This is a pep talk.
Last January I stopped using a cell phone. The new one I had recently upgraded to broke, then the old one I reactivated stopped working. The new broken one had had a run-in with a pair on skis in the backseat of the car and the old broken one just got tired, I think.
I gave up at that point. And when I took a look at our Verizon bill and saw what I was paying for the use of a cell phone, in addition to our landline, each month, I really gave up.
Full disclosure: there is no Verizon service where I live, so a landline is kind of necessary.
Of course, the last thing most of us use a cell phone for is making and receiving calls, still two phones, two monthly charges, two break-downs in a short time, and I was ready to give up the cell phone life.
It was scary at first, of course. Whenever we become dependent on something, attached to something, it's hard when it's first gone. All that empty pocket space! Two hands! All that attention to the actual road when I was driving!
Seriously, though. I wondered if I would miss an important call.
It hasn't happened. My life is kind of dull. Also, I use the landline more now.
I wondered if I would miss texting my friends.
I can text them when I am at home and working on my laptop. Or email them. Or stop and see them.
I learned this when I gave up drinking. At first you're anxious about living without that thing to which you have grown accustomed. Then you round the bend at some point and life without the thing is the new reality and everything is fine.
Just because everyone has one doesn't mean we all need cell phones. Just because you have grown used to texting and taking photos and playing games and whatever else you do with your phone, doesn't mean that you need one. I have seen these new fidget things kids are playing with, the little spinny things you hold in your hand and twirl, and it has made me wonder if cell phones are the fidget things for teens and adults. How much of what goes on between a person and a cell phone is actually necessary and how much is just burning up space and time?
I looked around me and saw everyone checking their phone all the time: walking down the street looking at a phone; sitting at their desk in the dentist office and looking at their phone: having dinner with their kids and looking at their phone. I went to see a therapist a few times and he kept his phone on the arm of his chair during our hour together. And when it made a sound he picked it up.
I noticed that we had become a society of Pavlovian dogs, reaching for our phones whenever they dinged or rang, or, much worse, played a ringtone. The air in the world was filling up with bells and terrible songs and fake train whistles and all of the time we used to use in actual conversation with one another or quiet thought was now taken up by attention to a phone.
I often wonder how many of the messages people receive each day are necessary, important, meaningful.
I have a secret dream that everyone will turn their cell phone off and put it away for just one day.
So I gave up having one. There have been a couple of times when I needed one, for navigation. Once I was delivering a rescued chicken from a friend's house to a woman who cares for rescued chickens and the map wasn't clear and I got lost. So I stopped at a gas station and asked the woman at the counter if I could borrow the phone. She must have heard my conversation because when I handed it back to her, after getting proper directions, she looked at me and smiled and said, "Good luck!"
That was a really nice moment.
I will admit that I recently started using an old phone of Sam's, mostly for taking photos. "It's an iPod, Mom," the kids roll their eyes and tell me, which is kind of funny. But what I have found, almost immediately, is that I am lazy with it. It makes taking pictures too easy. Coco keeps asking me if she can have it and I told her that she could, when she returns from camp in a few weeks. I don't like having it.
I like how my head started thinking differently in the absence of a cell phone. I like the quiet drives, without the distraction. I like that I have to stop and ask for help. I like how I started really taking-in experiences without needing to record them. That's called being present. I liked having one less thing that needed to be re-charged all the time.
The world, I will tell you, is a different place when you stop using a cell phone. And here comes the pep part of the talk: if I can do it, so can you. Maybe you don't have to give up your phone entirely, but maybe use it less often. Turn it off more, put it in a drawer. Leave the house one day without it and see how life feels.
"It's not hard at all to live without a cell phone," I said to the kids one night at dinner.
"It shouldn't be," replied Sam, "you lived more than half your life without one."
Football coach Vince Lombardi was famous for starting every Green Bay Packer season by holding up a football and saying, “Gentleman, this is a football.” The guys, of course, knew perfectly well what he was holding up; the point was to get back to the very basics of the game. I'll bet that in those moments they got a good chuckle and then they remembered why they were there, their love of the game, the smell of the leather, the physical joy of all of it, the spirit of the team.
I imagine myself, sometimes, standing before each one of you, holding up a little orb in my hands, a beautiful, colorful orb of wonder, saying to you, "This, ladies and gentlemen, is your life."
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