Weekly Column: A Modern-day Ma Bell

©Stephenie Freeman, The Sunday Constitution

Remember the days when no one could get a hold of you, when you could leave the house or work and actually escape without a cell phone ringing and tracking you down?

Remember when you owned only one phone that was permanently connected to a wall in your house and if you weren’t at home when someone called they simply had to leave a message and hope for the best?

To steal a phrase from Senator John McCain, those days are long gone my friends. Cell phones have completely taken away your right to run away and hide.

Nowhere was this point made clearer than during a recent lunch with a few of my girlfriends. We were happy to be getting some early Christmas shopping done without our kids, enjoying a lunch at a quite restaurant with no one to feed but ourselves. Unfortunately, our grown-up lunch was continually interrupted by the ringing and buzzing that was coming from our purses.

Our adult conversations kept getting interrupted by the intermittent need to check our phones…just in case. I mean, isn’t that the main reason that we parents have them? Isn’t it a safety issue that our children be able to reach us at all times? “I just need to check this,” one of us would say as our phone buzzed. “Better make sure it’s not one of the kids.” In truth it had little to do with concern over our kids and more to do with satisfying our cell phone curiosities. Along with making us more efficient and organized, our cell phones have also made us rude.

We are all guilty of it. We talk on our cell phones instead of conversing live with the other parents standing outside of the school. We send text messages while our kids play at the park instead of simply enjoying the beauty of the day. We chat in the grocery store checkout line when we should be asking the hardworking clerk sacking our groceries how his day is going.

Why are we so rude when it comes to our phones? It’s because these little devices are more demanding than our kids. They are constantly asking for our attention—ringing, vibrating, and blinking—and when they do, we succumb to the possibility that whatever is on the other end might be more important than whatever we’re doing at that moment. And it never, ever is.

I hate my husband’s cell phone. It’s the mistress in our marriage that is constantly drawing his attention away from me. It’s as if my husband works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no overtime pay. Having to bring work home with you on occasion is one thing. Having to bring it with you on vacation, during your child’s T-ball game, and even into your bedroom late at night is something totally different.

The Golfer’s BlackBerry seems permanently fused to his body, unable to separate from one another. Every time that thing vibrates I can feel my stress level start to rise and I start to wonder what would happen if his little micro-chip filled mistress disappeared for a while.

I’ll hear it vibrate when someone calls, pulsate from a new voice mail, and buzz from a text message all day and night with no regard to anyone or anything else. I’ll suddenly see my husband’s head bend down to glance at his phone—a move known as the “BlackBerry Prayer”—and find myself wanting to yank it out of his hands, throw it against the wall, and sit back and wait for the CrackBerry withdrawals kick in.

Obviously, I am not a cell phone addict like my dear husband. My phone only calls people. It doesn’t take pictures or play music. It doesn’t give me directions or send me emails. It only lets me call people and lets other people call me—and it doesn’t even do that very well.

And that’s what I love about it. I use my cell phone the way God intended—for emergencies only. And the best part of it all? I still manage to escape from the world around me when I need to. You can try to call me if you want. Just don’t expect me to answer.

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