Life among the phoneless

John
John Gushue
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More than two decades ago, when my friend Ian was studying urban planning, he encountered a phrase that astonished him. "The carless" described those who do not have a car of their own, and Ian reported the phrase was used in the same tone that people refer to the homeless.

The carless were people, he learned, who must (like welfare) rely on public transportation, through no fault of their own. No wonder he changed majors, and careers.

Surf's up - More than two decades ago, when my friend Ian was studying urban planning, he encountered a phrase that astonished him. "The carless" described those who do not have a car of their own, and Ian reported the phrase was used in the same tone that people refer to the homeless.

The carless were people, he learned, who must (like welfare) rely on public transportation, through no fault of their own. No wonder he changed majors, and careers.

The anecdote came to mind as I joined the ranks this summer of another subspecies: the phoneless.

Let me explain. I asked for and received an unpaid leave of absence from my job, handling the news section for CBC's regional website in Newfoundland and Labrador. On my last day in July, I tidied up my desk (no mean feat, as those who know me will agree) and took care of little details before my shift was through.

One of the last was dropping off my cellphone with the IT folks. I had been using a handy BlackBerry that the Corp. had issued to me, and to which I had grown accustomed. How much so became clear in the minutes that followed.

Seconds, actually. On my way back up the stairs to my desk, I instinctively reached for my pocket so I could check messages on the otherwise boring one-minute walk to my desk. And then it hit me. Oooh ... I can't do that anymore.

I went through withdrawal for a couple of cold-turkey days. It felt weird - not only because I wasn't checking messages every 10 or 20 minutes, but because I simply couldn't. Ditto for on-the-spot Google searches, Twitter checks and the like.

I've been without a cellphone now for more than a month, and of course am surviving just fine. This phonelessness will not last forever; my wife is upgrading her model, and I'll be using her older one until I go back to work in the winter.

It may be easy to smile at the plight of the information-addicted journalist who is deprived of his toy, but the phone has indeed become so much more than a shiny device. Well outside of my business, the phone has become, more than ever, a lifeline, or, more appropriately, a basic necessity for doing business.

Yes, I expect (and would want) people to snicker when I say something like, "You know, people can have fully productive, happy lives without a cellphone." While I've always known that to be true, I also know this: the world is shifting, and rapidly, and mobile devices are becoming as essential to many lives as things like socks and shoes. (And, yes, cars.)

It hasn't been lost on me that much of my professional thought lately has been about how information - more than just news - is going mobile, and I've been toiling for a few weeks without one of the devices I've been encouraging people to use.

That will end quite soon. I'm looking forward to being connected all over again, although I have to say I've been enjoying a refreshing break among the phoneless.

Elsewhere this week

Voters list verification

www.stjohns.ca/cityhall/elections/voters/verifyname.jsp

Planning to vote in the St. John's municipal election in September? Best to check first as to whether your name is on the list, before the ballots go in the mail. Call the city helpline at 311 if it isn't.

What They Play

www.whattheyplay.com

Videogame reviews, from a parental perspective, is what you'll find here. If your little ones have been clamouring for a particular title, check it out first to see if it's appropriate. If your older children buy or rent their own, keep an eye on what they're playing through this resource. The depth and quality of reviews vary, but there's usually enough detail to help guide a decision.

Multitask

notdoppler.com/multitask.php

Now, time for a game for yourself. Actually, more than one. If you're good at multitasking (handling a business call while finishing an e-mail, for instance), this game may appeal: the idea is to handle multiple challenges at once. Fun, but my brain was sore in no time.

John Gushue is a writer in St. John's. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com. Twitter: twitter.com/JohnGushue.

Organizations: CBC, Google

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    and Ian reported the phrase was used in the same tone that people refer to the homeless

    Too bad you hang out with such judgemental narrow minded people John. Many people have delighted in ridding themselves of the need for gas guzzling cars and are happy to ride a bike or walk these days and do happen to own a home

  • DeeBee
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    I have never owned a cellphone, blackberry or any other mobile device. I have a phone in my home and in my office. If someone needs me in between those places, that's what 'Leave a message' is for. There is nothing more pathetic to watch (and listen to) than someone on a mobile device in an airport, mall or grocery store - or even on the sidewalk - conducting an in-depth or heated conversation (i.e. teenage girls fighting with their boyfriends) with someone that everyone within a 100' radius can hear plain as day (especially those who talk with their hands - that's way too funny). Texting or reading e-mail while doing something potentially dangerous, like operating machinery (i.e. driving), is behaviour worthy of a Darwin Award, not to mention annoying to other people around you and just plain rude if you're with friends. I know there are those who need it for business (and that's a level of hilarity on a level to itself sometimes - some people really think they're important when they talk really loud and act authoritative. Can't you conduct business QUIETLY?!? Those weary travellers in the airport trying to get their kids to calm down don't really need to know how the Japanese businessmen you're going to meet could react to your business proposal. Really.), but about the only use I can see for a cell phone would be if you're stranded at night on a lonely stretch of highway. Of course, knowing my luck, if that did occur, I wouldn't get any service in that area...

  • Jay
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Well, I am carless, cableless and homephoneless. Never had so much time or money. Nor have I been healthier. I do have a cell but rarely use it. Resist big business, you need nothing they offer. Spend your money and time on quality food, your health, your career, and quality time with those who matter.

  • Ken
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Always enjoy your column.

    Being carless can be a pain or a freedom, depnding on whether you need one and whether you want one. People who don't own cars are certainly not to be frowned upon. As an urban planner, I'm sorry to read that your buddy had a negative experience in planning school concerning carless people. These days, someone without a car can be seen as more environmentally responsible, as well as saving a heap o' money each year!

  • Tom
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    and Ian reported the phrase was used in the same tone that people refer to the homeless

    Too bad you hang out with such judgemental narrow minded people John. Many people have delighted in ridding themselves of the need for gas guzzling cars and are happy to ride a bike or walk these days and do happen to own a home

  • DeeBee
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    I have never owned a cellphone, blackberry or any other mobile device. I have a phone in my home and in my office. If someone needs me in between those places, that's what 'Leave a message' is for. There is nothing more pathetic to watch (and listen to) than someone on a mobile device in an airport, mall or grocery store - or even on the sidewalk - conducting an in-depth or heated conversation (i.e. teenage girls fighting with their boyfriends) with someone that everyone within a 100' radius can hear plain as day (especially those who talk with their hands - that's way too funny). Texting or reading e-mail while doing something potentially dangerous, like operating machinery (i.e. driving), is behaviour worthy of a Darwin Award, not to mention annoying to other people around you and just plain rude if you're with friends. I know there are those who need it for business (and that's a level of hilarity on a level to itself sometimes - some people really think they're important when they talk really loud and act authoritative. Can't you conduct business QUIETLY?!? Those weary travellers in the airport trying to get their kids to calm down don't really need to know how the Japanese businessmen you're going to meet could react to your business proposal. Really.), but about the only use I can see for a cell phone would be if you're stranded at night on a lonely stretch of highway. Of course, knowing my luck, if that did occur, I wouldn't get any service in that area...

  • Jay
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Well, I am carless, cableless and homephoneless. Never had so much time or money. Nor have I been healthier. I do have a cell but rarely use it. Resist big business, you need nothing they offer. Spend your money and time on quality food, your health, your career, and quality time with those who matter.

  • Ken
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    Always enjoy your column.

    Being carless can be a pain or a freedom, depnding on whether you need one and whether you want one. People who don't own cars are certainly not to be frowned upon. As an urban planner, I'm sorry to read that your buddy had a negative experience in planning school concerning carless people. These days, someone without a car can be seen as more environmentally responsible, as well as saving a heap o' money each year!