Why No, Virginia, I Don't Have a Cell Phone
By Molly Murfee
It crops up often when people are introducing me to someone – “Molly doesn’t have a cell phone!” they exclaim, as if proclaiming a curiosity not unlike some exotic animal at the zoo.
The ensuing reactions are mixed. “You don’t?” some wonder dreamy-eyed at me, followed by a trailing “I wish I could do that …” pang of jealousy.
Others are more shocked, “How do you live?” they amuse with a look as if someone just jammed a hard-heeled cowboy boot into their toe. You can see the mental scroll through scenarios where a cell phone mandates itself in their lives.
Some are just flat out pissed, I presume from a resentment arising in that I have figured out how to side-step a current cultural norm that makes them feel understandably tethered. “I can’t be your friend because you don’t text,” one such person told me. Good riddance.
I admit to my ease in avoiding the ubiquitous cell phone. I live in the drop-dead center of town. If I step onto Elk for a half minute I most likely see the person for whom I am looking (often my partner Mark, who has a strong wandering gene, and also does not have a cell phone).
Working from home, I am there most all the day, and can answer my land line (I’m even in the phone book) as easily as the now-chunky hand-held computers wearing marks in jeans and bras. I don’t have kids, so don’t have to coordinate playdates or after school activities. I have a small digital camera and a wee iPod, applications not tied to a communication device.
It’s a funny thing, not participating in a modern norm. While everyone else drinks the Kool-Aid, you’re an outside observer to a cultural phenomenon, frighteningly watching the rest of the world go mad.
In the winter, Mark and I ride among busloads of people all being careened from the Town to the Mountain, through a valley miraculously holding such nomenclature as “Paradise Divide,” everyone looking down at that eerie glow, all presumably connecting with someone else through that flat, intangible screen rather than the smiles of friends, neighbors and strangers right in front of them all going out to do something we collectively love. They miss the rosy light on the peaks, the marvel of the sheer majesty of those mountains. Many times, we’ll be the only ones looking out the window, or at each other. It’s a strange, strange spectacle to witness.
In these moments, we arrive in some twilight zone place, uncomfortable with just sitting, looking at each other, or having empty space in which we have to do nothing. We get fidgety with the stillness of the present. So we pick up the phone, and scroll.
The cell phone trains us we must constantly be doing something, getting in touch with someone somewhere else rather than just being where we are. It makes us important, validating our busy existence, if we’re needed by that buzz or ring, like a junkie mouse ordained to keep pouncing on the magical button for some kind of reward.
Through the cell phone we tell others someone else in our lives is more valuable. I’ve watched whole families or groups of friends flip through facebook around a dining table, rather than speak to each other about the trials and wonders of their day.
In our own community, people living a block away from each other, scream or agree about some perceived problem over a screen, rather than talking about it over a cup of tea or a mug of beer where facial expression and body language are part of the more humanizing conversation. Behind the cell phone, and on social media, a bizarre sense of anonymity exists, giving permission to blurt whatever unkindness pops into our fickle brains.
With the cell phone we are obscenely hitched to responsibility, to being available at any given moment. We have lost our freedom in the process, interrupting our days off, after hours and vacation time with work and obligation.
We have no time to truly unplug, allowing our bodies and minds to rejuvenate. We no longer have the yawning and open sensation the day is our own to do with it what we will. The ball and chain of knowing that someone could call you at any minute, charging you to duty, is always a click away. “You don’t have to respond,” is always the retort. But inevitably we do, just this one time, until our single day of freedom has vanquished into one of burdensome tasks.
There was a time when running into someone at a concert, party, restaurant or on the street was a testament to universal synchronicity and serendipity. We were supposed to find each other! Now with the cell phone there is no space for that wondrous spontaneity. Everything is planned and coordinated. Siri tells us how to get there. Some of the adventure of life is removed.
We are losing our connection to each other, rather than gaining it, and are certainly losing contact with the natural world. As my sister declares, “The cell phone will cause the demise of civilization,” the lack of connection to everything around us creating a poisonous stew of anxiety, false expectations, nasty communications, and exacerbated sense of need. We bumble around with our heads down, rather than looking life straight in the eye. We could be aware of the beauty and diversity at our fingertips if only they weren’t busy swiping a screen.
And so no, Virginia, I don’t have a cell phone. Because in so doing I am making my own small yet adamant protest to this overwrought, overtaxed, overworked society that I choose connection rather than convenience, freedom rather than task-driven obligation, and that the world I live in is one that is actually breathing.
Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee specializes in nature and environmental writing cut with cultural and societal critique. Sign up for the Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her ongoing book project; field-based Writing & Connection Workshops; online advertising and syndicate column opportunities; and freelance writing services at www.mollymurfee.com.