I am walking the streets of this city without a cell phone, and have been without one for almost ten days now. It is a bizarre feeling, and I feel as if I have willingly dropped out of communication, from sight, with the world. People all about me talk to the air, walking and gesticulating like madmen, ear pieces barely visible. Cell phones are ubiquitous, used for texting in the subway, used as calendars during meetings, used for photographs, music, web browsing, calling. And I walk through these endless invisible ley lines that connect each person in the city to their own personal web without one, completely cut off in my own private stone age.
I agreed to meet Paul at a cafe two days ago. “I’ll be there at 4.30pm,” I told him, being careful to imprint upon him the exact time of my arrival. “Sure,” he said, not looking away from his computer screen, “I’ll be there in about 45 minutes. Go on ahead.” 5.30pm came and went. No sign of Paul. I sat in a curvy wicker chair esconced in a nook to one side of the door, an iced coffee at hand, book on my lap, looking up each time the door opened. No Paul. I wanted to call him, and couldn’t. I wondered if he wanted to call me, if something had come up, if he was just running late, or if he couldn’t find the cafe. Nothing. About me, people chattered on cell phones, sitting along in the late afternoon sunlight that slanted in through the massive bay windows.
Finally, 6.15pm rolled around, and I stood up. I wanted to go home, but how to avoid his dashing in five minutes from now, just missing me, and then not knowing what to do? Which route would he most likely take from our apartment in order to get here? Which streets should I take as I walked home in order to intersect with him, to stop him should he be coming?
I walked home quickly, and when I opened the front door, I saw him still sitting before his computer. He’d lost track of time, editing his video. I stood there, reflecting on how different life without a cell phone is. I don’t think he understood my concern; in his world, communication with anybody but me is but one speed call away. If I had been bothered, he must have felt subconsciously, I could have simply called and expressed my displeasure.
The other side effect is that suddenly the world seems larger and emptier. When I leave the office, I am alone until I get home. Despite the masses of people about me, I can talk with nobody. Nobody calls me. Speaking with friends had been up till recently a means to pass the time as I went from A to B. Travel had been when I usually caught up with distant friends. It’s been ten days since I’ve spoken to almost any of them. The skies suddenly seem broader, the pavements more crowded, my memories thinning out as I fail to hear from people day in, day out.
I’m going to get a cell phone soon. But for now, I’m going to wait, to just experience this void a little longer, to remember what it was like to live before cell phones. To be mute, dumb, deaf and alone in endless crowds of chattering strangers.