With the close of part one of this column [Kai Staats “The Cell Phone Calls,” MacNewsWorld, July 28, 2004], my first reaction was to toss my cell phone from the car, to teach it who was in control.
But the thought of the look on my bookkeeper’s face when I would explain why I needed a new phone kept me from enjoying the experiment in high-speed trajectories. I removed my left hand from the window controls of my vehicle. But the internal struggle remained. I should not have been fighting as I was. I knew this was not how I used to be. When didthis occur?
I quickly searched my memories, seeking a time and place when I would not have conceived of owning a cell phone, much less using one there in the middle of Nevada — on a weekend.
I then recalled a memory some 14 years prior: my very first solo road trip, a winter trek from Phoenix to the lava tubes outside of Flagstaff. With several gallons of water, a tent, sleeping bag, shovel, fire extinguisher, stove, cook set, atlas and ample clothes to keep me warm should another ice age hit that weekend; with my full tool kit, cameraand food enough for a small army, I was not only self-sufficient, I was prepared for all possible natural disasters.
Reliance on Technology
As I placed seemingly countless miles between me and my Phoenix home, I became less concerned for the trivial fears that had plagued my mind while packing. With recognition that I was on my own, I was not only free to, but bound to, make my own decisions. I gained a wonderful sense of accomplishment, independence and confidence, whichhas since carried me to many countries around the world.
Now, at age 33, I felt I had somehow fallen into reliance upon technology rather than on my own preparation, confidence and intuition. I recognized that now, instead of preparing to go to the office of a customer or industry associate by asking for detailed directions or downloading maps the night before, I often drive in the general direction and then call to ask for assistance. If necessary, I call again, usually from the wrong side of the correct city block.
Ridiculous. That tiny black box with numbers 0 through 9 was stealing myindependence and, more important, my ability to live in the moment. Howcould I enjoy the here and now, the rich beauty of Nevada’s multiple,parallel mountain ranges or the company of my travel companion if mymind was occupied by concern for, and anxiety with, the work-week tocome?
I therefore drew upon that rich memory of my first road trip and, withlittle hesitation, powered down the cell phone, tossed it into the glovecompartment, held the warm hand of my companion, and was once againfree.
Both prior to and since this recent trip, I have taken note of, forinstance, my own desire to check messages immediately after deboardingan airplane. I have decided that given the context of a business tripwhere I am to meet someone or I have a tight agenda, it makes sense.
But what concerns me most is the nearly autonomous reach for the jacketpocket or outside compartment of the shoulder bag as I race through theterminal corridors, bumping and pushing against the hoards of otherhumans with cell phones seemingly surgically attached to their ears.
Moments to Observe
For me, even a few moments of taking it all in makes the difference. Andso I stop, usually to the side of the walkways, and just observe. Iwatch the families with excited children tugging on shirt sleeves andskirt pleats. I watch lovers scan the horizon with a look of sadnessuntil their partner is found, their face exploding into smile, laughter and then tears as they embrace.
And I watch the hurried business person in a near sprint, polishedleather shoes reflecting the recessed overhead lights like a shiny carbeneath street lamps at night, the reflections racing in reverse. I feelthe rumble of the next jet as it leaves the earth and the nearlyunintelligible attempt by the pager to pronounce names of those travelers who are lost or temporarily missing in transit.
It takes only a few moments, accompanied by one or two deep breaths anda cool drink from a fountain, to remind myself that I am the human, andthe cell phone is the invention of my kind. I exist without this device.But it cannot exist without me. And when I do power it on, I do so bychoice. Therefore, I do so with greater pleasure and far less anxiety.
I abruptly pulled the car to a stop on the side of the road. Withoutconcern for traffic — for it does not exist in the high desert ofNevada — I planted myself in the middle of the road, arms outstretchedto become a human antennae. No matter how hard I tried to interceptthem, tens of thousands of microwave transmissions passed through meevery second, completely unnoticed, for I am missing the feature in myhuman frame required to receive them.
And this caused me to smile.
Kai Staats, a MacNewsWorld columnist, is the cofounder and CEO ofTerra SoftSolutions, developer of Yellow Dog Linux for PowerPC.