Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How ARE you going to do it?

This whole thing started a little more than a week ago, when my husband and I cancelled our cellphone service. We did this for financial reasons, although I will admit to letting certain people imagine it was in the spirit of simple living.

The customer service agent's name was Sam, and she sounded concerned. "Can I ask why you're considering cancelling your cellphone service today? You know, there are a lot of things we could do to lower the cost on this. We could drop it to a single line today and that would substantially lower your monthly payment."

I decided to try to be funny. My husband was home. My husband is funny, and when he's around I often try to be funny, too. "Sam," I said, "I'm writing a book about how to survive without a cellphone for an entire year. This is my research."

I grinned at my husband and pointed at the phone. See how I'm getting out of this sales pitch?

Sam's tone changed completely. "That is so cool," she said. "I would totally read that book." Then she hesitated, and her tone changed again. "How are you going to do it?"

I wish her enthusiasm had made it any easier to drop the cellphone service. We had two more phone calls ahead of us, and although I think their customer service is a little more endurable when you try to cancel your plan than when you sign up for it in the first place -- the least motivated agents seem to go to customers who have already decided to buy -- it was still a royal pain to get ourselves disentangled.

That evening, as I practiced juggling in the kitchen and listened to my two-year-old son's bedtime ritual with Daddy, I remembered Sam's incredulity. I've heard that tone before: As a home-schooled teenager starting college at age 15, "Wow, you must be really smart." As a young adult, "You don't have a TV? Don't you get bored?" As a pregnant woman choosing home birth with a qualified midwife, "Isn't that dangerous?" And recently, from the ComCast employee who installed our internet service, bundled with digital phone, "How are you going to do it with two kids and no cable?" When I told him that I didn't actually like TV, I mean really like TV, at all, he had shrugged and waved at my two year old. "I bet he does, though."

It's true. My kid does like to watch television. He also would like to eat macaroni and cheese for every meal, go all day without having his diaper changed and follow a seagull into the Atlantic Ocean. There are certain things that we don't let him decide.

Of course I'm not suggesting that purchasing cable TV service is like letting your child drown. There are no similarities as far as I can tell. What I am approaching is this question: Who made that decision? And if you think you made that decision, are you sure?

Since my encounter with Sam I have been obsessively observing which lifestyle choices I think of as choices, and which ones I don't think about at all. Is it really more difficult to live life without a cellphone? Does it adversely affect the life I'm actually living, or is it left over from another time and place? And while I'm thinking about it, What Is My Deal With The Internet?

This is the question I'm setting out to answer, for one year, with a pledge to journal the whole experience -- but without a way to post that journal for instantaneous feedback. It's partly a year of growth and introspection, like self-guided grad school. It's partly an effort to spend this finite time completely focused on my kids, who seem to get older very suddenly whenever I look away. And it's partly self-source psychological research. (ha ha!) Will I be different once I've had some time free from the internet? Will I think differently? Would you?

And maybe I will someday roll this experience (with your thoughts!) into a book, in which case I'll call Sam back and tell her where to buy it.


aubrey said...

I'm excited for you and can't wait to hear how it goes!

Dan said...

Hey, can you write about your non-internet life, and then have somebody else post it to the internet? Would that be allowed?

Esther said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Esther said...

Sorry about the missing comment above. I'm new to blogger. I didn't mean for it to do that.

@Dan, is that an offer? I think I will probably have to do that, but not for blogging. I have to get the baby a Social Security card, and get Massachusetts plates, and I think in the summer (or maybe before) I'll have to get a job. Any one or all three of those things could require that somebody post information to the Web for me. (You can't get a job at WalMart without using the internet. The first thing you do is sign in to the "Job Center Kiosk." They don't want anybody who can't use a keyboard.