What We Did Before Cell Phones

… and what it should teach us about how we use them now.

Zack Morris Cell PhoneI have had a cell phone since 1999 or 2000. As new features are added, I upgrade. I was one of the first people I knew that texted, I had to be one of the first to have a picture phone, then an iPhone (and each iPhone upgrade).

I have my cell phone with me almost all the time. My iPhone is my calendar, my most used camera (and photo album), my most used video camera (and video player), my email, my social networks, my place to track my running distance and my entertainment (Angry Birds much?)… oh AND it is my phone, not that I use it for that often.

I will give myself a break on my phone though… I use it for me. I don’t answer personal calls at work, I don’t answer any calls when I am having dinner with my husband and I usually don’t text or take a call at all when I am in the company of other people. But I am very dependent on my phone.

Cell phones don’t work in Aruba

Last week, Adam and I had the pleasure of going to Aruba to celebrate a dear friend’s wedding. Not only was it a dear friend’s wedding but my closest group of friends were also in attendance. How fun is that?!

Know what didn’t work in Aruba? Our cell phone (unless we wanted to pay a lot for it). How did we do it? How did we possibly survive? Well we did and it made me think a lot about how I use my phone, when I use my phone and who exactly is in control here.

Here is what we did without cell phones:

  • We made plans and stuck to them – We had to plan ahead. We decided who was going to meet where and around when. Once that plan was made, you had to stick to it. If you said that you were meeting a person or a group in the lobby around Noon, you did. You didn’t text them and say ‘actually I got hungry so we just stopped at a restaurant to grab lunch’. You went to the lobby, waited and then possibly you ate lunch after you met up.
  • We had to remember numbers – God forbid something happens and I need to make a phone call to anyone other than Adam. For serious… I don’t think I could tell you my mother’s cell phone number. The phone numbers in my brain are Adam’s, my parents land line, my mother’s work (she has been there for 25 years), my grandparent’s land line (they are now answering phones in heaven but thank goodness my uncle moved in that house so I don’t have to feel like knowing that number is a waste of space in my brain) and my own cell phone number (sometimes I slip and can’t get that right and spit out my NH cell number). That is it, that is all the phone numbers I think I know.

    In Aruba, each hotel room did have a phone in it. So you know what we had to do? Remember people’s numbers! They weren’t in a directory, I couldn’t Google it and they weren’t in my address book. We had to learn them. We did and we got pretty good at it. What is that area of my brain doing now? The part I used until I was 19 or 20 to remember friend’s phone numbers… it is apparently still there. I just must be using it for different things.
  • We left notes – Remember notes? Remember the excitement of passing notes in school, hoping a boy would circle ‘yes’ that he liked you, or a note on your whiteboard on your college dorm, or how about just notes left around the house from roommates or family? One step further – what about letters, cards and notes we receive in the mail. There is something so much more exciting about finding a note than receiving a text or an email.
  • We banded together and pulled through awkward moments – This one is huge at conferences or networking events; you are talking to someone and the conversation gets a wee bit lagged. A semi-uncomfortable pause, a break in the conversation and you both pull out your phones. The conversation picks back up commenting on what someone just tweeted, a video on Facebook or by checking in on Foursquare. What would happen if you just muscled through that little pause? I bet you would have come up with something to say, maybe even gotten to know who you were talking to better.

    There were a few times in Aruba that I would be talking to someone and a story would end, one of us would get distracted and forget what you were going to say or whatever else happens to cause those pauses. For those, we couldn’t distract ourselves with our phones, we had to muscle through. Needless to say, the conversation would sputter back up and I think I had more in depth talks with many of these people that I have known for years this week alone.
  • We told stories not status’ – Yes, sites like Facebook and Twitter or email are a great way to keep in touch, to tell people what you are up to, where you have been, where you are going or to make them laugh. In person though you don’t tell 140 character stories. You tell long stories with grand hand gestures and voices and maybe a little dancing here and there (depending on the story).

    In Aruba no one said ‘Crazy night out last night with the guys. Boy am I tired.’ They said ‘…did you hear about what Simon* did last night? No? Well we were all out at this club and the guys decided it would be a better decision to get bottle service than to just keep buying drinks. Everyone was acting ridiculous…‘ twenty minutes later ‘and that is how we found him sleeping on a roof‘.

Six days after getting to Aruba we touched back down in the US, Philadelphia specifically. While we were preparing to land I told Adam I was excited to turn my phone back on. Then when we were taxing on the ground, I was a little apprehensive on turning my phone back on. It was the end of that silence, that stillness of not checking something or listening for a beep or a vibrate. I did turn it on and I am still going though emails, tweets, texts and Words With Friend’s moves even today.

I have tried to maintain a little bit more control over my phone, we will see how long that lasts. I have my ringer to silent and the vibrate off. When I look at my phone is when I want to, not when it summons me. I don’t know how long that will last, probably until I miss something important.

I do want to remember how that felt though. How we had to be creative, make plans, leave notes and trust our friends to communicate well with them for almost a whole week. It somehow made me feel more in control than perhaps if each person was just a text away.

How about you? Is your phone for you to keep in touch? or do you think it controls too much of you and your relationships?

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

4 Replies to “What We Did Before Cell Phones”

  1. I LOVE this post! I am totally controlled by my phone even though I thought i never would be. It feels like a lifeline and there is almost alweays a reason to bring it with me where ever I go, just in case. I actually do use mine as a phone primarily and I talk on it TOO much! I justify it by saying that my family lives far away and I don’t get to connect with them, but the truth is I pick it up too quickly in any free moment instead of using those free moments for myself. I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be talking to someone or trying to connect with people every second! It’s ok to spend 10 minutes in my car just with myself. I get a lot of flack for this from the boy I live with and I get a little defensive, but it’s true. Thanks for the reminder to continue working on letting go of my phone a little more each day 🙂

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