Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail — as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.” — Martha Beck
“Where’s your cell phone?” he asked. “Does it need to be recharged?”
“Gosh, I don’t know,” I said, faking genuine concern. I couldn’t even recall the last time I’d used it — other than to take photos of the cats to post on Facebook. Trying to appear responsible, I dug through drawers and underneath the car seats. No cell phone.
That’s when my husband remembered we’d just dropped off a carload of discards, including old clothing and purses, for a church rummage sale.
And that’s how we ended up back at church the night before the sale, rummaging through my discarded handbags and coats. Just as I suspected, my phone wasn’t there — and it hasn’t turned up since.
Cell phones are essential if you’re a traveling executive, a detective, or a pregnant woman close to labor. And they’re a godsend when your teenager is out past curfew or your car breaks down after midnight on a deserted rural highway.
But I refuse to treat any gadget as if it’s part of my anatomy. In my ongoing quest to achieve serenity — at least on a part-time basis — I find it helps to unplug as often as possible. And that’s why I’m often caught without a cell phone. On purpose.
Despite the fact that I’m solely responsible for the care management of a parent with advanced dementia, there are times when I need to be unavailable. And despite the fact that I’m an outgoing, social person, there are times when I simply don’t feel like gabbing. And I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of “missed calls” and new messages in my purse or my pocket. When I return home, I know I’ll find enough of those in my email and in the voicemail on the house phone.
Lately I’ve noticed that most people seem more stressed, desperate, and frantic than ever — as if life were a series of dire emergencies to be handled right this minute. Some psychologists suggest the problem is linked to our cultural addiction to cell phones and social media. Or, as author Loretta LaRoche observes, these days we can’t even run an errand to the supermarket without a cell phone, a pager, and other electronic devices.
“We now look more like a member of a SWAT team than someone shopping for groceries,” LaRoche writes in Life Is Not a Stress Rehearsal: Bringing Yesterday’s Sane Wisdom into Today’s Insane World. (Broadway Books). “God forbid we should be out of touch for ten minutes,” LaRoche quips. “And since we have the contraptions there with us, what the hell, we can call home and tell everyone we got bread.”
I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of ‘missed calls’ and new messages in my purse or my pocket.
At a writer’s conference I attended a while back, somebody’s bleeping cell phone disrupted — three times — a wonderful lecture given by a best-selling author. Days later, the same thing happened at a funeral service. At the drug store last week, I had to listen to another customer’s cell conversation while waiting in line for my prescription. Oblivious to everyone within earshot, the woman chattered on her phone, punctuating every sentence with the “F” bomb.
On the road, every other car is driven by an idiot with one hand glued to a cell phone and the other barely guiding the steering wheel. I’ve watched these drivers swerve in and out of lanes, fail to use turn signals, even run red lights.
“We all know that technological advances have made connection easier than ever before. They’ve also led some people to think that breaking away is a violation of the social order,” writes Martha Beck in “You Have the Right to Remain Silent,” an essay on why being disconnected, periodically, can be good for one’s mental health. “Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail, as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.”
As it happened, I did end up replacing my missing cell phone with another one. Right now, the thing is dutifully recharging on my desk, where it’s likely to remain until I need to take a quick photo of the cat.