Until last month, I had been carrying a 135-minute phone card in my wallet since October 2000. I didn’t take it out because I’d used up the minutes. I took it out because the plastic is so old that it crumbled when I tried to transfer it to the new wallet I got for Christmas! That tells you how many times I have needed to call a number outside the area code where I was, when I was not able to use my home phone or someone else’s phone. It just isn’t that necessary!
I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t want a cell phone, and I get along really well without one! In These Days of Economic Crisis, when everybody’s trying to economize, I hear that some people are giving up the family land line telephone and having only cell phones, but I have not yet seen anybody preaching that you can give up your cell phone and survive–just like we all did earlier in our own lifetimes!–and save money, save energy, and have a saner lifestyle. Here’s how it works for me:
I don’t have to be in touch with everybody every freaking minute. In fact, as the mother of a demanding five-year-old, I rather enjoy those times when nobody knows where I am! If something goes wrong with him, his school most likely will be able to reach his dad, and if not they’ve got six other authorized emergency contact people, so I can have a moment off duty. I don’t need to talk to my mommy every single day, nor do I need to call Daniel (my partner) from every place I go. Sure, I sometimes call Daniel from work if I have an important question or I’m very upset, but I don’t call just to say I arrived safely after my normal commute–he can assume that! We do our best to have conversations when we’re actually together and to work out our plans on our own time. I don’t see how it would save time if I stood around the supermarket debating with him by phone about what to have for dinner, instead of figuring it out before I leave for the store or just making the decision myself.
Now, more about that phone card. It provides a toll-free number and an access code that gives me long-distance minutes that I paid for when I bought the card; they never expire. The physical card is not important, just the numbers, so I copied the numbers onto a piece of stiff paper and put that in my wallet instead–presto, new phone card! I never use it from my home phone because long-distance rates have become so reasonable. For the same reason, when I’m visiting someone and ask if it’s okay if I make a long-distance call, usually they don’t mind at all. So the only time I need it is when I’m calling long-distance from
- my office, where I am not allowed to make personal long-distance calls
- a pay phone
- a hospital room, where cell phones are not allowed.
These situations don’t come up much, and when they do it’s usually a short call–all such calls I’ve made in nine years have totaled less than two hours. But I have been glad to have it sometimes. For example, when a friend is in town and calls me at work to make plans for the evening, but I’m away from my desk and she leaves a voicemail with her out-of-town cell number, this is how I call back.
In case of emergency, I trust that I will get the help I need. I live in the city, and when I travel it’s usually on roads with a lot of other vehicles, so if something went wrong I’m sure somebody else could call 911. Sure, I’m aware of the Kitty Genovese phenomenon (the bystander effect, in which everyone thinks someone else will get help) but you know why Kitty Genovese’s name still is so tightly associated with it 46 years later? Because it usually doesn’t happen that way! And do you think Kitty Genovese would have been saved if she’d had a cell phone? In a serious emergency, you might not be able to use a cell phone anyway, or it could be damaged or taken from you. It doesn’t make me feel much safer.
Also, in a situation where you are not able to speak into the phone long enough to tell the operator your exact location, a land line can be traced more reliably than a cell phone. A cell phone may even route your call to a faraway 911 dispatcher, resulting in delay as he transfers your call or figures out what services can reach you. (This happened to us the one time we used Daniel’s cell phone in an emergency: Our car’s electrical system totally failed on I-70 in rural Ohio. The call was routed to 911 in Columbus, over 100 miles away, not to the closest 911 center. They called the Highway Patrol and had them call us back!)
I check my messages and return calls promptly when I get home or get to work. Honestly, I don’t think I’m any harder to reach than cell phone people, who are constantly telling me, “Sorry, I turned off my phone for a movie and forgot to turn it back on.” or “My battery ran down.”
I store phone numbers in my brain and in my address book. I do not rely on the memory of an electronic device and then lose my ability to contact anyone after the phone falls into the toilet. I transcribe numbers from the address book in my purse into my computer database, so I have a backup, and I memorize numbers I use often. I don’t use speed dial even on my home phone because dialing a number helps me learn it, which is worth the few seconds it takes. I know my own phone numbers!! I can’t believe I have to say that, but honestly, that’s a vital bit of personal responsibility we all learned from an early age, yet in the past few years I’ve encountered so many people who don’t know their own number without looking it up!
I can find a phone when I need one. There are still pay phones in a lot of places. Many public buildings and businesses will let you use a phone if you ask politely. Many strangers will let you use their cell phones for a brief call (example: “I’m trying to visit my friend in this apartment building, but the intercom on the outer door is broken; can I call to ask her to open the door for me?”)–although I guess that may depend on your having a nonthreatening appearance so they don’t think you’re going to steal the phone. Cell phones do make more sense for people who spend a lot of time in places where phones are miles apart (if there’s cell reception out there…) but for people who live in a city or suburb or small town, as most Americans do, I think using a cell phone makes about as much sense as driving an SUV on paved roads. Like many disposable items, it’s a technology that should be reserved for the situations that really demand it.
I’m not wasting electricity to keep the battery constantly charged in a device I’d be using very little of the time it would be on. During one of our road trips, when we were about to use Daniel’s cell phone to tell the relatives who were expecting us that we were going to arrive late, we found that the battery was dead–the charge that would last 4 or 5 days at home had been depleted in a day and a half by the phone’s constant “searching for service” as we drove! He hadn’t actually used the phone at any time since charging it.
I don’t have to pay for a cell phone plan. I’m always startled when I see ads touting “low” prices for this unnecessary service–at the least, I’m saving over $100 per year.
I appreciate opportunities to give my opinion. One touted advantage of cell phones is that pollsters and telemarketers don’t call them. Well, I don’t care for telemarketing calls, but we eliminated almost all of them (we get about two per year now) by putting our number on the national Do Not Call list. I do want to participate in telephone polls–political polls, opinion polls, market research surveys, demographic surveys, whatever–so that my opinions and my demographic group get represented.
My kid communicates with me the same way I did with my parents: When he goes somewhere alone, we agree on where he’s going and approximately when he’ll be back. He’s only five, so at this point he’s only playing up the block a little way. If he wants to go inside someone’s house or his friend’s dad offers to take them to the park, he needs to come home and ask permission. If I want to leave home while he’s out, I need to go up the block and get him or arrange for him to stay there until I come home. As he gets older and expands his range, he’ll find phones–just like I do–to communicate any changes in plans by calling us at home or work. Otherwise, we’ll trust that he is where he said he’d be, and we won’t expect to hear from him until it’s time for him to come home. If we can’t trust him to stick to a plan, how can we trust him to go out on his own? Generations of kids grew up into responsible adults without having cell phones or even having parents who had cell phones. It can be done!