Losing that cell phone could gain you some freedom

Column by Sean Rose

My house has been known to eat things.

On top of a couple pairs of socks now and then and maybe a T-shirt once a year, I’ve also lost a set of keys and a cell phone. They disappeared into the bowels of my house on two separate nights, never to be seen again. I tried to find them — I looked for two solid days. Nothing.

Losing the keys was hard, but losing my cell phone was harder. Suddenly I was thrust into a world of social darkness. I had friends, but they couldn’t reach me, and I couldn’t reach them. Theoretically, I could contact them through a landline, perhaps. But theory doesn’t last long without substance.

I knew these people had phone numbers, but why memorize those when they’re easily storable in a contacts list? My situation grew increasingly grim. It would be a long road of recovering numbers. Not all my friends and acquaintances are put together enough to possess a Facebook account or maintain a working e-mail address.

I’ve recovered nicely since then. There are a few numbers I’ll never get back, but it’s all right since they haven’t warranted many calls recently anyway.

But weeks of regaining numbers opened my eyes to something besides the wisdom of backing up a phone number list: We are a people who thrive on contact.

So what happened when people lacked cell phones? When people were grounded to a landline or, even more primitive in our minds, when people met for face to face contact?

Think about it. When someone meets friends for a party, what’s one of the first things he or she does upon arriving? Whip out the phone and verify a location. “Where are you?” “Am I at the right house?” “How late are you?”

Now think about our parents as college students in the same situation. They show up and wait. Or just rely on their friends being there. Or look around. Or meet someone else.

Cell phones are supposed to free people and make communication wireless — now you can go anywhere and still be in contact, the advertisements say. But by grounding communication not to a place but to your person, doesn’t that make you less free?

You’re always reachable, and your friends are as well. You’re never too far out of your social bubble. Instead of being comfortable with being unreachable — essentially being alone — we’ve embraced constant contact with this new “freedom” that comes with cell phones.

Instead of relying on running into people or meeting them face to face, this freedom has cheapened that interaction into something considered inefficient or simply not easy enough.

But it’s also taken away the experience of being alone. And time alone when the voice of a friend is only a speed dial selection away is never truly time alone. This may not seem like a bad thing, and it isn’t. But it is an indication of people’s intolerance with being alone, even for a short time. How many of us, myself included, have passed the time between classes with a call home or to a roommate?

Although it’s more uncomfortable than being close to friends, a person can learn and see much when alone, mostly how to be comfortable with the feeling. And once someone can appreciate being alone, separated from social familiarities, one can appreciate the times close to friends even more.

Of course cell phones aren’t the end of growing comfortable with being alone. But if my reaction to losing mine is typical to other students, we could all benefit from separating ourselves from the freedom of constant communication.

Sean Rose is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected].