Use Your Cell Phone Like It’s 1985

I am on the verge of buying my wife and I cell phones here in the states.   We don’t own any as we have just returned from four and a half years overseas and so buying cell phones seems the thing to do.  Everyone’s doing it right?

It may seem funny to some, but I am honestly considering not – as in not buying cell phones. Really.

Call me weird, but before deciding to move to Turkey five years ago we didn’t have cell phones, a TV, the Internet or a toaster – just kidding, at our house we love toast.

In Istanbul, a city of nearly 15 million, we bought a cell phone for each of us and were happy to have had them. They made life easier, kept us connected and provided a much needed sense of security.

But as of a week ago we are back in rural South Dakota.   I am attempting in our return to live intentionally with my time and our money and the way I use technology – cell phones included. You see I want to use technology, to be its master and would like to keep it from becoming the other way around.

I have to be careful here of course.  I am not saying cell phones are bad but I am trying to carefully consider how I use them.  They are an amazing tool that can powerfully impact our personal experience in wonderful ways.

But, that doesn’t mean I need to swallow them whole hog. And that is why, if I do get a cell phone, I am going to endeavor to use it like it’s 1985.

Here are a few things that never happened in 1985:

  • Your best friend never stopped talking to you over dinner to talk with someone else a hundred miles away on their cell phone.
  • You were never distracted at movies, Church services or your kid’s school program by someone running out while holding their hand over their cell phone to muffle the Elton John ringtone.
  • You were never interrupted by telemarketers over dinner while eating out – that was reserved for eating with your family at home.
  • You never ignored your kids while you were “playing” with them in order to check the score, the stock market, play Angry Birds or to watch a Chris Farley video on Youtube (guilty as charged).
  • There were never any car crashes related to texting while driving. (No train crashes either)
  • You never dropped a call because you were driving through a tunnel.  You sometimes dropped the phone, but it was always there, dangling by its cord, waiting to be picked up.
  • You never upgraded your phone on a yearly basis just because a newer model came out. In all of your life up until that point you may have upgraded twice – once when they introduced the touch pad to replace your old rotary phone and the next time when they came out with the cordless phone.
  • You never needed to have your wife call you so you could find your cell phone stuck in the couch cushions. The real phone was bolted to the wall in the kitchen. It never got lost.

Before the cell phone, it seems we lived pretty healthy, well-adjusted lives – most people did anyway. If someone called, and you were not at home, the phone just rang.

It just hung there on the wall and rang.

After a few moments of unanswered ringing, the caller would think to herself, “Hmmm. No one seems to be home. I guess I’ll try back later.And life went on. Few people died because of unanswered phones.

But today, people having a heart to heart conversation with a friend, a spouse or their kids seem to have no problem dropping them to answer their cell phones (guilty as charged again).  This seems like a problem.

My son is eight years old. I’ve had to occasionally reprimand him when, upon the smallest distraction, he will wander away from an adult who is trying to talk with him. It’s rude to just turn and walk away from someone who is talking and yet, if I examine my own life and the lives of most adults in his life, isn’t he just mimicking what he observes in us?

The funny thing is that it wasn’t always this way.  I found a 2002 USA Today article that had this to say:

Most cell phone culprits inherently are ill-mannered underachievers. Getting a phone call in a public place and carrying on a long, loud conversation gives these wannabes a feeling of importance.

Ouch. It was just twelve years ago and yet it is strange to think how far we’ve come (or gone).

And so, if I purchase a cell phone in the next few weeks, I’m going to try to use it like it is 1985.

I won’t nail it to the wall in our home.  Nor will I  leave it sitting on the counter in the kitchen.  I will however work to not let it control me.  If I am free to answer it when it rings, I’ll answer it.

If however, I am with another person, if I am working on a project, if I am playing with my kids or enjoying my morning quiet time – I’ll just have to let it ring.

Now I am no Luddite. I am not opposed to cell phones. They are powerful tools that can be tremendously helpful. I just want to use it on my own terms. I want to use it as a tool, not be at its every beck and call.

When I was living in Istanbul, I always had a rule. If I was talking with someone, I would never answer my cell phone unless it was Consuelo – my wife gets preferential treatment.  Everyone else got ignored.

But not really ignored. You see that is the great thing about technology – I always knew whose call I had missed and was able – after finishing up my conversation – to call them back.

And no one ever got mad at me for that. On the contrary, everyone was completely understanding, even appreciative that I had called them back.

Cell phones are as much a part of our lives as the clothes we wear.  There are many amazing opportunities that exist because of them and they are often a powerful force for good.

I guess I just want to slow down a little, to consider all the ramifications before I dive back in.  And then I want to work to use them as best I can.

What are your thoughts about cell phone use?


7 thoughts on “Use Your Cell Phone Like It’s 1985

  1. I’m 33 years old and have never owned a cell phone. It’s not that bad. I’m not against them either, but if you choose not to have one, it’s not that big of a deal.

  2. It seems crazy that my kids don’t really even know what a “wall” phone is! I try hard to follow these very things you’ve written about, but often fail. Always a good reminder for me, not to let technology become more important than the people I’m surrounded by.

  3. I like your take on this. My girlfriend has the same ideas about cell phones use that you do, and I’ve tried to answer the phone on my own terms.

    But I’ve had a different experience. I have had a cell phone since 2004, and because I lived in an area with poor cell phone reception I gained the reputation of never picking up the phone. And friends and family always bothered me saying, “you never pick up your phone.”

  4. Hey Aaron,

    I think really it isn’t the cell phones to blame, it’s the humans using them. You know I am a technology lover and Apple fan boy and proponent of not checking email etc etc.

    I’ve ‘survived’ very recently with a simple phone (albeit hacked to get important alerts via SMS and to add notes to evernote via voice – but that’s the busywork of a geek really). I switched back to an iPhone using my web design business as an excuse, but really I love the gadget.

    I will say that when I go out for dinner with my wife the phone stays at home or in my coat pocket on silent. Recently I was out for a lovely meal with my wife and the couple on my table next to me saddened me. He was overweight, in an ill fitting suit and was CONSTANTLY checking his Blackberry. She was dressed up for the evening, out of his league and he BARELY looked at her! She honestly looked like she was excited to be out because she probably never gets to spend time with someone who was clearly a work-o-holic or disinterested in her. I almost leaned over to his table and pointed this out to him but that would have been rude and distracted me from actually concentrating on my wife.

    I guess the point is that like ordering a supersize HFCS infused soft drink it’s not the tools but how people use them.

    As I have spoken to you I know that you won’t have this problem – especially as you are conscious of your behaviour. I do worry for the younger generation who has never been without this technology and will always be tethered to it. My nephew has just go his first phone. He is 6. Crazy.

    Loving this site Aaron.



  5. Nice article Aaron. Hope you guys are settling back into the US OK. We’ve missed you in İstanbul.

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