This morning I read a Wall Street Journal article about Americans without cellphones. Being an American without a cellphone myself, I was heartened to find out that a mere 88% of adult Americans have cellphones. I had thought the number would be much higher.
Occasionally I try to convince people to give up the cell and reinstall the landline, but I realize that I’m tilting at the windmills. A few years ago, I offered a hefty amount of extra credit to one of my university classes. All the students had to do was hand me their phones for five days. Out of about fifty students, three took me up on the offer. As one girl handed me her phone, she announced that her dad would be so proud of her for putting academics first. The next day, the girl sheepishly returned, saying that her dad demanded that she get her phone back because she needed it “in case of emergency.”
And her dad was right, sometimes emergencies do happen. But emergencies by their very nature are rare, and I believe that cellphones take more than they give. Here are my four reasons why I’m glad that I don’t have a cellphone.
1. Cellphones rob us of our money. This was my original reason for giving up my phone. If my wife and I disconnected our landline and each got cellphones, we’d spend about $1000 more per year on the phone bill. To most people, that’s a lot of money. To my way of thinking, an extra $1000 will go further in helping with real emergencies than a cellphone will. In addition to the expense, now that I’ve ditched the phone, I realize that cellphones take a toll on less tangible aspects of life.
2. Cellphones rob us of our sense of place. Once upon a time, people invested time and energy in the idea of place. “Home” is the kind of place you have an emotional connection with. Americans have been bad at “place” for a long time. We wander too much, following jobs and dreams and rarely investing ourselves and laying roots in our communities. The cellphone has exacerbated this problem. I can’t even call “home” anymore. My parents have ditched their landline in favor of cellphones. Now I either call my mom or my dad. It’s just not quite the same.
3. Cellphones rob us of our ability to plan. Once upon a time, we had to know in advance where we were going and what time we’d be there. If you wanted to meet up with friends, you both had to be punctual. If you were heading to a new place, you needed directions before you left. How many times have you gotten the message, “I’ll just call you when I get close”? More convenient, yes. But I’ve noticed that this lack of planning spills over into other areas of life.
4. Cellphones rob us of our sense of adventure. Okay, so this one might seem to contradict my last point, but hear me out because I’ve noticed a certain lack of spontaneity in our cellphone culture. Once upon a time, when we found ourselves in an unfamiliar place, we could take some risks and see what happened. Now, however, when faced with the world outside, Americans retreat into the familiar space of their phones. No one risks conversation with a stranger. Why would we, when we carry all our friends and family in our pockets? The lure of the familiar keeps us from experiencing what the world has to offer.
I’m no Luddite, but I think this particular technology takes more than it gives. Chime in and tell me what you think. Have I left something off the list? Or have I underestimated the benefits? Try to persuade me that I need to buy a new cellphone.