Tales From Suburbia: Monkeys On the Verizon

Cell phones are the root of exasperation.

I’m a Luddite, I admit it. I am 44-years-old and virtually the only living breathing adult I know who does not have a cell phone. My wife has one; as does my daughter.  My parents have one between them, but that’s a recent development.  For the last 20 years they were the only humans on the face of this earth who had “pulse” or rotary dial service on their landline phone (“why pay extra for the pushbutton, what’s the rush?”).  So it was with great surprise that they - who were the last ones on the block to make the move to color TV,  to ditch the Victrola (“but what will I do with all these great 78’s?”), or to get electric windows in the car - actually got a cell phone.  Funny enough, it has a rotary dial.  Nonetheless, my parents finally made it to the 1990’s. 

Yet, to the astonishment of virtually all of my friends, business associates and folks with whom I interact in the Burbs, I do not have a cell phone.  (Blackberry, what’s a Blackberry?).  So what’s the problem?  Am I anti-technology? (Certainly not, I am writing this on a laptop, although it runs on Windows 1967, and you have to start it with a crank), cheap? (how dare you suggest!). No, the real answer is that I am already over-stimulated (and not in a good way). I simply do not want to make calls, and I do not want to receive them. Thus, having a cell phone would not only be costly for something I don’t want, but would be counterproductive in that by carrying one around, I would probably make calls and receive calls.

Ah, you say, but doesn’t a cell phone make life easier?  Mrs. L could call me up on the way home from the office and tell me to stop at the Piggly Wiggly to get milk for Junior, so I won’t have to make a special trip later. Frankly, that doesn’t happen that much. And she can get the milk, or the kids will have to risk oesteoperosis for one night.  

My view is that a cell phone can be (as former President Dubya might say) a life complicator (not really a word, but meaning making life more complicated when it should do the reverse). What follows is an example of the same conversation as if held in 1992 and 2012. 

1992- On Landline Telephone -

Me: Hi Steve, when and where are we meeting at the zoo?

Steve: How about 10:15 at the monkeys with the red butts?

Me: Done.

2012 on Cell Phone -

Me: Hi Steve, when and where are we meeting at the zoo?

Steve: well, Jordan has soccer at 7:30, Brittany has tennis at 8:15; I’ll call you after I drop off Brittany and am heading back to pick up Jordan.

2 hours later, Steve has not called. I called him. 

Me: Hi Steve, when and where are we meeting at the zoo?

Steve: I’m stuck in traffic, I have to get to the soccer field or the coach will be really mad. This is the second time this week that he had to wait at the field for me to pick up Jordan, when all the other parents were there on time to take their kids home.  I’ll call you in 20 minutes for an update. 

Me: I don’t want an update. Just tell me when you can get to the zoo.

Steve: I’ll call you in 20 minutes. Nancy’s calling me on the other line.  Lemme go. 

30 minutes later, Steve still hasn’t called.

Me: Hi Steve, when and where are we meeting at the zoo?

Steve: all right, we’re back at the house, Jordan’s home from soccer, Brittany’s home from tennis. We’re heading for the zoo in 5 minutes, but I have to stop by my office to pick up the mail.

Me: well, we can get in the car in 5 minutes, but how long will you be in the office?

Steve:  should be quick, I’ll call you when we’re leaving there. 

15 minutes later….

Me: Hi Steve, when and where are we meeting at the zoo?

Steve: Ok we’re leaving my office, we should be at the zoo in a half hour, so if you leave now, we’ll both be there at about 10:30. 

Me: Great. Where should we meet?

Steve: I’ll call you when we get to the parking lot. 

Me: Why don’t we pick a spot inside the zoo to meet?

Steve: Nahhh.  You never know, let’s just talk when we get to the parking lot.

38 minutes later….

Steve: We’re here, are you?

Me: Yes. Where are you?

Steve: Parking section G15, You?

Me: A12. Can you see the big inflatable panda bear?

Steve: No. Can you see the big blue dumpster?

Me: No.

Steve:  Just meet me at the monkeys with the red butts.

Me: excellent idea. 

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking several things: (a) I really am a Luddite (or something else inappropriate for children to read); (b) I am exaggerating to the point of stupidity; and/or (c) for those of you really paying attention, you noticed that, under the 1992 scenario, I would be standing at the Monkeys with Red butt cage for at least a half hour,  while Steve played van service for his kids and picked up his office mail, and without a cell phone, he would be unable to reach me. But you would be wrong. 

In 1992, Steve would not have stopped off at his office because he couldn’t reach me.  Or, Mrs. Steve would have picked up either the tennis or soccer kid.  Or Steve would have told me he couldn’t make the appointed time and we would have scheduled the monkey butt meeting for later.  Or, and I am willing for this to happen now and again, I would wait for him if he were late. 

Thus, cell phones have changed the decision making process by extending it, in an infinite and fairly painful way, as illustrated above. I explain this to many exasperated, phone wielding friends who cannot understand that I, unlike them, do not want to make and receive calls. The retort usually goes like this:  “OK, then you (me) can just get a cell phone, not make calls, and keep it turned off.”  Hey, that sounds like a great way to spend $30 a month. I suppose I could also lease a car and not drive it. 

However, in a effort to shut up all those who keep nagging me about it, I came up with the solution: last week, I got a pager.  But I don’t give out the number, and will never turn it on.  Everybody happy? 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Christina Johnson March 26, 2012 at 09:47 PM
But he's right! Who else has listened to the guy in the supermarket aisles saying, "Okay, now I'm in the bread aisle. What kind of bread do you want?" How did that ever get decided before? The guy would have just picked up some bread and the family would have had sandwiches. End of story.
Amber Wright March 27, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Why be unavailable to your family? What if your wife did indeed need you to pick something up or your kids had a problem and wanted to speak to their dad right then and there - all their friends can do that.. It is nice to be available to your loved ones whenever you can be - and why do they need to wait when the rest of their friends can call their dad at any given time? I understand your scenario - which is rare - and maybe just be direct and say to Steve "I'm going to enjoy the zoo - call me when you get here" instead of the mind numbing conversation you went through? Your wife should have the luxury of being able to get in touch with her husband whenever she wanted to and yes asking you to please grab something on your way home - maybe she is cooking dinner and realized she ran out of something and wouldn't it be nice for you - as her partner to help out and grab it so you could enjoy the meal she prepared in a timely fashion? Honestly it sounds more like a control issue than a cell phone issue.
Amber Wright March 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Wouldn't it be great if everyone that would actually help him did not have a cell phone? What if his wife broke down or his daughter? As a husband and a father I would think he would insist on having a phone so he could easily be reached if and when his family needs him. By the way they are doing away with pay phones since no one uses them. Imagine breaking down in a bad neighborhood - or if - heaven forbid his daughter did - and she tried to call her dad - that scenerio is as valid as his "Steve" scenerio up there - just seems like a way to control people more than anything else to me - and kind of mean to not be readily availablle to your family.
Amber Wright March 27, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Why not have sandwiches on the bread of your choice if a simple phone call allows it? Next time you go to a restaurant tell them to bring you whatever they want. End of story. I guess since he is right you just called and canceled your cell phone?
Jane Healton April 02, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Cell phones don't complicate lives, people complicate lives. I got a cell because the pay phones got unreliable 15 years ago and I have a couple family members with health concerns. And I lock the keys into my car occasionally. But I do not let the phone rule, which is where I think many phone users go wrong. Control the conversations; cells are not, in my mind, for social talking. Great blog- keep it up!


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