my travels around the world

The Cell Phone

It has been interesting traveling without a cell phone. Logic dictates that I don’t carry on every where I go as I travel. It would be expensive, and generally I have no need for it. Most days in Maine I leave my cell phone in my bed. Sometimes it seems to be not much more than a glorified alarm clock. I use it to text, but I very rarely call anyone. Although getting a smart phone has change my cell phone habits somewhat, I generally don’t need my cell phone on a daily basis. Without question, the most frequent calls are to my parents. Most of my communication with friends, students, and colleagues is through digital means, e-mail, Facebook, the infoserver, etc. or face to face interaction. The biggest two changes a smart phone has had on my life are that 1) I check my email more frequently and 2) I look things up a lot.

When I was a kid, I was often sent for the encyclopedia or the atlas during a dinner conversation, so we could clarify a point or figure out something that no one at the table knew. I got so used to it, that something would come up and I would leave for the bookcase before anyone asked me to. It was a fairly common sight in our house to have a dictionary, a few letters of the encyclopedia and an atlas all in the dining room. More recently, we something has come up, I have head out to the computer or to grab my laptop and head to Wikipedia, or some other website to answer our question. Now I just have to reach into my pocket. I have read it a number of times, but it still googles my mind that the cell phone in your pocket has more computing ability than all of NASA when they landed a man on the moon. Moore’s law is truly amazing. (If you don’t know Moore’s law, go look it up. Your smart phone can probably help you…)

Ok, after the tangent, what do cell phones have to do with my trip?

As I tried to contact people in Korea, I realized how depended we are on our cell phones for little things. Not the big conversations, but for the quick moments. The 30 second conversation, the “I-am-running-five-minutes-late-and-will-be-there-soon” conversation. The first thing everyone I contacted said was “Here is my cell number what is your number.” When I wrote back and told them that I didn’t have a cell phone and that e-mail, Facebook, and Skype were about it for ways to get in touch with me, and only when I could find wifi, they were perplexed. They couldn’t quite get how you could survive without a cell phone. And things were trickier. I had to make sure that I had finalized all of my plans for the day the evening before or at the very latest before I left my hostel, because I never knew when if I would be able to get on the internet during the day. When people were running late, they would leave me Facebook messages, but I wouldn’t get them until I got back to my hostel that night. I didn’t mind… Everything always worked out, even if not as smoothly as it could have. Things just had to be “old fashioned” and planned out before they happened. We had to set meeting locations and make sure that we were clear on things such as which subway exit and the like.

I think my time in Korea helped me to both appreciate and feel less attached to my cell phone at the same time. While the old 1129 could have been useful at times, I can live without it. Plans can be made and things will work out in the end. With the expectation that people are carrying their cell phone, I, somewhat hypocritically, get mildly annoyed when I try to call someone and they aren’t by their phone. (I guess it is a more than somewhat hypocritical stance since I don’t usually carry my cell phone but I expect other people to carry theirs… but somehow it makes sense. I just assume they are mildly annoyed with me for not having my phone and we can exist in a world of mutual mild annoyance around cell phones forever!)

I know when I get back to the US I will be happy to have my cell phone again. The ablity to get in touch with anyone I happen to have in my contacts (because I have all of 6 phone numbers memorized and I can’t call myself on my cell phone.) (I actually just realized I still have the phone number of the house I grew up in stored in my long term memory, even though we haven’t live there in a long time… so make that 7 numbers in my head and two that I never use [of course all the others are in my contacts so I rarely, if ever, actually dial a number that I already know.]) But I also know that if for some reason I had to, life without a cell phone is possible, if somewhat more inconvenient.



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