Friday, June 19, 2009

Bandwagon's in the garage, but I'm finally on it

I twitter and plurk, Facebook and Skype, blog and ravel. But there's one piece of communications technology I haven't yet adopted.

The cell phone.

Fifteen years ago, when cell phones were first becoming everyday accessories (rather than accoutrements for the rich who wanted to be able to make telephone calls from their cars or construction sites), I decided that I didn't care to be available twenty-four hours a day, at the beck and call of anyone with my number. It was the age of Caller ID and e-mail. We got to decide who we communicated with, and when. Carrying a phone around seemed like a step backwards in that trend toward control.

I still feel that way, actually. I'm annoyed enough by students' phones going off in class or in conferences that I'm reminded all over again why I don't want to be a slave to the ring. It amazes me when I'm in a meeting and the convener's phone chimes. Invariably he looks guilty and apologizes while he checks it. Ten seconds later, as the night follows the day, the voicemail notification blurps, and he apologizes again. Why would I want to set myself up for that kind of embarassment and exasperate those around me, when I could just check my home or office voicemail as soon as I return?

We do have a mobile phone -- a prepaid one that we turn on only when we leave the kids with a sitter, or when we're traveling. For weeks at a time it goes untouched. We got it when Archer was born, for emergencies only, and that's the way it's remained. I love paying for more minutes once a year to keep the number rather than paying every month on a contract.

But my days of bopping around town untethered to the telephone system are numbered. I'm second in command at my unit. I need to be reachable when I'm at lunch or at the library or walking across campus. Intellectually I've known this for a while -- at least a couple of times a year when I help organize big events and everyone exchanges numbers like jewel thieves synchronize their watches -- but it wasn't brought home to me until last month. When our seniors give their presentations, I'm typically not scheduled to preside over one of the six or seven rooms where they happen throughout the day; my boss and I are free to float around and visit multiple rooms to hear a variety of students. Nobody told me any different this spring, so I just checked the schedules to make a list of the presentations I wanted or needed to attend. As they began, I was over at Starbucks getting a drink and doing some grading. As I made my way back toward the office about twenty minutes later, my boss intercepted me on the lawn and told me I was supposed to be moderating one of the rooms. Fortunately I only missed one presentation, but what I suddenly realized was what would have happened to 99% of people in that situation. As soon as somebody was noticed to be missing, she'd be called on her cell phone.

Only I don't carry a cell phone. Nobody knew where I was. My boss had to go looking for me on foot, hanging around our building until he spotted me coming.

There was no excuse for not being reachable, I realized. No excuse for being off the grid when I'm responsible for doing my part to keep the place running. I can't let my decades-old preferences inconvenience others who reasonably expect everyone to have a cell phone.

So before the summer's out, I'm biting the bullet. Now if I'm going to carry a cell phone, I'm going to carry a Cell Phone -- an iPhone. The TracFone is going to die a natural death, and we're leaping into the smartphone world with both feet. My timing is good, since iPhone prices just went down. But lemme tell ya, the AT&T contracts just make my blood run cold. A c-note a month or more for the privilege of being in touch? A two-year contract? It's exactly these kind of service plans, where you get locked into a money drain month after month after month, that made me feel so superior about my prepaid phone. I hate monthly bills, I hate debt, I hate not having control and feeling like my bank account's being siphoned regardless of whether I'm getting what I want or need.

And I can't quite imagine how I'll get acclimated to the cell phone world. I'd like to get the cheapest calling plan available and add unlimited texting, so I can do as much communicating as possible that way rather than by voice. But ... I've never texted. Would people text me? Whom would I text?

That's where I'm at, and I could sure use some advice. I'm confessing this, my most galling sin of technological omission, to you my readers. Have mercy, and give me the benefit of your experience, please.


Eric Grubbs said...

I would say that having a cell phone is a great safety net, but don't let it become your life. Texting is a great option to have. I might not like texting, but I have friends who are easier to contact through text rather than calling them.

All this said, all those bells and whistles with camera phones, 3G connections, etc. are, in my opinion, not necessary. There might be an app for anything, as the ad goes, but it's no replacement for human life and communicating with humans.

In my day-to-day life, when I'm not at work, my cell number is the only way people can call me. Thankfully, I have not become an impatient robot that makes phone calls all the time about being there in five minutes. If I'm lost or if a friend or loved one is running late, there's the exception.

I hope I'm not sounding like Tyler Durden here, but your basic cell phone is important to have. Yet I can't forget the fact that I went twenty-plus years without a cell phone and survived, got to places on time, and met up with friends on time. I still keep that in mind when I carry my cell phone around.

the secret knitter said...

I think the key is not letting the cell phone become more important than what you're doing and who you're with. That's the big downfall for most people. In my experience students treat what's going on around them as an interruption of their talking and texting.

I don't always have my cell phone on and don't feel obligated to answer it on every occasion when it rings. While I've started to use it for Twitter and occasional texts/photos, I basically use it as just a phone.

While it can be a burden to be available 24/7 (if you let it), there's also freedom with not being tied to one spot if awaiting a call or needing to be reachable.

Can't help on cost, though. Mine's paid through work.

Ali said...

Try to piggyback onto a parent's cell plan--that's what I do, and the bill goes to them! I'm like a college student on my folks' plan! My phone is not snazzy, and I usually leave it on vibrate so I'm only partly accessible, but it is a good middle ground for me. I'm baffled by texting though. I mananged to send one once that said, I think, "Yay."

Mrs. CPA said...

Oh, Donna. I love my IPhone. I used my bonus in February to buy one (and then I got fired, but that's another story.)

If you get one, you have to buy the data plan which is $35 a month. And then texting is on top of that. I think unlimited text is $15. I used to use all my text messages getting twitter updates, but I don't have to have that anymore; I use a twitter app for it. I have 200 text messages and never go over.

I've used AT & T for a long time. Maybe 8 years? And I've never had a real problem with them.

You'll get used to it.