Columns

2009.10.27 Don't 'dial ' my number

on . Posted in By The Way

‘Dial the number’


By DAVID GREEN

The New York Times recently published an article about “cellphone refuseniks.” It made me wonder if I’m a refusenik or if I just haven’t gotten around to buying one.

It also made me wonder about the term “refusenik.” I probably knew this at one time. It refers to Soviet citizens who were refused permission to emigrate out of the country. Since then, it’s come to refer to any protester.

So, am I protesting the use of cellphones or am I just preoccupied with my life as it is and haven’t yet found the need to be in constant contact with the world around me?

I’ll have to think that one through.

I still remember the early days of mobile communication. I was in New York City where there are always people walking around talking to themselves. We have a few in Morenci, too, but it’s more of a rarity.

That day in NYC, someone was walking toward us on the sidewalk carrying on quite a conversation with himself. He was dressed in a suit and tie. He carried a brief case. He didn’t look like what I would rudely call the typical person who would talk to himself in public.

Then I noticed the little telephone he was holding up to the side of his face. He wasn’t really experiencing mental problems. He was just an image of the future.

It seems so silly to relate this story, but it’s not like “gather around, kids, and I’ll tell you what it was like when I was growing up.” It really wasn’t that many years ago. Sure, high school kids today have always known cellphones, but that’s not the case for someone in college.

And rampant texting? That’s really recent stuff.

The refusenik story says that 85 percent of Americans use cellphones. That puts me in a shrinking class of stupid and stodgy individuals. The NYT tells me that it’s older or less educated people who have no cellphone, along with those who can’t afford one. I could afford to sign up for a plan if I wanted one and I done gone to college twice. That just leaves the “older” category, but my parents are in their 80s and they have a cell.

There’s that other small class of people who just don’t have much interest. I can easily see the value of a cellphone, such as when the transmission went out on the van a couple of weeks ago. Colleen was just outside of Ann Arbor about 9 p.m. and she called me with her antique cellphone that embarrasses our younger daughter.

What if it had been me? I would have gotten out, stood by the side of the road and stuck out my hitching thumb. Not that I really would have needed a ride. Eventually a car would stop and I would use the Good Samaritan’s cellphone.

OK, I’m stuck in the old days when I really would have been given a ride to a gas station or at least to a pay telephone. I actually have a plastic calling card in my wallet, but maybe it’s a relic now. I guess I see it as a cellphone of sorts.

If I were to buy a cellphone, I would want something more than just a mobile telephone. An Apple iPhone would be my choice, but there’s a big problem there. As it is now, I’m connected to the internet nearly all of my working day and a good share of my evening hours. With an iPhone I would never be free of it. A constant distraction. Just turn it off? Well then why have it?

Perhaps it seems strange for someone who works in the field of communications to walk around phoneless. It’s not my Luddite approach to modern technology. I have a website, I blog, I use Skype, I send my children text messages using my computer.

Instead, it’s this: Why would I want to get a phone call when I’m eating in a restaurant or attending a council meeting or taking a walk in the woods? Why would I actually want to pay for the privilege of being interrupted any time of the day or night?

People who call me on the regular phone know that after a few minutes I’m ready to hang up. The call goes on and I’m soon lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, trying to sound attentive.

Maybe now we’re getting to the crux of the matter. The telephone isn’t where I like to hang out. So don’t take my lack of affection personally, Cellphone. I guess I just don’t feel like talking.

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