Life

Legion of Cell Phone Resisters: Count Me in!

Everyone says I need a cell phone. And so I don't want one.

By Shannon Rupp 3 Aug 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp is a Tyee contributing editor, whose previous articles can be found here.

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Throw off your oppressor. Let freedom ringtone!

I belong to a small elite group about whom little is reported: the Legion of Cell Phone Resisters. Although legion is perhaps the wrong word. We're more like weary a band of stragglers following troops of people marching in lockstep and chanting, "Join us. Join us..."

Lately, I've been tempted to succumb to the aptly named cell -- carrying one, it is a little like being permanently jailed -- due to peer lectures. That's peer pressure for grown-ups. Past the teen years, that old rule that we must do everything our friends do takes the form of harangues about how we are being inconsiderate or uncooperative if we don't do everything they want.

Oprah mag's advice columnist even tackled the issue of whether it was bad manners to refuse the electronic leash when everyone else is living in bondage. Perplexed, she sought outside counsel: the corporate ethics adviser said yes, everyone is obligated to be available to everyone else all the time; the legal scholar said no, one is entitled to set limits.

You know who I agree with. Besides, I like the way cell phone resistance is becoming a status symbol. Montreal billionaire and investment guru Stephen Jarislowsky famously doesn't carry one, and he's the voice of common sense on most things. Of course, his assistant and all his many minions must remain tethered to the hive.

I think this makes cell phone-free living a status symbol because, by definition, status symbols are something only a handful of people can achieve. My fish-belly white skin would have been a big asset around 1795 when the masses were labouring on farms and cultivating skin like leather. But by the 1920s, a glorious bronze was the thing to sport since only the wealthy could afford to sunbathe on beaches while armies of pasty-white factory and office workers toiled.

I think cell phones are a lot like tanning: something that used to be considered glamourous and is now viewed as a cancer risk.

Which is why I tremble as my comrades in the Resistance fall. More than 75 per cent of Canadian households have cell phones, so it's clear our days are numbered.

How urgent is anything?

Robin Laurence, a visual arts critic in Vancouver, is one of the few remaining holdouts, and she's used to being called a Luddite. Laurence refused to use voicemail until a few years ago when an editor insisted. She succumbed to email around the same time for the same reason. However she uses it only at an Internet café -- unlike almost 80 per cent of Canadians, she has no home Internet access. As she nears retirement, it's clear she may never have to join the 35 per cent of people already accessing the web via smartphones.

She sees cell phones as "life and death" technology -- essential only for those who are on-call for emergencies, which doesn't include the sort of feature writing she does in newspapers and magazines.

"Are you going to get a call from your editor saying your punctuation has ruptured?" says Laurence. "Really: How urgent is it? Newspapers and magazines have been put out for decades without cell phones."

She also shudders at the way Canada's more than 24 million cell phones have blurred the line between public and private space, noting that riding the bus is like being forced to watch reality television.

"People have loud conversations about the intimate details of their love lives. Or worse: their gastro-intestinal problems. I don't want to hear about their diarrhea!"

I would suggest she just get an iPod, but I don't want to spook her. She allows that she may soon be forced into phone-toting as the pay phones have all but disappeared. It flashed through my mind that there could be a phone-finding app, and then I realized how this wretched technology is warping us.

"But I'd only use a cell phone for calling out," Laurence continues. "I'm not interested in having anyone phone in -- I don't want any more portals into my privacy."

Into the wilderness

Lest you view her as one step away from being labeled a dangerous loner, Laurence is uncommonly social in the old-fashioned sense of the word -- she's out with friends most evenings. That's partly because she has never owned a TV, and without Internet access she doesn't fritter away her time in Facebook, Twitter, Quora or any of a host of online diversions that give people the illusion they're socializing.

Her views are echoed by Greg Klassen, publicity and marketing directory for Winnipeg's Prairie Theatre Exchange theatre, who recently committed to three weeks of cell phone ownership for the first time due to a freelance gig marketing a film fest. (And yes, I did have to search beyond provincial borders for cell phone resisters because when I called the usual suspects, it turned out they'd all succumbed to some Angry Birds-playing device.)

"There was just no other way to do the job," Klassen says. "But as soon as the festival is over, I'm done." But then he hesitates. He's at the top of the slippery slope where he can see there are genuine emergencies better met by phone. Like when his partner injured his ankle during a summer hike last year.

"A phone might have been good then. But that's the dilemma: you go to the wilderness to get away from phones."

At 47, Klassen makes wry jokes about being flummoxed by technology due to age, and says he decided to brave cell hell after he spotted a herd of baby bunheads in pink tights and tutus all texting on their tiny pink mobiles.

"I figured if the eight-year-olds could handle it, I could," he says. But he adds that children love cell phones because they aren't fielding hundreds of emails and calls from people under the illusion that they're entitled to get an answer right this minute.

To the barricades

Klassen disputes the argument that cell phones -- or most of the technology tools -- save time. He resisted using Facebook and other social media until recently because he suspects they just transfer our energy to new and often less valuable tasks. He worries that they steal our concentration without actually helping us do the job at hand, which is his primary objection to cell phones.

"I get my best ideas when I'm away from the office -- that's just the way it is with this kind of work -- but if I have a cell phone I'm never away. And I need that four blocks when I'm walking to the supermarket for me."

Of course, that and so much else can be blamed on the attitude of Gen N (for Narcissists). Although to be fair, phoning -- as in ringing someone up -- is on the decline having given way to texting. And often sexting. But that's another issue with even more distractions.

Since we're not the sort to swing sledge hammers at cell towers as if they were so many knitting machines, my comrades in the Resistance and I have no solution to the problem, short of cultivating an image as charming eccentrics.

So we've decided to form a club. We're having some stylish berets designed and as soon as we get the carrier pigeons trained, we'll send out word of the inaugural meeting.  [Tyee]

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