Travis WillmoreIn the beginning – cell phones

In a recent column, I documented how college students’ dependence on hard-to-shake habits can develop quietly and sneakily, and before you know it there’s no turning back.

However, I only covered what were, to me, the most obvious examples – caffeine, nicotine, etc. Most of these were vices that I have struggled with to some degree, and I have noticed similar patterns in my friends.

It was only when I was suddenly and unexpectedly deprived of another element in my life that I realized just how dependent I had become on it. Last week, my cell phone broke.

I have had a mobile phone for the past two years now. It always seemed so useful and convenient that I couldn’t see its tentacles slowly but surely wrapping around me as time went on. I never went anywhere without it. If my head was a small, detachable piece of plastic, I probably would have left it at home more often than I did my phone.

Whenever I was in class or at a movie, I left it in vibrate mode to make sure I didn’t miss any important calls. It’s kind of ironic to think about now. What call could be important enough to drag me away from my valuable education and recreation? Especially my valuable recreation!

Cell phone ownership often causes people to develop severe antisocial traits. I continually find myself in social situations that would seem patently surreal to anyone unfamiliar with our culture. When you’re on a road trip with three other people and all four of you are talking on your phones, oblivious to the real live people sitting right next to you, it makes for kind of an odd picture. Whatever happened to “direct verbal interface mode”?

In the beginning, I had no cell phone. When I was in high school, the preferred way to keep track of social developments was to cruise around town and see what other people were doing (usually cruising around town, too).

In extreme circumstances we might get enough people together in one place to actually go do something, like throw a kegger out in the woods. Almost nobody had a cell phone, except for a few of the more Valley-esque girls. Keep in mind that I grew up in a very small town. Most of the time, the one stoplight seemed kind of superfluous.

Then, my freshman year in college, I got my first cell phone. It was the model that came free when you sign up for the Verizon plan, and it totally defied the term “mobile.” It was about the size of a CB radio, except twice as thick. I could actually fit it into my pants pocket after a lot of struggling, but then it looked like I was packing a 9mm automatic.

Once I became inured to the newfound convenience of owning a more or less mobile phone, its immense size got old in a hurry. So I bought a flashy little flip-up phone that could probably fall into someone’s ear if they weren’t careful. This fate actually never befell it, but pretty much everything else did. It was dropped, sat on, saturated with various liquids … the list could go on.

Over time, I became more and more contemptuous of friends who did not own cell phones. I would frequently urge them to “catch up to the 21st century” or even to “join the human race.”

It’s always a pain to get in contact with someone when all they have is a landline. People spend a relatively minute percentage of their time at home, especially if they’re college age. You always end up having to leave a message, and it’s anyone’s guess when they will receive it. This goes double on weekends, when you’re trying to figure out what somebody is going to be doing for the night. On the off chance they’re in any condition to check their messages when they get home, it will be too late for the message to be relevant anyway.

Hence, my increasingly bad attitude that I never noticed developing.

Then came the beginning of the end. Each time it hit the ground, my cell phone became increasingly unreliable. A severe epileptic carrying a greased bowling ball couldn’t possibly drop it any more times than I dropped that phone. It started to turn itself off at random intervals, even when the battery was fully charged. Then the vibrate mode stopped working, which made me feel strangely lonely from then on. Then the display stopped lighting up, forcing me to hold it right in front of my face and squint when it was dark outside. And finally, last week, it died.

To be honest, I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.

When I fell down the hill in front of Goose Hollow a couple of times last summer (long story), a process that completely killed my watch, it survived, so I really shouldn’t have cursed it so much as it became increasingly unreliable.

Still, whenever I’m able to get a new one, I will probably submit the old one to some kind of destruction ceremony that will scatter its little buttons to the four corners of the world. I’m going to go medieval on its ass. Damn thing.