A Day Without a Cell Phone

by DavalosMcCormack on December 31, 2007

There’s an old Jewish proverb that says what seems like a curse may be a blessing, and what seems like a blessing may be a curse. Whoever came up with that must have had cell phones in mind. Cell phones can be life savers, allowing you to call for help in an emergency. But they can also be one of the most irritating things on earth. Raise your hand if you have been stuck behind someone on a bus, in line,  or in a restaurant, who is talking loudly on their phone about something you would really rather know nothing about, or even more irritatingly talking loudly about nothing at all. “what’s up. Nothing.. how about you. Nothing. Just talking to you.”

In fact a survey in March, 2006 by AP/AOL/Pew Research Center found that 41 percent of people asked say they often make cell phone calls just to fill up some free time while they are traveling or waiting for someone. Those are just the ones who admit it. The real number is almost certainly much higher. The survey also found that 82 percent of people asked say they either frequently or occasionally encounter people using their cell phone in a loud or annoying manner in public. Interestingly enough only 8 percent say they have drawn criticism or dirty looks because of the way they were using their cell phone in public. So someone is either not telling the truth, or they are so busy blabbing away that they don’t notice how annoyed everyone around them is.

So try to imagine a day without a cell phone. For most of recorded human history that has not been a question anyone needed to ask. But now that we do have to ask it, what is your answer? Do you think you could go to work without having your phone with you, or at the very least switched off. Could you go through the day without having to check it to see if anyone called or text messaged you? Could you go home at night wondering how many people have called you and left a message, or called you and did not leave a message? Most importantly of all, could you imagine what you could do with all the time you saved not talking to people on your cell?

Christine Hucko doesn’t have to imagine. She knows. She wrote a column on living without a cell phone for her student newspaper The Pitt News. Hucko says she found the experience liberating. “It wasn’t always this way. I was as much a part of the revolution as the next person, before I went abroad for a few months and had to ditch the phone. During this time, when I tried to function without a cell phone, it hit me: I’m free! Free, free, free! You see, when I had a cell phone, I felt like a prisoner to its siren-like calls. It rang, I was there. It told me there was a new message, and I checked it immediately. It was never clear whether I owned the phone or if the phone owned me.”
Now I’m not saying everyone should give up their cell phones. That would be crazy. Good perhaps, but crazy. No, I’m saying maybe we should all just have a period during the day when we don’t answer the phone, when we switch it off. Or maybe we could allocate a certain amount of time to cell phone calls a day (your own personal limit on minutes) and not use it after that – except in emergencies. What would we do with the time we saved. Well, you could use it to go for a walk. To read a book. To do some yoga stretches at your desk. To talk to a friend face-to-face. Who knows, turning off the communication device could actually end up improving your communication skills.
Like Christine Hucko too many of us are tethered to our phones. We’re like a cellular version of Pavlov’s dogs. The phone rings, we answer. We don’t stop to question if we should. We don’t stop to look around and see if it’s appropriate to have a loud or long conversation where we are. We just answer the phone. It’s as if the technology has become compulsory rather than a choice. But just as we can make a choice about the foods we eat, the beverages we drink, and whether to walk or take the elevator, we can also make a choice about how we use technology. Do we use it to serve us, or do we become its servants.
Ultimately this is about making simple choices as to what is healthiest for us. If we are spending that much time talking when we don’t really have anything to say, is that a good use of our time, is it a good use of the time of the people we are calling. Why not take some of that time and put it to some better use, something that really does have long-term health benefits. Then you would really have something to talk about.

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