Saturday, February 11, 2006

Telephones, Televisions, and Refrigerators

I just got a cellular phone. Millions of people all over the planet have cell phones, so the report of one more person (in this case, me) getting one is hardly newsworthy. So why do I think it's worth writing about? Because I have absolutely no need for a cell phone.

It's true. I don't. And I don't really know why I decided to get one. But I got one anyway.

I have a strange relationship with technology. I'm fascinated by it; I'm intrigued by it; I like to play with it; and in general, I think the world is a better place because of it. But I don't have any great desire to bring it into my house.

For example, I lived for well over a decade without a television set. I didn't see the need for one. There were plenty of books to read, and when I didn't feel like reading, I turned on the radio. If I really felt an urgent need to put my mind to sleep, I could easily do it without television -- all I needed was a bottle of Scotch. So it didn't feel like I was missing anything. But for some reason that I can't even remember (probably the same reason I decided to get a cell phone), I decided to buy a television. That was more than twenty years ago, and I've never regretted that decision, although I think I started reading a lot less as soon as I plugged it in. I stopped drinking a lot of Scotch as well.

A lot of people today can't imagine life without television, which is a telling comment on what's become of our culture. But I'm not a cultural critic (not this week, anyway) so I won't dwell on that. But I also lived for almost a year without a refrigerator, which is something even fewer people can understand.

I didn't make a conscious decision not to own a refrigerator, though. It was more of an oversight. But I really didn't miss it. And when I did finally buy one, it stayed pretty empty for the most part. As a matter of fact, it's still pretty much empty today, more than fifteen years after I bought it.

So now I have a cell phone, with more "anytime minutes" than I'll ever use in a month. It's a good deal, but I don't even use my wired phone very much, so it'll probably sit quietly on a shelf most of the time. But maybe I'll surprise myself. When I bought the television, I started watching it, and when I bought the refrigerator, I started putting food in it. So maybe I'll use the cell phone. We'll see.

Anyway, unlike most of what I write here, I won't end today's post with an incisive, ironic, or clever remark. I can't think of one. But if you're old enough, you probably remember that in the late 1970s and maybe even early 80s, it was still illegal for an individual to own any telephone equipment -- you had to rent it from the Bell monopoly. Back then I probably had a dozen or so illegally-obtained phones. I didn't go out of my way to steal them, but if a phone happened to be left behind in an apartment I was moving into, I would disconnect it and add it to my collection. I had phones in practically every room of every place I've ever lived in for the past thirty years, but I've never been the kind of person who spends a lot of time on the phone. I don't have any illegal phones anymore -- now I have a bunch of legal ones. I still don't use the phone much, so I still don't need a phone in every room, but I'm basically too lazy to get up and answer the phone when it rings, and with one in every room, I can pretty much answer it without getting up.