We had always been cell phone-ists: no, we don't have cell phones and no, we don't suffer greatly because of it. Our status elicited frequent upwards-shot eyebrows from many who stood, perplexed, thumbs poised to enter our number in their eensy devices. My best friend, (already suspicious because we also don't have cable, whereas she's already engaged in the Tivo-lution), emitted a little gasp of horror across the landline to California: "I can't believe you guys don't have a cell!"
All that changed, however, when my husband's employer mandated (and provided) cell-phone access for business purposes. Now, I can claim a technicality in that I still don't have a cell phone...but we all know that's just semantics. There it is, pretty much always within reach, offering me instant gratification in moments of emergency, delay or just plain boredom.
Almost immediately, I began noticing a phenomenon first described in detail to me by my younger cousin Meredith, who lives in and breathes the rarified, East Coast-socialite air: when she moved from Boston to New York, she had to get a cell phone right away, she said, because people were increasingly reluctant to make firm social plans the old-fashioned way. "When you talk to friends to find out what they're doing later on that night, no one wants to commit!" she said. "It's always, 'Well, we're not sure yet; where are you going to be? We'll just call you if we end up doing anything.'" Your choices, in such a mobile peer group, are: (a) stay home and wait for the promised call (which requires admitting you'll just be home, hoping for the call, which rarely comes) or (b) swimming in the friendsfamilyalldigitalallpcsdownloadableringtonescanyouhearmenow cellular sea, ready to ditch your current activity the minute you get a better offer. (She chose b, of course, and maintains an overfull dance card.)
Within days, it happened to me, too. Friends were visiting from out of town, and we started inviting others to join us in an evening at downtown's finer bars and taverns.
"Weelll," hedged one potential companion, "we're also thinking about a movie."
"Okay," I said. "What's going to make the decision for you?"
"I don't know. Tell you what, how 'bout we just call you if we're going to join you, and find out where you are?"
A few nights later, in line for the free eats at the Cirque du Soleil after-party, the girl in front of me anxiously craned around to see where her friends had gotten to, now that she was tantalizingly close to more flank steak than anyone, save a cow, should have at one time.
"I'll go find them," her boyfriend offered.
"Nah, I'll just call them," she said. Out came a bitty device, and poof! six pals appeared (and shoved their way into line ahead of me) moments later.
It's convenient, don't get me wrong: we've found plenty of uses for the phone since we've gotten it, and every once in a while, we share a "How did we ever live without a cell phone?" moment. But that's their insidious way: once you have it, you can't stop thinking about it.
Is someone trying to call me? Is that me ringing? I am very important, after all. Did I remember to turn off the ringer? Should I download "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" specifically for afternoons at Busch? Would it really be so bad to just make a few calls while I drive? I mean, I've got this phone and I'm paying for it...
Amanda Doyle is the editor of TheCommonspace.org, and has no idea how to text-message someone.