
Q: What do you do if you’re running late?
A: I’m not. I’m habitually early for everything, so if I’m delayed, I’m just on time.
Q: How does your wife know where you are?
A: I’m probably the most routine-oriented (read: predictable and boring) person you’ll ever meet. Give her a day of the week and a time, and my wife can name exactly where I would be.
A: Hold onto your fedora.
Ludditism is Genetic
I fall into the category of a Luddite, someone who doesn’t believe in adopting the usage of newfangled technology, though I acknowledge its utility. However, I have to admit that some of my reluctance was influenced by my upbringing.
One of the first disputes I remember my parents having was about whether our rotary phone needed to be upgraded or not. The cottage where I’m writing this from is still equipped with a party line and a rotary phone, which is a hilarious source of entertainment when friends visit and have to figure out how to use it.
My mom briefly had a pay-as-you-go cell for “just in case” purposes, but otherwise none of my grandparents or parents ever had one. We got a home computer when it was needed for school assignments. We used to rent a VCR on special occasions like birthdays so we could watch a movie at home.
In short, technology was never a major part of our lifestyle. It was mostly associated with work or school–intrusive things that restricted the time we spent actually living.
That has changed, to a degree. Netflix and blue rays are part of family R&R (aside from the cottage, which is still a screen-free zone, i.e. a real vacation), but growing up with limits on how technology was used, and learning that happiness wasn’t associated with the newest device, was important in establishing my attitude towards it today.
Efficiency is not Quality
I enjoy meaningful conversation and discussion. It doesn’t need to be on a profound topic, or an attempt to unravel the mysteries of life, but I enjoy talking to intelligent and insightful people who challenge my assumptions. This can be done through text (of course–I’m a writer), but it is more personal and more intimate done face-to-face.
In our busy lifestyle, we text because we think it saves time, but I find it often leads to deeper miscommunication, and then the need to clarify and contextualize more. Twenty minutes of messages can usually be replaced by two minutes of actual conversation, with the result being more stimulation and greater transparency.
Interestingly as well, at the risk of descending into the anarchy of footnotes and internet scholarship, rates of depression, anxiety, and ADHD have spiked in the years since smart phone and social media use became ubiquitous. Correlation does not prove causation; however, based on this trend, I think it is difficult to argue that these devices are improving our connections to fellow human beings.
Do One Thing At A Time
Human beings suck at “multitasking” (a misnomer: we actually “task-switch”). It’s just a question of how much we want to suck at it.
Growing up in martial arts had a profound influence on who I’ve become as an adult, influencing my work ethic and personal philosophy in myriad ways. At the start of every class, the practice of zazen (sitting meditation) is supposed to allow a practitioner to clear away all sense of distraction, disregard regret, procrastination, and anxiety, and stay in the moment, your entire being consumed only with the task at hand for the duration of training.
It is an aspiration that I routinely fail at–but worth pursuing nonetheless. This attempt also influences all my endeavours: I try to focus on doing one thing to the best of my ability, before moving to the next. This includes moments with people, too. I try not to split my concentration, to be grounded and attentive, even if we’re just chatting about the weather.
I’m far from perfect. My brain is certainly consumed by the future, the past, and what might be unfolding elsewhere just like anyone. However, not having a cell phone puts me miles ahead of where I would be with the distraction-machine in my hand.
Funny enough, I don’t really mind when my friends or family members check their phones or text while I’m around–providing it’s a relatively brief intrusion. Social norms are changing, of course, but it is generally still held to be rude to use your phone when interacting with a stranger or acquaintance, so when someone is comfortable doing this in my presence, it is a symptom of closeness. I take it as a compliment.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the ironic corollary to this: we are increasingly growing comfortable neglecting the people we claim to have the deepest and most meaningful connections to.
Teach People How to Treat You
If you are one of those people who are always connected, your social circle will learn quickly to expect an immediate response when they contact you. Mine has learned the opposite: I’ll get around to it, but when I’m free. It’s not an insult, it’s a fact–I’m doing something else, and I’ll respond when I have the ability to give you my undivided attention.
Personally, I don’t like the notion of being at the beck and call of anyone who has my phone number. I like having the luxury of prioritizing my communication, with the people physically in the room with me being number one.
For the people who I’ve maintained close relationships with, I’m sure this is comparably difficult–and yes, I have purposely made it that way. However, it is not a test of anyone’s willingness to accommodate an unusual quirk, nor a way of defining the criteria for me to reciprocate a friendship. It is simply a way of ensuring that my lifestyle aligns with my values.
A cell phone is merely a tool, and like any other, it can be used well, badly, or–the most likely for our flawed species–some combination of the two. There may be a time when I have to give in, kicking and screaming, to the world’s expectation that I am constantly connected to the rest of the chaos.
On that day, despite having lost a unique tidbit that separates me from the crowd, I hope at least to be someone who controls the usage of this wonderful mind-numbingly stupid device, rather than having it control me.