Last month I did the unthinkable, I ditched my cell phone.
I imagined the bill for my partner and I hovered near a Franklin. Turns out, it was more like Ben and his twin. I was livid, so I canceled the service. This may seem a bit militant, but my budget right now does not include something that, it turns out, has become frivolous. No one's been calling, and I suspect no one is calling you either.
My circumstances are slightly unique -- yet, for many, cell phones are lifelines allowing access to the Internet, services and, obviously, phone calls. Because I work from home, I rarely leave my house or the landline. My Internet is packaged with my rent. If my car breaks down, I'll probably regret every word of this, but for how much we're spending on the ability to reach out to everyone we've ever met, most of us are not. As one friend told me over Facebook, he wishes "text messaging was never invented. I miss actually HAVING friends." I don't think he's alone.
My cell phone was a constant reminder of how little it rang from friends wanting to catch up, talk endlessly about nothing important or hear my voice. My two thumbs endlessly tapped the keypad software on my iPhone "connecting" me to group messages, my closest friend back in Philadelphia, even my daughter's teacher, yet when I listened, no one was there. Talking to friends looked more like reading a book (a quiet moment) or an afterthought (multi-tasking). I spent more time than ever talking without any talking -- there were comments needing reply, direct messages needing response, email to send, pictures to upload, filters to select. When, in person, I complained to a friend that I didn't have any friends, she told me I wasn't trying hard enough. "I work hard on my friendships," she said. And I didn't?
It never occurred to me no one talks on the phone anymore, that I was a creaky old relic. I met a new friend and I started calling. This is what I thought still happened. Every time I called, I would get voicemail and then a ring back, "Is everything OK, what's up?" After the third or fourth time of slightly breathless callbacks, my friend told me what I'd failed to notice: "You're a phone talker. Like the only one left."
My first thought was, "I think she just phone-shamed me." Is that even a thing? I didn't stop calling anyone, but I became hyper-aware that I was the Betty White of telephones: awesomely old school.
I began asking a few people if they liked talking on the phone or if they missed it. Most of them replied they were too busy and texting was easier. Others said they were socially awkward and preferred the space. All right, I get it. But I will tell you -- the less I interact with people on a day-to-day basis, the less I'm able to form coherent sentences out loud in public. I trip over my words, I'm not succinct. I ramble, and make no sense until I warm up 10 seconds later. Sometimes a full minute. Every second is a painful eternity of panic that I won't ever remember how to make sense.
When I found out I was paying $200 to look at Buzzfeed quizzes and have no one call me, I canceled our cell phone plan. And then I got down to realizing more than three-quarters of the time I'd invested in Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of it didn't enhance my well-being. In fact, it was making me miserable: a quarter of the people didn't know me, another quarter were probably hate-reading, another bunch were acquaintances and the rest were from high school.
About 10 were actual friends, the kind of people who, when I emailed them that I was desperately depressed and struggling, of whom five checked back in to make sure I was alive two weeks later. This, to me, was a revelation. One of them called, texted, emailed, direct messaged and private messaged in one day. Now, that, folks, is a friend. I will hide the body for her, no question.
I'm not suggesting you live without your cell phone or your profiles. But I want to hear the cackle of a laugh along with an embarrassing snort, and see the tears roll when something my friend says is so funny I'm convinced I may never take another breath again. Reading "HAHA" doesn't quite rise to that level.
I want to hear the child screaming in the background so I know life is being lived rather than snapped, uploaded and perfected. I need the awkward first moments and long, painful pauses of terror when meeting someone new so we can eventually look back through our memory, not our phones, and realize we had nothing in common back then except the one thing we did: each other.
Mainly, I want to get rid of the appearance of having friends and actually have them. The only thing it's costing me right now is time: the most finite thing any one of us has. And I'm willing to spend it.