Almost every time my dad’s cell phone rings, he stares at it in disdain. If looks could kill, then his cell phone would be dead many, many times over. Or maybe it would be re-incarnated as itself again on an hourly basis?
Anyways, the point is: my dad hates most technology and cell phones. His greatest desire: to be ‘off the grid.’ That’s his catch-phrase for a life without phones of any kind, computers, or anything like that.
He wants to be completely un-reachable. Up until recently, I couldn’t understand why he felt that way.
I enjoy talking on the phone probably more than most people. My cell phone bill will attest to that. And I am pretty addicted to both e-mail and my Facebook account. But when you’re on your phone all the time, constantly have internet access to look things up and respond to e-mails… that isn’t always a good thing. I didn’t realize how much time I spent with those things until they were taken away from me.
Case in point: I’ve spent nearly five weeks thus far without–gasp!–a cell phone, or regular internet access.
Right now, my dad is probably more envious of that than the fact that I’m in England.
I didn’t know if I should get a cell phone or not when I first got to Cambridge. I glanced over the prices of per-minute calls, both in the U.K. and outside of it, and texts. It wasn’t that much–but it also wasn’t that little. To conserve money, I decided to go sans cell phone, at least for the first week, to see if I even missed it.
Truth is: I did miss it, at first. Even when I was in Slovenia last summer, I had a cell phone. I didn’t really use it that much, but I still had it–it was there, to tinker with when I was waiting in line, or sitting on a park bench. It was there so that I wouldn’t have to look like I was by myself if, in fact, I actually was by myself.
But this summer? I had no technology to hide behind. It was just me, my mostly-empty purse, and the fresh British air. I wished I could text someone to tell them that.
I didn’t realize, at first, how often I shoot off texts to my family and friends when I’m thinking about them, when I see something funny, or just when I feel like it.
I didn’t realize how much of my evening–usually a couple hours’ worth–gets spent on the phone, talking to my family or friends about my day and what I’ve been doing. But without a phone or internet access, I became an incredibly productive member of society, writing several lengthy research papers, reading hundreds of pages of books for class–and even for pleasure–and just enjoying my time walking around the cobble-stone streets without a distraction.
Soon, I began to enjoy life without the constant threat of a cell phone ringing. I get serious anxiety when I see I have a voice mail. Cell phones stress me out. I figured they were a necessary stress of life, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve felt so much calmer without one… even though it is, admittedly, nearly impossible to figure out where/when to meet up with people from my program.
And I grant that the fact that I’ve gotten so much done is due only in part to the lack of cell phone. I’m also staying at a 650-year-old dorm with no T.V. or landline, and without internet access or computers. (How am I writing this column, then, you ask? OK, smarty pants, I’ll tell you: I’m at a nearby library.)
I don’t think I could go without a computer or internet forever, since, as a writer and a chatty person, both are pretty vital to me. But I’ve more than enjoyed having limited access to them. I waste far less time online now; when I have internet access, I get what I need to get done quickly, and move on.
What does all of this add up to? This means that I’ve finally achieved my dad’s greatest dream: I am, for all intents and purposes, off the grid.
And you know what?
I think I finally understand his point of view: I kind of like it.
Column, published by the Southbridge Evening News and Stonebridge Press this week: http://www.theheartofmassachusetts.com/