Why I Don’t Own a Cell Phone

Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together—Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011), is a modern sage. Next fall, my writing students and I will read and discuss Chapter Eight, Always On. Maybe we’ll start with that subtitle. Do we expect more from technology and less from each other? If so, why? Since my first year college students will be card carrying members of the first always on, internet generation, that discussion could fall flat. More how? Less than what?

Dig this excerpt:

These days, being connected depends not on our distance from each other but from available communications technology. Most of the time, we carry that technology with us. In fact, being alone can start to seem like a precondition for being together because it is easier to communicate if you can focus, without interruption on your screen. In this new regime, a train station (like an airport, a cafe, or park) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. . . .

When people have phone conversations in public spaces, their sense of privacy is sustained by the presumption that those around them will treat them not only as anonymous but as if absent. On a recent train trip from Boston to New York, I sat next to a man talking to his girlfriend about his problems. Here is what I learned by trying not to listen: He’s had a recent bout of heavy drinking, and his father is no longer willing to supplement his income. He thinks his girlfriend spends too much money and he dislikes her teenage daughter. Embarrassed, I walked up and down the aisles to find another seat, but the train was full. Resigned, I returned to my seat next to the complainer. There was some comfort in the fact that he was not complaining to me, but I did wish I could disappear. Perhaps there was no need. I was already being treated as though I were not there.

Some people are incredulous when they learn I don’t own a cell phone. My students, last fall, for example. One couldn’t comprehend how I grocery shopped without the ability to call home and double check on what was needed.

Some of my friends would say I don’t have one because I’m a cheap, antisocial bastard. Only partially true, my parents were married when they had me. But those charming attributes aren’t the main reasons. I don’t have one in large part because you haven’t convinced me that your lives are substantially better with them. Convenient at times no doubt, but just as often I hear you lament how dependent upon them you are. At least among middle aged cellphoners there’s a nostalgia for simpler times when people weren’t always accessible, people sometimes made eye contact, and you might meet someone new in public.

Of course, ambivalent cellphoners could turn off their phones on occasion, but that defeats the whole purpose of instantaneous accessibility. Everyone expects you’re all in.

I’m sure my daughters are tired of hearing me say that I’m going to buy the next iPhone. I probably will conform sometime in the future, but I know once I take the plunge, my life will change. Thanks to you, I’m just not convinced it’s for the better.

5 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Own a Cell Phone

  1. Lol “anti social bastard” ! I can relate greatly with much of my own opinions about cell phones, public places, and teenagers (I have one if those as well). However, as an Indpendent Mother of two daughters, I chose to get one for us all. That dozens not mean I was happy about it. I still have family & an intrusive neighbour whom both feel if I CHOOSE NOT to answer my phone; they have the right to show up at my door… Family’s acceptable not the neighbour. There’s something the world has forgotten or re written somewhere that I don’t understand–cell phone manners. Maybe its time we write the handbook. One of us better speak ‘teenager’ lol! Cheers, J9;)

  2. As with most new technologies there are pluses and minuses. The cell phones do have those gps devices in them that not only aid authorities tracking lost individuals but came in very handy in tracking the Boston marathon bombers when they stole that SUV and the owner left his cell phone in the vehicle.

    The bad part is the “authorities” can also trail you when you are not in need of them simply because their computer program picked you as a person of interests because you seemed to fit a certain profile. We’re beginning to rely too much on non-human methods of ascertaining information that can have consequences as we saw when the stock market plunged using automatic electronic trading when a bogus tweet occurred about the White House being bombed last week.

  3. I guess I like texting for some reason. Sort of like Twitter. I don’t want to talk but the quick messages can be useful. I really enjoy listening to news and features podcasts and streaming foreign language broadcasts (I am a language teacher). The ability to listen to “die Zeit” and “radio france international” while I walk the dog has been like language training for me. For the last 10 years I have been listening weekly to 14 episodes from “die Zeit” (the world’s best newspaper) as I take a morning stroll. Nothing like hearing the spoken word. Of course lots of this could be done on an ipod instead of an iphone.

    • I’ve seen you walking the dog and die Zeit-ing. 95% of people seem to prefer texting to talking. Which makes me wonder why a less expensive texting only device hasn’t caught on.

  4. I do not own a cell phone and do not feel a need for one. Why would anyone want to call me? Most of my family knows how I feel. Those people who do not like me, do not call me. I have a land line and my husband has a cell phone for emergencies. But, he never uses it and we are thinking about giving it up. I love to garden, ride my horse and meet friends for coffee. I give piano lessons. I live in the country. My interests do not include cell phones. They are expensive and take up the time you would use for face to face conversation. If a piano student cannot make it, he/she calls me (on the land line). I like my privacy and I am happy. What more could I want?

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