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« Morning Detritus | Main | Pic of the Day »

January 30, 2003

Cell Phone-less

Friedrich --

At dinner the other evening (a mini-bloggers' bash at an East Village nouvelle-Asian place, with the Wife, Felix Salmon and his charming g.f. Michelle), I set off a lot of laughter when I admitted that I don't have a cell phone. Everyone has one, I'm such a square, etc etc. Hardy har har.

All fully justified, and for many reasons. But I wonder: is it really so rare these days to go without a cell phone? I can't imagine wanting one. I tried over dinner to protest that I enjoy my time away from telephones, but was drowned out by hearty uproariousness. I rather like the trouble I have to go to when I'm out in public and need to make a phone call, not that that happens very often. I'd even argue, with probably embarrassing earnestness, that I find that pleasure, art, personality and beauty are all easier to enjoy when at least a few barriers are set up between the reach of technology and one's privacy. But that may be yet one more demonstration of what a fuddy duddy I can be.

(The Wife wants me to point out here that she has a cell phone, so that when we head off on car trips we're duly equipped.)

Would you have a cell phone if you didn't absolutely need to have one?



posted by Michael at January 30, 2003


I don't have one. My girlfriend doesn't either. Isn't part of the point of going out not to be reached?

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on January 30, 2003 2:30 PM

Hear, hear to that. And succinctly put, too.

I'm not sure I understand the advantage of having a cell phone, to be honest. Is it all that hard to find public phones these days?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 30, 2003 3:04 PM

I first started carrying a cellphone when traveling. There is no substitute when trying to meet up with friends in a big city -- especially when one's friends are notoriously unpunctual!

Indeed, what could contribute more to one's enjoyment of life that to be able to round up a group for dinner or drinks at the spur of the moment?
As for privacy, one can always turn the damn thing off, or not answer.

Posted by: David on January 30, 2003 3:30 PM

Yeah, I've actively resisted getting one for the very reasons given so far. I think it's dangerous to drive with one - I nearly got taken out by a gabber on the highway yesterday (evidently turning your head to look for cars in the lane you are moving into whilst chatting is too hard).

I have two different voice mails, four different emails, and I am a creature of habit, so you can usually predict where I'm going to be.

Why should I pay $40 or more for the privalege of being inturrupted at someone else's whim?

Posted by: Yahmdallah on January 30, 2003 4:45 PM

Woops, I meant to paste the corrected version, and instead it posted it. If I had to choose between a spell checker and a cell phone, it wouldn't be a long deliberation process.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on January 30, 2003 4:46 PM

I had one, then donated it to my business (our delivery drivers need to carry one). I personally despise them, as it seemed that whenever anything absolutely needed to be said, there was no signal. "The wife" doesn't have one either, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that one of us at least needs to be so equipped, as we cannot leave our store for five minutes without some kind of crisis occurring which needs our direction. Geez. So I guess I'm with David; it'll be on from 9-5 every day, and then I can always switch it off.

As a youth I was a luddite (no car until age 23), but I have come to understand that just because we have a piece of technology, we need not be enslaved to it.

Posted by: Nate on January 30, 2003 5:55 PM

Hey Yahmdallah, "the privilege of being interrupted at someone else's whim" is really good. May I steal and use in the future? I'll do my best to remember to credit the source, I promise.

Hi Nate -- I'm with you, and I get fascinated by the ways people have of taking control back from the electronics and devices they own. I never watch TV in the sense of just turning it on and surfing; I force myself to videotape shows, and watch them on videotape instead. Minimizes the time in front of the tube, maximizes the tube-time spent watching shows I actually want to watch.

Anyone have any tips for regulating time spent blogsurfing?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 30, 2003 6:03 PM

OK, which one of you two Blowhards is the entrepreneur? Ah, Friedrich...wonder if he has a cell phone?

I only jump in here because a cell phone has become as crucial as the PC for getting work done. Business never stops. I'm on my fourth conference call (6:52pm) of the day, and I've got a fifth in eight minutes. I can work a land line and the cell phone and handle two "customers" (everyone) at the same time in the right circumstances (and even do email, and comments on 2BH!). Yeah, it's a PITA, but I can't possibly do high-tech sales and marketing without one, for this simple fact: if your customer can't reach you, they're very likely to call your competition. I expect that this is not just true for high-tech. One day, I will be a rich guy and I will pay a (very hot&young) Gal Friday to run interference for me.

Now, manners must take over and I do mute the ring in social circumstances that call for it. I hate phones in movies, too.

I'll pay someone if they can come up with a better way of blogsurfing. I miss too much good stuff by crowbarring myself off of them when I have to. (pout, pout) I think that's what Amphetadesk and other aggregators are all about, but I haven't spent the time to learn it.

Off to my next call...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on January 30, 2003 7:59 PM

I detest the standard telephone enough as it is. ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! YOU MUST RESPOND TO MY INTRUSION! MY DESIRE TO TALK TRUMPS YOUR PRIVACY! Why on earth would I want to lug that around with me voluntarily?

Posted by: Jim on January 31, 2003 1:02 AM


The mobile phone qustion is not a very interesting one—unless you want to move on to the larger issue of public behavior, manners and such.

I'd be happy to offer up some suggestions for controversies and interesting anomalies for your consideration the next time you are tempted to flog some poor nag like the anti human effects of modern technology. Didn't Ned Ludd already make the case?

You might ask your dinner companions or fellow web-loggers and guests if they have read any good books of late.

I liked Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches...

Posted by: robert birnbaum on January 31, 2003 8:16 AM

Robert, I need to find a better group of friends. Everytime I ask that question, everyone wrinkles their nose and goes back to talking about Joe Millionaire.

Thanks for the tip on Baker...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on January 31, 2003 10:09 AM

It's obvious that you guys live up in big cities where travelling means hopping a train/plain/taxi/whatever. Out here in the great southwest, the closest large city is 6 hours away by car. Flying is possible, but most people don't. Which means, if I travel to an event with my mother and son, I want a reliable form of communicaton with me in case I break down in the middle of nowhere (there's lots of that down here). So, I finally gave in and got one last year. I feel the cell is for neccesary calls only. Now, if only I could convince my husband of that.

Posted by: Alexandra on January 31, 2003 11:46 AM

In a city like New York, when you have lots of friends running around all over the place and are likely to meet up with a few different groups over the course of an evening, a mobile phone is invaluable. Mobile phones are also, now, cheaper than land lines – at least so long as you use a calling card for international calls. And no one wonders why we need land lines, right? I know a lot of people who have said that they don't want and don't need a mobile phone. Inevitably, a lot of them have eventually got one, and all of them love it once they get it. Being able to book movie tickets from the restaurant... being able to call the apartment you're visiting because the buzzer isn't working... being available (for work) even when you're not at your desk... but this is boring.

I'm much more interested in new ways of blogsurfing: I think the obvious thing is the RSS aggregator. You just feed all your favourite weblogs into one application, and then it'll tell you when any of them is updated, along with providing a link. Anybody got a favourite one, ideally one which runs on OS X?

Posted by: Felix on January 31, 2003 12:09 PM

The larger (or vaguer, if you prefer) question that I'm apparently failing to raise is how to use technology to enhance quality of life. Convenience is certainly nice. But do we let it trump every other value? And what happens if and when we do?

A for-instance? Films are now edited on computer. It's a fabulous convenience. No more tape, no more bins of clippings, etc. But film editors I've talked to often tell me that the convenience is too much. They aren't going to do without the computers, but they've discovered that they have to take lotsa breaks as they work. It turns out that the built-in inconveniences of old-fashioined film editing enforced a certain amount of down time, and during that "down time" their creativity and imaginations were at work. Ie., they'd be monkeying with the scotch tape and trying to find footage, and while they were doing this their minds would be figuring out a better way to cut the scene. They'd return to the actual cutting with a clearer head. With computers, there's almost no built-in down time. You can chop chop chop to your heart's content. So what becomes of thought, imagination and reflection? Where do they find time and space to occur? The better film editors now have to consciously build some inconvenience and down-time into the day so their brains can be allowed to do a little work and play. Which of course their bosses see as goofing off.

The forcing of that kind of thing into consciousness is new, and is something to wrestle with. It's like exercise. Back in the old African-savannah days, no one had to consciously worry about getting enough exercise. They just went about their lives and in doing so got it. These days, we have to make the conscious effort.

In a small way, I've found that my life is better when I build a little inconvenience into it. (Such as living without a cell phone.) I find that when I do that, I have more space and time for imagination, reflection and the like. And I also notice that some people who live a totally-wired lifestyle seem amazingly unthoughtful. They've turned themselves into stimulation-response devices, and they're always on the lookout for the latest buzz to react to. They're quick and witty, often, but their personalities often seem about an inch deep.

Anyone want to take me up on this thoughts?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 31, 2003 12:29 PM

There you go. This is an important question:

The larger (or vaguer,if you prefer) question that I'm apparently failing
to raise is how to use technology to enhance quality of life. Convenience
is certainly nice. But do we let it trump every other value? And what happens if and when we do?

The most obvious response that we are all appalled by, it seems to me, is when the technology takes over... like America's
addiction to television,

I am reading Alan Lightman's forthcoming novel,Reunion (July 2003).I found this gem:

The truth is I feel no connection to the faces on the screen. The Hondurans are just so many electronic pixels. I've decided that has been the great achieve- ment of our age: to so thoroughly flood the planet with megabits that every image has become a digitized disembodied nothingness. With magnificent deter- mination, our species has advanced
from Stone Age to Industrial revolution to Digital Emptiness.We've become weight- less, in the bad sense of the word.

That's something to worry about.

Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on January 31, 2003 12:50 PM

"They've turned themselves into stimulation-response devices"

[meekly raising my hand]

No doubt that I am one of these. The economic climate has turned me into a machine, afraid to turn off the phone or the PC. Hell, I'm skeert to be away from work email for more than a few hours. Or maybe I'm just wired that way -- Type-A and all that, and today's jacked-in world enhances that Jedi Master level I think I have to attain.

And blogs don't help, what with the chop-chop nature of doing one. Or doing mine, and reading others. Something like that. I'm about as thoughtful as a six year-old these days. I'm seriously considering going cold-turkey over at my joint just to regain some sense of an internal life (quit laughing, you!).

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on January 31, 2003 12:58 PM

Hey -- found a great RSS reader: NetNewsWire. It works with 2Blowhards, so it must be good, eh? I have a feeling I'll be using it to check in on whether there are any updates in future.

--Felix, an inch thin and proud...

Posted by: Felix on January 31, 2003 1:53 PM

Brother Felix,

I thought what was on the table was how to make technology work from a humane POV, to escape the shackles of gadgets and the oppression of widgets. Seemingly, you are only interested in perfecting your bondage.

My DSl was down earlier in the week (for the first time in a long time) I am proud to say I went about my life with only a minor facial tic and no medicinal aids.

So it goes...

Posted by: robert birnbaum on January 31, 2003 2:04 PM

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