I was 16 when I got my first cell phone. It was a “sleek” Nokia with a nob top antenna, which was a far advancement from the first gen. bag phones and second wave brick phone (Zack Morris special). It came out about the same time as the original flip phone (the flip served no purpose other than a thin piece of plastic situated so that you could hear your voice with the inferior microphones) and had an antenna that you had to extend out of the phone in any hopes of getting a signal. Due to horrible coverage and very rural living, the ritual in OH usually included walking around like a crazy homeless person with nowhere to go just hoping to see a bar jump one or two places – up from 0. When you ran out of figure eights you would go vertical – holding the phone above your head just in case the cellular signals were designed for someone 8 feet tall (this one I still don’t understand as you still had to pull the phone back to your ear to speak which should have resulted in loss of signal again). Still, I was proud of that Nokia and would carry it everywhere, even though it didn’t fit in my pocket because that “sleek” design of the time was still large enough to force me to choose between the phone or my Trapper Keeper in my backpack…that is when I actually took books home to make up the rest of the space. Not only did I have the newest gadget available – an event that would start a trend when I actually made my own “grown-up” money – but I also had one when most adults didn’t.
Cell phones at the time were considered a luxury item for sure and it was even more strange that my dad agreed to cover me in case my lawn mowing salary couldn’t cover the bill. I guess the fact that my friends lived in another town 5 miles or more away, I was a newcomer to the world of driving and having a cell phone meant that he could always stay in touch with me made up for the fact that we really didn’t have any money for luxury items. Either way, I don’t remember who I ever called but I do remember that I needed it with me ALL the time. Since those times the cell phone has exploded in to basically a computer at your disposal 24/7 (and data that rivals any WiFi network), and I have jumped in head first to every new wave – sucking up the Gs all day and maxing out my data plan. I consider myself a junkie for all that the phone has come to offer.
I bring all of this up because since that time when I was 16 (Jennette says that’s a long, long time ago), I have had a cellphone attached to me with very few, and only very short periods of exception since. I’ve always found a use for all of it and kept it close almost as a security blanket as much as anything else. My office days were usually spent sucking up data watching the stock market and listening to talk radio shows on the SiriusXM app …while doing my job of course.
Our first few weeks in Costa Rica has left my iPhone “fix” limited to someone else’s time since it’s useless without WiFi (save our Kindle book app, podcasts, and downloaded Sirius shows – WE LOVE YOU RON AND FEZ!) This limits where and when we can use them drastically (even though Costa Rica is very WiFi friendly in most restaurants, etc. it still takes effort and planning). It helps that our rental car company provided us with a cellphone for emergencies, but we haven’t even felt the need to load it up with prepaid time since it’s just voice. Having Skype, email, and Facebook has almost eliminated the need for us to have an active phone, but has also exposed something that I didn’t quite expect – that we don’t need to have internet access from a phone all day every day. We have gone from hotels that had no WiFi in the rooms – to sporadic coverage – to full time WiFi and it’s become just fine for us any way it’s given. At first we clamored to any WiFi spot we could, or became upset and even anxious if our WiFi wasn’t working or wasn’t available where we were. Now we have gotten to the point that we only take a phone if we think we will need to look something up, use it for a camera, or playing a downloaded show or music on our drive since radio stations aren’t present on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula. Even when we have WiFi we don’t jump at the chance to “connect” like we did even a week ago, and based off of the diminishing usage I would say that we will be down to 1 or 2 times a day in no time. We don’t automatically assume that our phones go with us like we used to – or feel weird and anxious if we don’t have them (ever left your house without your phone?) Additionally, one phone is almost always enough instead of both. It’s becoming more about conversations and experiences – living in this moment rather than both of us locked in to our own phones instead of each other – and I’m loving every second of it.
It’s also become a fun ritual that we sit down at the breakfast table with our phones, or laptop and catch up with our friends and family, check some news, post some photos and maybe download some shows for a road trip, etc. We talk about what everyone is up to, what’s going on in the world and plan our next adventure. We set aside this time to be online and it’s very focused with a sense of achievement when we are done. We plan to keep the ritual alive when we are out of the vacation phase of our trip and renting a place that doesn’t provide breakfast every morning because it’s become such a pleasant and productive way to start our day. We then spend most of the rest of the day “dark” – usually with the phones, computer, and iPad in our room. Dinner has now been reduced from us feverishly getting the WiFi password from the server to only a post or two, but not being as much of a priority as talking to those around us or to each other. A guilty pleasure has become watching episodes of Community on Netflix at night on the iPad, but I’m sure that we could live without it. *** if you are ever planning to come to Costa Rica, oddly the Netflix iPad app works but the online feed from your computer doesn’t (error message about streaming in the 50 Sates only) – odd.
I’m not suggesting that we are not without our outlets, in any way roughing it or are “tuning out”. As anyone who is our friend on Facebook knows, we get plenty of time on the web but there is definitely something nice about doing it on your own time instead of all the time locked in to that phone. Before it felt like “their time” since “they” were the one’s providing the WiFi, but now it’s become “our time” since we choose when and where even when the WiFi is available. It’s very liberating not having all access to news, Facebook, email, stocks, or any of the other millions of things that we use our phones for these days. I almost feel like I would stare blankly at some of this stuff just to have something to do – or need to do three or four things at once. Now when I am online it’s more about staying in touch or learning than about clicking and checking just for the sake of being distracted. When I do hop on the laptop or my phone there is a purpose that I have rarely felt before, and I leave the rest of the time to experiencing life with my amazing wife. She’s far more interesting to me than anything I could find out there on the web.
I don’t know if we will get a phone here, but I’m VERY certain that I won’t need a data plan any time soon.