Unwired: Life Without a Cell

Notes from the last sentient being on the planet without a cell phone.

Illustration by Arthur Chiverton

I don’t own a cell phone. I’m not some curmudgeon who refuses to accept any innovation since indoor plumbing. I don’t consider cell phones the cause of the decline of Western civilization. I just don’t like them.
I hate that anybody can punch 11 numbers and interrupt whatever I’m doing. Nothing is that important. What I’m doing is what’s important. If it weren’t, I’d be doing something else.

I don’t require incessant stimulation. I don’t need to be in touch with everyone I know every minute. And I don’t always want to be found.

I’ve experienced enough frustration from dropped calls on the other guy’s cell and more than enough awkward moments in which my interlocutor and I end up talking over one another because of the time delays inherent in all cell phone conversations.

I value privacy. I’m not talking about NSA stuff. I’m talking about the volume required to be heard on a cell phone. I don’t care to have loud conversations on a bus about whether I should bring home bread or milk. And I refuse to become one of those obnoxious types shouting vulgarities into a cell in public places because someone did something I didn’t like.

Cell phones teach the wrong values. I once stopped a couple who were holding hands while talking on their cell phones and asked whether they were talking to each other—and if not, why not. On another occasion, when I marveled at the size and juiciness of the blackberries my 6-year-old granddaughter and I were eating, she squinted at me in that way children have when they suspect an adult has abandoned all reason and said, “That’s not a blackberry. A blackberry is what people use to send messages.”

I know the arguments, even the ones relating to my chosen profession. Michael Aron, NJTV’s chief political correspondent, once asked me how I handle breaking news stories in my newsletter. But my newsletter is a weekly; there are no breaking stories.

I’ve had a few meals all alone when the other guy couldn’t reach me to cancel. (The smart ones call the restaurant; the others assuage their consciences by calling my office and leaving a message on what they think is my cell.) But eating alone is hardly a disaster. It’s certainly preferable to sitting across from someone who puts a cell phone on the table and looks at it every 15 seconds. It’s usually after about the third glance when I offer my companion a choice between lunch with me or lunch with the cell.

Okay, I did have second thoughts the time my car broke down. On the Turnpike. In the rain. Some people might consider that a catastrophe. At that moment, I contemplated whether I should have purchased a throwaway, drug-dealer phone. Just in case. But I merely muttered, “120 over 80,” my target blood pressure, and waited until a very nice man stopped and called Triple A for me. A prudent guy who anticipates the worst, I always carry a copy of the best novel I’ve never read. So I not only experienced a reaffirmation of the kindness of strangers, I also got in a few chapters of The Red and the Black.

And, hey, if you want to reach me, call my office. If I’m not there, leave a message. I’ll get back to you.

Nick Acocella lives in Hoboken and has been the editor and publisher of Politifax New Jersey since 1997.

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