Hung Up on Cell Phones


Once, for a short period of time, I had The Man by the balls. And when I say “The Man,” I mean The Man – a corporate giant who keeps us down, corners us and our pocketbooks, gives us no choice, frustrates us at every turn and manufactures, along with his product, that helpless feeling in our gut that we’re up against something unbeatable. When I say “The Man,” I mean my cell phone service provider. And by provider I mean AT&T. And for a brief shining moment, my contract was f’in up. Booyah!

In fact, though it seemed to pass in a heartbeat, it was more than a brief period that I enjoyed the pleasure of having AT&T over a barrel. (Provider. What a generous title.) My Golden Era lasted two years (ironically the same amount of time they make you commit to those inane contracts which ensure you that you are joined at the mobile hip for a full, glorious sentence.)

The freedom – both real and imagined – was extraordinary. When I received my monthly bill, I’d simply have a gander and pick out those charges that I really just didn’t think were fair. “That call to Eastern Europe cost how much?!” ” I thought I had unlimited texts!” “You mean I wasn’t covered for Internet usage?!”

All it took was a simple call and a moment for the front-line customer assistant to figure out who I was – an off-contract customer, An Opportunity for Customer Retention.

“Sir how can help you? Are you ready to re-up your contract?”

“Um, no, I’m shopping providers right now and will be making a decision very soon, but in the meantime, there’s this thing on my bill”¦”

“Oh dear, Mr. Adelson, I am so sorry! Just give me a moment here and”¦ there now, all those nasty charges have just been deleted. So about your contract”¦”

“Oh hey, gotta run. Thanks though! You just kept me from jumping ship! Back to you soon on the contract thing!”

Such sweet pleasure.

But how real was it? In the end, was it a mere illusion of freedom? Just a voice on the other end of the line telling me what I wanted to hear? Did I have Him or did He have me?

On the can-we-really-get-along-without-certain-gadgets front (here we’re talking the penultimate gadget; the Cell Phone), I’ve recently seen a few articles fly by on the power of living without. What would it be like to be off the grid completely, beholden to no cell-phone Man?

Joel Stein, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, posits that the “Luddites may actually be power brokers,” and that “not having a cell phone means that the world has to run on your time.”

In the article, he sums up what we’re up against: “Everyone has a cell phone now. There are more than 280 million mobile subscribers in America, according to the Federal Communications Commission. According to a 2005 international study by Advertising Age, 15 percent of Americans have interrupted sex to answer their phones. Even people who are videotaping themselves having sex, like Paris Hilton, stop to answer a call.”

Stein goes on to say not having a cell phone is a way we can take back power, noting that a few people who know power on first name basis, like Warren Buffett and Russian billionaire and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, have dumped the gadgets. (Some heavy-hitter celebs, too, have chosen to hang up.) The article goes on to tell the tales of a number of other people who have given up the habit, folks who have had enough and are not gonna take it anymore. I read each of their stories. I was impressed.

In many ways, we present a paradox of gadget infatuation. We talk about what’s cool and new, shiny and green, all with a what’s-happening-now bent. But we also talk about ways to avoid being slaves to The Man, thinking outside the proverbial box, not being afraid to “just say no” to obvious trends that aren’t healthy for you. Recently, I posted a story about the green and not-so-green aspects of the iPad, in which I posed a question of awareness regarding our decision to buy any gadget: do you need it or do you want it?

This question – and freedom from gadgets and the Men and Women who service our addictions – is something I wrestle with almost every day. And while I’m happily a later-than-some adopter when it comes to toys and I think I do a pretty good job distinguishing between my needs and wants, I will say this when it comes to certain products: When I fall, I fall hard.

Which brings me back to my cell phone moment in the sun. Oddly, it was a moment in the sun that brought it all to an end. I was sitting on my balcony, doing some hardcore Ra worship, talking into my contract-free, trusty little Razor (my connection to freedom – as long as that little baby held up, I was safe). And the screen went black. Literally. It died in the heat that day, and though I cannot say exactly how long I held out after that moment, it was probably mere minutes before I realized what had to be done.

I crawled back to The Man. I took the deal on the iPhone and I smiled big when they handed it to me. So there it is. Was I really ever going anywhere? A new “provider,” maybe. But true freedom? Was I threatening the man or was I blowing in the cell phone wind? The answer came way too easy: Two years? Where do I sign?

Image: lemuelinchrist

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at