Cell Mates

No Regrets About Joining the Mobile Phone Culture

I’m still surprised by the cell phone invasion into United States culture—the same way I am surprised by pickled pork rinds or couples making out in public —I’m not used to them yet.

The evidence of evil
I shouldn’t be astonished when I stumble into a woman blocking aisle 8 in the grocery store deliberating with her husband over mustard, or when a man calls his wife with 100 yards of a marathon left to run; but I am astonished.

And there I am walking home from the coffee shop on a beautiful, spring afternoon; answering my phone calls, oblivious to the warmth of the sun, the colors of the flowers, and the cracks in the sidewalk.

A love-hate relationship
But the truth is that this same technology that allows me to be noticed at the worst times, and to blab to almost anyone at anytime and anywhere, even to the detriment of myself or those around me, is the same technology that allows me to be efficient, mobile, and more connected to friends and family than ever before.

The last person on earth
I swore I would be the last person in the world to get one, but the cell phone was like a contagious disease, and I was not immune.

Also, I was homeless for two months, and as I moved from couch to couch, a mobile phone was my only constant, stable connection to family, friends, and resources. Yes, I could have survived without one, but my feeble, moral protest against these machines gave way to the freedom, comfort, and convenience they provided.

In fact, even after I found a permanent place to stay, I found myself at home wherever I went—in a coffee shop, at work, in a friend’s house—because my connection to the outside world traveled with me.

Homeless but not phoneless
No one, apparently, is immune. I work with homeless men. Both staff and volunteers are confused by a homeless cell phone owner. We ask, “How can he afford a cell phone plan but not a shelter and food?”

A cell phone is a smart investment for these men because, while their less fortunate peers wait for an hour in line to use our phone, they have access to job openings, family, employers, friends, and business deals to help them get back on their feet.

Connects made and missed
Despite my complaints, cell phones contribute to our quality of life.

For five dollars a month, Sprint lets you talk to one person with anytime unlimited minutes. My friends Rebecca and Hank have managed to maintain a healthy relationship 2,000 miles apart because they talk to each other as often as they want during the day, and each night before falling asleep.

My friend Jennie hasn’t given in to cell phone mania, although she’s frustrated by the hassle. Before wide-spread cell phone use, when going out with a group of friends, we met at someone’s house to plan. We made sure we had the right directions. Now, the rules have changed. You get in the car and start driving and decide a destination along the way via cell phone conversation. Jennie misses out.

It’s the evolution, baby
We are evolving into a people who’s lifestyles are dependent on little, electronic gadgets that burp out annoying electronic tunes like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and Beethoven’s Fifth, to get our attention. We have stopped remembering phone numbers, relying instead on buttons and drop down menus that remember for us and allow us to drunk-dial our friends. We can go out with a group of friends and ignore them all night by keeping our cell phones pushed up against our ears.

But cell phones connect us, not just through satellite beams, but through conversation. On a whim, I call my parents to say, “I love you.” Those same drop-down menus make it easy to call someone just to say hello. A friend in need can literally reach me anytime—even if it is during dinner. I can share with someone the excitement of a concert, a jar of mustard, or a race finish regardless of where she is.

There is so much today that separates us from one another. Despite their quirks, these little electronic gadgets—though they annoy us—are a cheap, clear, and convenient way to stay in touch.

Excuse me, but I’m being summoned by Beethoven to conduct… a conversation.