In our modern technological age, businesspeople in nearly every industry are “blessed” to be in constant contact with their customers and co-workers via cell phones. These handheld electronic wonders have opened up new and exciting ways to make deals, complete projects and be more efficient from almost anywhere on the planet. While these wonderful little devices have made it incredibly easy to do work, they also have made it nearly impossible not to work. Those of us foolish enough to give out our cell phone number for work accompanied by the phrase, “Call me any time” don’t realize we have placed a hex on ourselves. In offering those ten numbers and four little words, we were not making a gesture but rather giving a command that will be followed without discretion.
On my last day of work before vacation, I told my boss that I would be turning off my cell phone and not turning it on until I returned to the office. From the look on his face you’d think I just informed him I would be vacationing on the face of the sun. He said he’d only call me if he had something really important to say, as if to reassure me that I didn’t have to do something so drastic just because I was going to be on vacation.
Despite his assurances, as I packed to go camping a week ago Friday I removed the battery from the back of my cell phone and placed them in my suitcase (no need to be completely cut off in case of a flat tire or other real emergency). Deactivating my electronic leash didn’t feel strange until after I had packed the car and was driving to California. I knew that the cell phone was deprived of the electricity it needed to receive text messages or emails, but like an amputee who just lost a limb I felt ghost vibrations in my pocket. A couple of times I reached down for that little lump of plastic and metal only to find my leg and nothing else. After a few hours my anxiety subsided and I no longer felt the urge to look for missed calls.
Last Saturday and Sunday, my girlfriend and I camped in Eureka, Calif., the little town on the Golden State’s north coast where I grew up. My plan was to see some of the area’s natural beauty one day and drive around town the next day seeing all the nooks and crannies where I spent my youth from the ages of 4 to 14. I had been back a couple of times in the 20 or so years since my family moved away from the area, but I hadn’t gotten to stop and smell the rhododendrons the way I really wanted to. I used to ride my bike everywhere in that little town and I wanted to see if I still could navigate it like I did in the 1980s. I wanted to see the houses where I used to live, the schools I attended, the parks where I played, the shopping centers where I hung out and the streets I traveled during those carefree days.
Last Saturday, we visited the giant redwoods and saw the seals snoozing on the rocky beaches. A couple of times I thought about taking a photo with my phone and sending it to my mom, but the new wireless-less me decided she could wait until I got home to share the sights with her by email — you know, like they did in the old days. Then on Sunday, we started the day with breakfast at the Samoa Cookhouse (the last lumberjack-style cookhouse on the West Coast), followed by driving all around town. Since I was traveling by car instead of bike, I made frequent stops to get out and look around, imagining I was 14 again and out for the day with my friends with no obligations other than to be home for dinner. I thought about how I would be out for hours on end, miles from my house and relying only on my youthful wits and wisdom to get me around safely and back again. My mom had my friends’ phone numbers to call if she wanted to find me, but most of the time I was wandering about and unreachable by any means. As I took this trip down memory lane, I suddenly felt a little badly for probably having caused my mother and father to worry with my nomadic tendencies. Luckily, I only came home bleeding once, and my father’s reaction as blood gushed from the cut on my head was to ask what happened to my glasses.
As I reflected back on being a gregarious pre-teen who slowly turned his parents’ hair gray because they couldn’t find me, the 35-year-old Sparks newspaper editor in me didn’t worry one bit about the folks back at the Tribune left to toil away in my absence with no way to ask me where to find this file or that phone number or such-and-such a font. The cell phone I had tucked away a few days earlier was a distant memory, and the few times I thought about it I had no desire to turn it back on.
It’s funny how quickly the world changes and how readily and enthusiastically we adapt to it with no thought about how it will completely change our lives. I remember how excited I was when I signed up for my first pager and, later, my first cell phone. Any time either of them made a beep I couldn’t wait to see who was calling me. Now, the thought of what awaited me when I turned the cell phone back on made me sick with dread. But, as I survived and my parents survived, so too did the Tribune in my absence.
The little California town where I grew up hasn’t changed much since 1989 when I couldn’t wait to move away to someplace more exciting, but I’d move back there now in a heartbeat, especially if it meant no one could find me until it was time for dinner.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my cell phone is ringing.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.