A convict who received a life sentence in 1999 – 15 years ago – recently enjoyed one day of freedom. Actually, less than a full day – more like 20 hours.
That convict – a cell phone convict – is me. I bought my first cell phone in 1999 (before they were “smart”), and thus began my life sentence.
A few days ago, however, I lost it – carelessly. It took me about 20 hours to buy a new one – and I spent most of that time upset with myself for being so careless.
Even though I am generally very good about not losing wallets, cell phones, keys, and other items of value – even if it happens to me once every 10 or 15 years, I am still pretty hard on myself.
It was only in the couple of hours the next day, before I bought my new phone, that I stopped blaming myself, realized the taste of freedom and declared: “hey, it’s kinda nice not having a phone!”
But the joy didn’t last very long: soon enough, into the store I went and out I emerged with another cell phone – literally and figuratively – attached at the hip.
After exhausting all plausible means to retrieve my phone, I realized that it was gone forever. Four hundred bucks down the drain, and along with it, contact information, and access to the outside world.
Mind you, I’ve been working out of Florida the past few weeks: not really a vacation, just a regular work schedule in nicer surroundings.
But without direct access to my office, the importance of my phone as a lifeline to the outside world was magnified. Thankfully, I don’t bank on my phone or disclose other vital information that can cause me problems if it lands in the hands of some unsavory character. Worst they can do is look at my photos of places I’ve visited, and of friends and family – big deal. If I was afraid of that, I’d be worried that the some government agency is spying on me anyway (I’m not).
Besides, I called my carrier immediately and had my phone virtually rendered useless – meanwhile, no one used it, so I’m guessing it’s lying on the side of the road somewhere, maybe even eaten by a wild animal.
Nonetheless, I thought back to life before 1999: no such problems back then. No such feeling of loss – and no fear of the repercussions. Life was simpler back then – without so many gadgets, and somehow we were able to survive just fine.
I don’t remember ever thinking: “oh, if only someone could invent a telephone that’s not attached to a wire – how happy that would make me!”
SO WHY BUY A NEW ONE?
Why, then, did I fall into the same trap and buy a new cell phone (excuse me, “mobile phone” or “smart phone”)? Why not leave well enough alone and enjoy my newfound emancipation? Alas – in today’s world, I don’t have the luxury of being free.
How can I survive as a professional in a world where not only all of my colleagues have similar devices, but so do many teens and tweens? “I’ll call you from a payphone” or “I’ll check my messages when I get home tonight” just doesn’t cut it in today’s world.
Professional obligations aside, I now have a family of my own. Can I really tell my wife “sorry, I will be unreachable until I return home” and expect her to be okay with that in this day and age? Yet most of us remember a time when cell phones did not even exist – and we did just fine.
We spent a couple of hours on the beach very late in the afternoon after I lost my phone. I swam, lay down on my chair, watched my young daughter splash in the shallow water, the sea gulls, and the sunset. I had no phone to distract me – no emails to check, no photos to take and post on Facebook – no contacts to text.
NEVER OUT OF RANGE
About 10 years ago I landed in Athens for a summer vacation, and one of my uncles – my mother’s brother – came to the airport to greet me. I had a state-of-the-art international phone at the time.
The President of the college where I was academic dean and in-house legal counsel at the time, wanted to be able to get hold of me if need be.
I called my mother to let her know that I arrived – and so that her brother could say hello to her. Wise man that he is, rather than being impressed by my then-top-of-the-line phone, my uncle pointed to an article in that day’s newspaper that reported Greece as being the country with the most cell phones per capita – “and yet I don’t have one,” he said, triumphantly. At the time (he had yet to retire), he was a prominent attorney in Athens.
I’m not sure if he ever succumbed to the international pressure and bought himself a cell phone – because a decade ago, being wireless-less was a dream within reach.
Last year’s Greece trip was more of a vacation – and I was thankful for our TNH publisher’s kind words, which he often said to me: “stop working and go swimming.”
But while sitting on a sprawling flat rooftop well past midnight one evening, enjoying a nightcap by moonlight, a text came in: a complaint from a former neighbor about how high the grass had gotten at a house I own (the tenant neglected to cut it) – photo included! Ah, the joys of technology.
Maybe it won’t take me another dozen years until I am lucky enough to lose my phone again – here’s to hoping.