We've all seen advertisements for a certain wireless phone provider, the one that appears in the form of a cell phone user, followed anywhere and everywhere by an entourage of support personnel. To this day, I hear people boast with some pride of how, even today, they do not have a cell phone. Until just a few years ago, I was among them. By then, I certainly knew people who had cell phones, but it was a crap shoot whether to call them that way if I really had to. Would they bite my head off for using up their limited number of minutes? Why the hell did they give me their number if this was a problem?
But their very existence can be a problem as well. We have all sat in church and have listened to someone's phone go off. We have sat in crowded buses and have listened to some twit prattle on about intimate details of their pitiful lives with others, in such a manner that they never would were that person sitting next to them. Oh, the folly of becoming one of that number!
In the summer of 2004, two events occurred that led me, despite everything, to get a cell phone. One was when Sal had to go to California to find work temporarily. It was clear by that time that we would be in regular contact regardless of where she was, the location in her case being uncertain. The other event was Paul's graduation from high school. No sooner did the child support run out, than her mother eloped and left the area for Cleveland with her new husband, leaving her newly-emancipated son on the street to fend for himself. My thirteen years of financial support relegated me to a small studio apartment in the basement of a family home. I simply had no place to put him, even to sleep for the night. So he stayed with one set of friends or another. That's when I got a cell phone; both for myself, and the two people who meant the most to me. Until his twenty-first birthday, Paul's phone was free of charge. It was the least I could do.
This device became a good means of keeping up with things, not only with friends and associates while out of town, but with my e-mail. Being a writer, and having a number of activities in which people depend on me, it has been a critical factor in being all the more dependable. Yes, I'm at the corner of This Avenue and That Street, so it should be ten minutes. Have this or that ready when I get there. I'm at the exit for the airport. You say you're standing at Gate 7? Is that you in the blue jacket? See me flashing my lights three times? No, I'm not at home, but if you go here and ask for Whats-His-Name, he can help you out. I'm in Ohio all this week, but I'm glad you called. I'll need that thing ready when I get back, and everybody we both know will thank you for it.
And so, the wheels of progress in my universe, for which I am the Wingnut of Choice, keep right on turning.
And my use of it is rarely an annoyance to others. For one thing, I usually keep it on the "vibrate" setting. And when I do have the ringtone one, it is the most innocuous choice I can possibly make. I see no need to broadcast to the rest of the world that someone is trying to get a hold of me, or that I have to be alerted to the news with a digital merengue tune.
There is one other thing. Are you ever speaking with someone, who decides the moment their phone goes off, that you aren't worth talking to? Well, whoever calls me, barring a genuinely anticipated emergency, has to get in line behind the real live person. The pull of technology does not have to be at odds with civility.
When I upgraded to my current provider about a year ago, the service got much better, being the result of careful study. I rarely lose touch with people, nor they with me. My plan also gave me the luxury of not having to be miserly with minutes. It also gave me access to news and weather and what-not, which is very handy when you're standing on the bus and have only one hand free. I can tell someone, okay I'll be picking you up in ten minutes at such-and-such a spot, and it can happen like clockwork. And when Paul is too busy to talk (and running from home to college to his job puts him on the road a lot), I can send a text message, and that's much more convenient than catching him at a bad time, which I otherwise always seem to do. Once or twice, I've amused a young child on the bus, traveling with a parent who has picked them up from day care, with a selection of cartoons on the video channel. I don't use that often, as it doesn't work with a headset of "Bluetooth" earpiece. Would that it did, I'd never carry a book to read. Perhaps it's just as well.
Eventually, it got to where, unlike most people, my cell number was the first number I would give out, and not the last. My home number has become a repository for fly-by-night mortgage companies and people who hang up when I answer. I'm beginning to wonder why I even have a land line at all.
I found out today.
This morning, my cell phone was tucked away in its case, clipped onto my belt, as always. I reached into my cassock and shut it off before proceeding with my duties at Holy Mass. I believe that is the moment when it met its doom, for when I got home today and checked the case, it was gone. Maybe it was the result of carelessness in putting it back into the case while wearing a cassock. Perhaps it was caught in the folds of the garment, and the case did not close securely, in which case I should be more careful. In the meantime, I was able to get to a retail outlet of my provider, where my lost phone has been shut off, and my replacement will be here in a couple of days. By Wednesday morning, all will be as it was before, but for a host of numbers and other data to be re-entered. I learned that I can pay an additional service charge to have any future information stored at a server in some office building somewhere.
There were video clips of some young people dancing a "tinikling" at a Filipino wedding, an outstanding guitar performance of a favorite artist, and "Sal" doing the limbo at a pool party this past summer. Perhaps some thoughtful janitor or Altar Society lady will be moved by Saint Anthony to find it on the floor of the sanctuary or sacristy, and return it to the rectory, where the good Father has already been informed. Otherwise, these memories are gone. I should have sent them to my e-mail inbox as backups. But alas, the convenience of technology has a price, one where we become dependent to the point of a bittersweet return, if any.
After all, how could I tell such a mind-numbing story were it not for this medium? I may yet think of something more intelligent to say. Stay tuned...[UPDATE: Apparently something like the above did happen. Someone called my cell phone, and a lady from the parish school answered. This discovery was relayed to me, and by Wednesday morning, all was back to normal. Once again, Saint Anthony, the patron of lost items, was on the job.]