Harding Magazine

End Note
Cell phone - not

By Michael Claxton

Several years ago, I was on my way to a retreat in North Carolina in the early evening. I must have hit something sharp as I sped along Interstate 40, and within seconds I was on the side of the road with a flat.

As I started walking to the next exit, I didn't get 50 feet before a truck pulled over, and two country fellows in the stump removal business asked if I needed a ride. They took me to a phone and even recommended a roadside serviceman.

These friendly characters were a little salty in their language — I can't repeat what they said about my pitiful spare tire — but I appreciated the help. They gave me a card and said to call if I ever had to get rid of any stumps.

Soon I found myself at a backwoods tire shop that was still open. I had no credit card, and after the roadside service fee, $5 cash to my name. "Wait a second," the shop owner said, as he disappeared behind the building. A few minutes later, he rolled something dusty next to my car. After fishing a pile of leaves out of the rim, he sold me the tire and even put it on for free.

So about two hours after my accident, I was back on the highway and made it to the retreat just fine. And I did it all without a cell phone.

Michael ClaxtonWhenever I tell that story, people enjoy lecturing me about how unsafe it is not to have cell service. But I keep thinking how boring that story would have been if I had just sat in my car and dialed for help.

In today's paranoid world, I placed some old-fashioned faith in the kindness of strangers and came out of it with a colorful anecdote. And that story is at the heart of why I don't have a cell phone.

This quirk drives everyone I know crazy. They're OK with the fact that I don't have a laptop or an iPod or TiVo, but for some reason, this particular type of technophobia goes too far.

Friends harangue me as if I'm still driving a horse and buggy. Colleagues mumble something about having a "Luddite" in their midst. And my mother is convinced that I will someday be stranded in the desert with no good old boys to help, no way to call for assistance, and no change of socks.

I fully understand the benefits of cell phones, and I use other forms of technology every day. I microwave, I e-mail, and I once even faxed something. But I draw the line at owning a cell phone. Call me old-fashioned. Call me anachronistic. Call me stubborn, even. But call me on a land line if you want an answer.

I don't have a cell phone mostly because I want the freedom not to be accessible everywhere, every minute, for every reason. Some of my friends are slaves to their phones; they have no privacy, no downtime, no silence. They feel that such things as driving and shopping are productive activities only if they can talk at the same time.

But multitasking hasn't made them more efficient; it just makes them more anxious. Cell phones have become equivalent to the TV remote: They make us nervous wherever we are and terrified of what we might be missing. I don't want this to happen to me.

Granted, some people have no choice but to carry phones at all times — doctors, for example. Fortunately, my expertise is not needed in many emergencies. Generally, most comma crises can wait until Monday. In fact, for every genuine emergency in which a cell phone comes to the rescue, the device creates a dozen pseudo-emergencies that would not exist without it. Because of the ease of calling or texting, we have redefined the concept of "urgent."

Teens call each other to say, "I just got out of class." One young woman told me about the time she thought she recognized someone she knew at the mall, but instead of walking up to the person to check, she called her instead.

More disturbing to me is that cell phones have a way of making nice people obnoxious. Why must the dignity of every funeral be interrupted by a ring tone blaring "Darth Vader's Theme"? Why must students bolt out of class without so much as a "Pardon me" if their phone starts to vibrate? And, to quote the exasperated mother on the comic strip "Zits," "Why do  random text messages always trump face-to-face conversation?"

To my distress, I recently learned that there are 1.2 billion cell phones currently in use worldwide. That means if all the cell phones in the world were laid end to end, it would be easier to run over them all with a truck. So, no, I don't own a cell phone. But in case you're wondering, I did get a credit card.

Dr. Michael Claxton received the Ph.D. from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an assistant professor of English.

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