Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Cell Phone Problem

I don't have a cell phone back in the States, because I'm already paying for a landline and DSL and don't need another bill to pay just now. Occasionally I consider getting a prepaid cell phone, just to get used to the thing and for the occasions when it would be handy for people to be able to reach me when I'm not at home. (When I went out of state to visit a relative at her new home, for example, a cell phone would have come in handy when I got lost.)

When I'm in Korea, I rent one so that my friends can reach me easily. I just got this year's model yesterday, and it's pretty nice; see above. My experience isn't representative, because I only have it for a couple of weeks and never really adjust to the experience. But this time around I decided that I really don't want to get a cell phone in the US until and unless I really need one -- until I move to Korea, say -- and here's why.

Today one of my friends called me while I was in a PC room. I heard the ringtone, but I nearly missed his call because my mind refused to recognize that I was hearing my phone ringing. If that were a phone, my mind reasoned, I'd be at home; I'm not, ergo it's not a phone. Some version of this has been a problem every time I've rented a phone, and I often miss calls because of it, annoying my friends when they can't get through to me. I have to be alone in a room to be sure I'll hear the ring and recognize it as mine.

It doesn't help that I hear other people's phones ringing all the time. I guess I need a ringtone as personalized as a child's cry so that I can recognize it in a crowd. But I think it will take me a fair amount of time to adjust to the difference, and I'm not sure I want to.

I belong to a generation that began the assault on public space with transistor radios (these little contraptions were the predecessor of the Walkman -- if you watch reruns of old TV sitcoms you might see one being held to the head of the occasional "Beatnik"), and I grew up surrounded by what my parents' generation regarded as Damn Noise, including Damn Noise I made myself or passed along. But I always valued silence too. For a while in the mid-60s when money was tight, my mother tried keeping our electricity use to a bare minimum. We used kerosene lamps (eek! what a fire hazard!) in the evenings and left the TV and radio off. I did my homework and reading by lamplight (which, along with self-abuse, might have contributed to my deteriorating eyesight later on), and I remember that period as a good one. When I go outdoors now I don't have a music source plugged into my ears, can't imagine trying to ride a bicycle with headphones or earbuds blocking ambient sound, and even walking I prefer to hear the sounds around me.

There are times when I miss phone calls because I'm out of the house, but caller ID and an answering machine help most of the time. I'm not sure I want calls to follow me wherever I go. At work, despite a faltering policy against it, just about everybody keeps their phones on and whip them out when they ring, no matter what else they're supposed to be doing. I work in a kitchen, but forget sanitation! I remember how odd it struck me the first time I saw a boy and girl walking down the street holding hands; in her other hand the girl had her cell phone, into which she was talking animatedly. Her date didn't seem perturbed, but I'd have been. Trying to stop all that is probably a lost cause, but for now I'm just as content to leave the phone at home, plugged into the wall. Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like: I've been called worse, and I've embraced other new technology as soon as I found it useful so it's not even accurate. It probably has to do with not wanting to be always at the world's beck and call, and my own personal (neurotic?) need to be alone when I want to.