I saw a recent blog post about disconnecting oneself from social networks, and thought of this piece that I wrote about three years ago. Hope folks like it.
Living As An iMinority
I didn't realize how marginalized I was until I went to pay my wife's cellphone bill today.
"While you're here, would you like to get some accessories for your own phone?" asked the cheerful counter
"I'm just paying my wife's bill," I said. "I don't have a cellphone."
You know the saying about how men are from Mars and women are from Venus? Well, right about then I
was being looked at as if I actually did come from another planet.
"Really? Why not?" he asked.
"I had one several years ago," I explained. "I didn't really use it so I got rid of it."
Again with the baffled look.
"Wow, that's so weird. You're really in the minority, y'know."
I shrugged, grabbed my receipt and left. But as I walked back to my car, I mused on what the clerk had said.
What exactly was he getting at?
Being in the Minority
It's interesting to see the way people use the word 'minority'.
In a political sense, it can refer to those poor bastards in parliaments around the world whose sole
contribution to public life is endless !@#$%*ing and complaining. They lack the votes to propose or halt
government policy. They are the minority. They are helpless.
Of course many of us are also accustomed to using the word 'minority' to refer to various ethnic groups. In
North America, not being Caucasian makes one a 'minority', even if one happens to live in an area where
Caucasians are vastly outnumbered. The implication of being a minority of this type is that one is being
"kept down by 'The Man'" or something like that while at the same time being eligible for preferential
treatment of some kind. (Don't believe me? Have a look at the job ads in your local paper, and watch for
phrases like "commitment to diversity" or "preference will be given to visible minorities.")
I don't fit into either of these classes of 'minority'. Instead, I seem to be part of a minority of the 'nonconnected'.
Having Internet access, an e-mail account or posting on Facebook is no longer sufficient.
Because I have consciously rejected something that most people take for granted I am, let's face it, a
TeleLuddite. (I once went without television for nearly three years. You should see the looks I get when I
I am an object of curiosity, if not pity. How can I possibly get by?
Why I Really Don't Have a Cellphone
After finishing my Bachelor's degree, I worked in public policy for a few years. No, I wasn't some kind of
policy wonk. I was one of those guys who raises money to keep the research going. At one point I was
spending roughly one-third of the year on the road, doing things like flying from Vancouver to San
Francisco for lunch, then turning around and heading right back home.
When I wasn't traveling, I spent an awful lot of time on the phone; so much time, in fact, that to this day I
have ulnar nerve damage in both arms from leaning on my elbows while talking on the phone. Having one
or both hands suddenly go half-numb for no apparent reason is quite normal for me. They still work the
way they were designed; I just can't feel them.
This is part of the reason I don't like telephones, but it's not nearly as important as you might think.
Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that a "letter is an unannounced visit, the postman the agent of rude
surprises. One ought to reserve an hour a week for receiving letters and afterwards take a bath."
I feel much the same way about the telephone.
That's right: The real reason I don't have a cellphone is that, if I did, people would call me.
I know, I know....this makes me a horrible, anti-social person. How could I possibly be annoyed by the
prospect of having people communicating at me (note: not 'with' me) at all hours of the day or night?
Consider the nature of most of this so-called communication, however. Maybe it's just me, but from what
I've observed most of the things people talk and text about run the gamut from trivial to utterly
unimportant. While I can only claim to have ever heard one side of others' cellphone conversations, my own
observation is that most people spend an awful lot of time explaining that they're on a cellphone and that
they're going somewhere or have arrived somewhere. The same is true with text messages.
And then there's that other annoying feature of modern cellphone 'culture': the ubiquitous picture and
video-taking that goes on.
The finest examples of the banality of this behavior may be observed wherever so-called celebrities are
gathered. People wait for hours, often in less-than-ideal weather, crushed behind a barrier of some kind, all
in the hope that they'll catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber, Barack Obama or some other media idol.
And then, when the celebrity shows up, what happens? Out come the cellphones. The object of one's
adoration may be only a yard away, but instead of looking at the person we see people staring at images of
said person on their phone. Having been present at some kind of 'event' is no longer enough. We need
tangible evidence that it happened and that we were there. If we don't have a photo to share through social
media, then it didn't really happen. We don't look at an object or a person. Instead, we look at an image. We
prefer a picture of reality over reality itself.
This strikes me as really quite bizarre.
It reminds me of people who go to sporting events but never take their eyes away from the giant screens.
What the hell are these people doing? Do they realize they've just spent a great deal of money to go to a live
event in order to watch it on television? If someone pointed this out, would they see the irony?
My guess is no, they wouldn't.
Right now, Apple is running a series of ads in which they claim that more people take more pictures and
videos each day with iPhones than with any competitors' product. If this is true, then how very sad it is. All
these people out there taking pictures of things rather than actually experiencing them.
I'm Fine, Thank You Very Much
I'm a fan of genuine human communication; the sort that happens when two people can actually look at
each other, exchange ideas and pick up on the kinds of social cues that help us avoid misunderstanding and
pointless conflict. (Ever notice how many e-communications end in fights because one party assumed that
the other was typing with some kind of implicit, condescending tone?)
Does this make me a member of some kind of 'minority'? It would seem so.
Oh sure, I send e-mails and post random thoughts on Facebook, but I see these as being, at best, a tertiary
form of communication. They're more prone to causing miscommunication; something that seems to be
lost on those who stare at their phones to type out such important observations as "LOL," "k" and "<3."
Maybe it's a generational thing. In my forty-seven years on the planet, I've had some truly memorable
experiences, most of which I have no 'proof' of. And, if I'm to be honest, I must admit that I don't
particularly feel the need to prove that anything has happened. Whether it's a gift from my Creator or the
result of genetics, I possess a remarkably good memory. I don't need photos to reassure myself that
something actually happened, especially if I was there when it happened.
Wait a Second. Am I a Snob?
I've seen people use cellphones to have conversations that amount to, "I'll see you in five minutes." I've seen
people using those same phones to send text messages to friends who were literally in the same room. I've
seen people trade genuine experiences for photos and videos of non-experiences.
Am I looking down on those who have traded the real world for a hand-held facsimile thereof?
If I'm to be completely honest, then I must admit that I am more baffled than snobbish or superior.
We're frequently told that we live in a Golden Age of Communication, but all the evidence suggests that
nobody's really talking.
I don't get it.
One Final Objection
There is always the chance that I could find myself in a situation where having a cellphone would be awfully
handy. The car breaks down, phone service is interrupted, I'm running late for an appointment, I need to
change some plans. There are many, many situations in which having ready access to a cellphone could be
considered essential, I suppose.
So What Do You Have to Say About That, Mr. Smartypants?
François Mitterrand was President of France for fourteen years, and according to an article I read some
time ago he was noted for not wearing a wristwatch. He realized that he didn't really need to keep track of
time. Others would be more than happy to do it for him.
I don't wear a wristwatch, either. And when people ask me why, I like to give an answer that strikes some as
being a bit like a Zen koan. "Can you tell me what time it is?" I'll ask. And, inevitably, they can.
With that in mind, I'm having a bit of an emergency. May I please use your phone?
Thanks. I appreciate it.