Not so long ago, I mentioned that I didn’t own a cell phone. “But don’t you have, like, a real job?” That’s what people always say. Yes is the answer; full-time employment as an editor and a writer seems real to me, at least.
“Don’t you have kids?” is the next question. Yes again, and the kids are real, too. But for the hour or so a day when I am not within arm’s reach of an old-fashioned landline, they somehow get by without me. With only a mom and teachers and a nanny and a small neighborhood of people who know them on sight, how do they do it? I don’t know.
My message, in case you missed it, is this: The world turns without me, and I don’t mind saying so.
Now, it’s possible to be proud of one’s insignificance, and I was definitely laying it on a bit thick that day.
Still, it’s true that I don’t like cell phones. I don’t like their showiness. I don’t like the guy at my regular coffee shop who’s always there talking real estate as if he’s Donald Trump. I don’t like the girl on the Metro who’s puffed up with rage as she treats everyone in earshot to a lipsmacking, hand-on-the-hip account of exactly what he did and he said and that whore and mm-hmm and nuh-unh.
I don’t like the social signaling of cell phones. They say, “I am needed elsewhere, unlike you.” Now, maybe that last part isn’t intended, but it’s an accurate reflection of the way the first part of the signal is received, at least by me.
At red lights, I watch the passing traffic and tally the drivers who are talking on cell phones. Sometimes I count seven or eight in a row talking away just as if they weren’t traveling 40, 50 miles an hour in rolling two-ton metal missiles.
I know. I’m a little round the bend on this subject. And now my position has become rather awkward. See, I just got a BlackBerry, which of course has a cell phone.
How to explain? First my wife Cynthia insisted I begin carrying her extra cell phone. It was not so bad—pretty much like not having a cell phone, since only Cynthia ever called me on it and not that often. After a few days I gave the number to my grateful supervisor and the five people in my office.
Well, then Cynthia—after changing jobs and surrendering a BlackBerry—took her cell phone back. Easy come, easy go, I thought. Nothing about my life changed as a result. Until one afternoon I was not at my desk when my boss had a question.
Unable to find me, she called my cell phone number, and my wife answered. I don’t know for a fact that they used the opportunity to collude against me, but let’s just say that if I had really wished to avoid cell phones then it was a poor idea to bring together the only two people in the world who want me to be reachable at all times. Soon afterwards, my boss gave me a BlackBerry to carry around.
For a few weeks, however, I was entirely without a cell phone, which became an issue when I had to leave town for a business trip. Cynthia asked me to take her one cell phone with me so we could stay in touch. I agreed and took her phone with me the day of my departure. But around noon, my new BlackBerry arrived.
I sent Cyn an email saying we should meet so I could return her phone. She responded with a message to call her back so we could arrange an exact time to rendezvous outside my office building as she drove home from work. I called back, but there was no answer. I emailed and heard nothing.
Around the time I thought she might drive by, I went outside and waited for her on the sidewalk, thinking, Oh, if only she had her phone I could call to confirm that I would be here, but then if she had her phone we wouldn’t need to meet.
She didn’t come by. I sent her a message saying I would drop her phone at her office on my way to the airport. Typing this on my new BlackBerry took about 10 minutes as I struggled to land my thumbs on the miniature keys. Then I signed off, the moment suddenly poignant with the failure of our plan to connect so we might stay in touch. “I love you,” I wrote, “more than I can type.”