Upwardly mobile

“Cellular technology has come a long way,” my worldly friend advised me. “Be sure to do your research before making the purchase. It’s too easy to make a bad decision.”

She took a sip of her cocktail before giggling on, “You’ll want a modestly sized phone – think slightly smaller than a brick – and definitely go for the retractable antenna. While your phone may be less than three pounds, the battery pack can be cumbersome. It’s about the size of a large lunchbox, and the sucker feels like it’s full of rocks. I find that a handy carrying strap makes hauling the load so much easier.”

At that moment of penultimate bullshite, her pocket started buzzing and she pulled out a wafer thin phone. I mouthed a silent farewell, marched directly to a downtown dealer and kicked off my wireless shopping spree. After mere minutes, I’d signed up for a plan, put down the plastic and went from being a telecommunications laughing stock to packing cellular heat.

And so it was that I crawled out of my damp cave, stopped being America’s final cell phone holdout and emerged into the 21st century. As tempting as that suitcase car phone might have been, I went with a fairly chic LG Banter complete with keyboard, MP3 player and all the mobile fixins. Seconds after making the leap, I fired my friendly friend a text – “T4BU. UR GR8. L8R.” – and then happily joined several of my fellow users on Main Avenue, all of us plugged in and typing.

Oh what a difference a week makes. Once upon a time (way back in mid-March), my version of “texting” involved flipping through biology books for lurid photos. Back then, “good reception” referred to Gallery Walk stops that served cold beer rather than boxed wine. The sorry truth is that I took a big leap only seven years ago and plugged a cordless phone into my jack (“You’re going to regret it,” a fellow holdout told me. “The reception on those things is abysmal.”)

But it was starting to get lonely at the bottom. One-by-one the last of my fellow Qwesters fell like dominoes, each of them turning tail, unplugging and custom packaging their new plans. Even the most devout Luddites – the root cellar dwelling, homemade jerky makers (including the fellow holdout, who leapt straight from rotary to digital) – sent their land lines to the landfill.

Throughout I secretly wanted to join the herd, even when I saw my first suitcase phone back in the last millennium. I, too, wanted to set up last-minute meeting places, catch those precious late night moments on my cellcam and forever dodge Republican Party robocalls. But I could never quite press the “send” button.

Decades of sucking down second-hand telecommunication had me a little reluctant to fire up. Like everyone, I’ve listened as the innocent husband calls his wife for grocery guidance from the confusion of Aisle #3. I’ve watched as my mom’s car was t-boned by the dude with Foreigner on the stereo and the Casio Z Phone pasted to his ear. And I’ve suffered through the humiliation of being wedged into a bathroom stall next to more than one squatting, wiping and flushing caller. Based on these and other close encounters, I wasn’t ready to join Team Mobile.

“I know what you are,” a friend once admonished me. “You’re one of the cell phone refuseniks.”

As it turns out, the New York Times broke the story on my secret little society last October. The report opened by noting that 85 percent of Americans are married to their mobiles. Those who aren’t “tend to be older or less educated Americans or those unable to afford phones.” But the story also went on to identify a smaller subculture – the refuseniks – a group that dodges the wireless world for personal reasons. “They resent the way that ring tones, tiny keyboards and screens disrupt face-to-face conversation. They savor their moments alone and prize the fact that no one knows how to reach them.”

I have always been happiest with my telephone safely at a distance (my new baby is happily parked and vibrating at home as I type). But between you and me, my inner refusenik was more interested in helping to repopulate Planet America after the dreaded cell phone plague than making a political statement.

Nonetheless, I finally ran out of minutes and didn’t even think twice as I first powered to life last Saturday. I’ve never been afraid of change (especially when I was reaching for it and trying to find a pay phone). I happily traded in my refusenik status, gave Qwest the heave-ho and dialed in.

And something resembling relief actually replaced shame as my phone tinkled its first rings in public. After openly pressing “talk” and putting the miniature brick to my ear, I quietly asked myself, “Who wants to be the last man on earth, anyway?”

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

May 11, 2023
Digs for dirt bags

New hostel offers hikers, skiers and other frugal fun hogs place to hang their hats

May 4, 2023
Saving the cemetery

Proposed apartments spur efforts to preserve historical burial grounds

May 4, 2023
Rico reprieve

Small mountain hamlet to remain resort-free, for now