DNR Order for a Telecommunications Device

22 11 2010

Yesterday, my phone died of exposure.  It was left too long, too far from its electrical bottle, and it starved.  Night closed in on the gadget and there was nothing to be done.  Minor inconvenience, I thought.  I’d soon enough be back near the charger, and I’d just as soon catch up with what I’d missed.

Today, I got back to the charger.  I dutifully plugged the phone in as soon as I arrived.  I went about cleaning up my space, which was in some disarray after an illness left me unwilling to keep tidy for the better part of a week.  I even switched the phone on after a bit of charging, but the startup is quite a long while, and I walked out of the room before it booted.

Before I knew it, it was almost time for me to head to work, so I hustled back up to my room and got hastily ready, and can you guess what I left behind?  Yes!  My bottle of water!  And also my phone.  The dread I felt at the realization was so substantial that I became immediately suspicious.

Wait, I thought, what am I really missing for the next eight hours, or the previous twelve? If history provides any light, the odds were pretty good that I wasn’t missing much.  Some random text from someone telling me they saw a hot dog vendor and thought of me.  A call from my sister asking if I’d figured out whether I was going home for Thanksgiving yet.  A call from my mother asking me if my sister was coming for Thanksgiving.  In fact, I realized that my phone is hardly ever a tool of happiness in my life.  Nobody ever texts and invites me to a hot tub party or calls to see if I’m interested in an impromptu screening of RoboCop 3 that they are watching from a hot tub.  The best I get is a hassling text from my sister because I haven’t returned her call and she’s presuming I’m dead or playing dead because I don’t want to come home and see her and be reminded that I look more like her than anyone else in the family and she’s not exactly mannish.  Well, I’m not exactly girlish!  I will show you all my muscles if we need this cleared up. I do have nice eyelashes, I’ve been told.

The point is that at one point in the evening, I even felt a phantom buzz from my pocket, but I didn’t reach for the phone with happy expectation.  I winced.  I don’t know when it happened, but at some point, I think the convenience of having a mobile phone was eclipsed by the inconvenience of having everyone you know presume you’re available for them at any given moment.  When I look at my messages screen and see 2 voicemails waiting, I am immediately disheartened.

I asked several people about this.  Actually, I started by asking them if they were old enough to have ever had real live answering machines.  And if they’d had one with their parents growing up, and if they had one when they moved out, and how long they had one before they got a mobile phone, and how long they had both phones before dropping the home phone—since everyone with whom I spoke had only mobile phones, having abandoned the land line.

And the big question I asked was “When you returned home from a day at school or work, or a night out at dinner, and you got in and saw the answering machine flashing (indicating a waiting message), how did you feel?”  And everyone remarked that they were excited.  “And how do you feel when you look at your mobile phone now and see that you have a voicemail waiting?”  And everyone said it was annoying, or deflating, or even made them angry.

I’m sure there are university studies that have been done on this, but if there haven’t, let me go ahead and save some donor money:  being available all the time, and worse, having other people assume you’re going to be available all the time, sucks.  It sucks you right out of your own world, into a world where you have to break your concentration to answer a quick text, or you have to leave your conversational companion for a moment to tell someone where you’ll be later in case they want to meet up.

It is no exaggeration to say that with mobile phones and all the services they provide, wondrous though they are, you are forcing yourself to split your time between two worlds.  Which may not be so bad except that you are doing it in small increments of time, leaving you, in a way, never here nor there.

I’ve been over 24 hours without a mobile phone, and I have enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, I’m now back in the room where my fully-charged, powered-on phone sits, and I really don’t want to pick it up.  There’s no one with whom I need to communicate, but more importantly, I don’t feel like breaking the spell I’ve arranged about myself:  I am alone in a room.  It feels solid, this room, and so do I.  I can deal directly with any of these objects or toys or thoughts or books around me, and I feel like that’s right.  The moment I look into the portal the phone provides, and I’m not calling it evil and I’m not calling it good, I’m effectively gone from here. And I want to be here.  I suppose I’ll have to pick it back up at some point.

But maybe not yet.




One response

22 11 2010

so this is why you never txt’d me back duder!
my most recent experience with answering machines comes with a big fat caveat: it was at my dad’s house. After he got sick and was in hospitals for months at a time, his answering machine was a consistent source of irritation and stress and feeling totally helpless. In big part because the only messages people left were from his creditors, or else people just hung up. Even now, how many times do I actually leave a message on someone’s voicemail? More often than not I nix the idea and just call them back later.

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