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.