The Phone Wars

I don’t have to tell you that cellphones are ubiquitous. Everyone has one. Even Amish teenagers and people who live in the African bush have cell phones, and I do not exaggerate. Most of the world has some form of cheap cell phone coverage. Those of us in the so-called developed countries pay dearly for our phone/wireless/internet/televsion connections because we can; mo t of the world can’t and their costs are lower. And someone still makes money.

I’ve been phone free for a while. I use other people’s phones when I need to, but I am not a phone-talker anyway. Now I’ve run into a snag, and a call got missed due to a message phone being out of service, and I had failed to give a backup number. The little call-me/callback  waltz is getting wearing as well. It may be time.

I can get a “stupid” phone for not much money here; I can get pay-as-you-go calling, with no contract. I buy a card, load the minutes on my account, and use them until they are gone. We’ve done this before and it cost about $20 a month for us – the phone was for quick messages to each other and emergencies. (We lived in the woods and had the worst cell phone reception. To call out, I would have to stand on the cab of the truck.)


It is yet another piece of electronics with all its waste and worry; we have our old phone but the battery is several years old and doesn’t hold a charge for more than a day; I don’t want to start the cycle of using up phones again. We had a drawer full a few years ago, along with other outdated and dead electronic devices. We sold the good ones and recycled the bad ones and breathed a sigh of relief. We got off the ni-cad and plastics carousel, and now we will have to get back on.

I knew it was inevitable.

You know what I want? My great-aunt’s old black Bakelite phone, bolted to the wall because it weighed as much as a small child, with $10 a month for basic phone service and 30 cents a month to rent the phone, with the extra charge for long distance only when they used it. It  hissed and crackled, but it never failed. It was good enough for country folk. You could call the doctor or the vet, and distant relatives wrote with a date to call you so you could have a phone visit. It wasn’t pretty, but it sure didn’t rule their lives, and since they had the same phone for decades, it certainly didn’t contribute to the waste cycle.

I don’t mean to sound hopelessly nostalgic, but I am not sure I want to go back into the phone culture.

14 thoughts on “The Phone Wars

  1. In our house, most of the people are phone-phobic, which makes a lot of the problem go away. It rings, but we (often) don’t answer it. Callers leave a message, but we dislike phones so much we don’t check the messages. So after a while, without really meaning to, we re-train folk into emailing if they actually want a response. Or else they just give up and go away.
    This is not a deliberate approach, but it sure is effective. I’ve had an irate call from a frustrated person at ten o’clock at night, saying ‘Where is Grace? I’ve rung and rung her number and she never answers!’ ‘Oh dear,’ I say; ‘well, she isn’t here.’ Eventually one shakes them off.
    I prefer the written word, because it’s more considered, and response time is more spacious.
    We don’t call each other on our cell-phones either, we text. It’s quiet, non-intrusive, and the message waits courteously until the recipient has a moment free.
    I love cellphones though. I love it that when one of us is away from home and lonely, I can send a message saying ‘Night night, sleep tight! xxx’
    They are good for lovingkindness as well as for emergencies. And good for alerting the prayer chain.

    • I’ve ben phone-phobic for a while. Maybe too many of my jobs, including ministry, involved the phone. My predecessor in my last parish was one to never answer or return a call. He gave the impression that he didn’t care, so I had to overcompensate and took every call, whether on the housephone or my cell phone. It wore me down. I had to set limits for some people, since they would call after 10 pm or just because they were bored and lonely. Next time around, I will screen a little more carefully, and would perhaps advertise “phone hours” when people would know they could reach me. What was funny is that almost no one here in Canada has the “old-fashioned” answering machine anymore – we can all get cheap messaging from the phone company; but people wouldn’t realize that and I would check messages late in the afternoon and hear, “Pastor, if you are listening, pick up, it’s me” – and of course, I can’t hear it because it has gone straight to a computer somewhere.

      I too prefer the written word, but so few people know how to use it now!

  2. We understand and have gone pretty much down the same path. One thing that nauseates me is the lure of the “family plans” where someone with the good credit gets up to so many ( 4 at least) “lines” for family members who would be charged a big deposit if they tried to get their own service. These additional lines are 9.99 and saves the ones who get on these plans through a family member the basic plan charge. I think all should share in the cost of the plan, but not everyone think like me. It was a great thing for some situations, like my mother in law who fell alot and could call for help. But mostly I see a lot of parents handing these phones to teens on the premise they will work and pay for any charges they run up. Almost always they hear that they can do this or that on the phone for free ( music or games) and then a $400 or $500 bill shows up and throws everyone into panic and debt. That scenario happens with adults too. The phone co.’s have it all worked out so that the one who has service has to carry a fairly expensive plan with high minutes and no matter what that bill is always higher than it seems it should be. We decided never to get on a plan again. But I do a lot of driving in an older vehicle with a son who has medical issues and can’t take extreme temps ( in fact, he had countless seizures last night from becoming dehydrated in the 93 degree heat. We are normally very careful, but somehow we did not realize he had been out too long.) and could not walk if we broke down. We went without a cell phone most of last year and then we broke down last Winter about 7 miles out in the country. We had been looking at those phones without plans, but just didn’t know what to do because we can’t get much signal here. So we put it off and eventually our daughter insisted I take over a line some other teenager abandoned. Her husband is a trucker and they had to have one. So, we have it now. I am still trying to figure a way to cut back on our travel and live without one.

    I don’t like modernity. Modern doesn’t necessarily mean progress and not all progress is good. We get stuck having to make these concessions we would rather not make because we are in a machine. It is very hard to go against the tide and some people are able to do it and some of us can only do it partly. I have struggled with being a partly, but God has given me my situation and I am learning to graciously ” use it rather”. That being said, I am, like you and probably most here, very selective and careful in what I agree to own or take part in.

    • Your poor son – and poor you, dealing with that! I do hope you have some backup support so that you can get away for a while occasionally. Caregiving is physically exhausting. I don’t have to do much physically for Nicholas, but just the daily attention, making sure he doesn’t fall, has what he needs and so on is tiring.

      Our kids didn’t get cell phones until they could pay for them. They do run up the charges way too fast! We found that on our pay-as-you-go phone, texts received used up our minutes, so had to stop the kids from texting us stuff like “whatsup?” and “hi dad” because they cost as much as a detailed message.

  3. We use only a cell phone and do not even have a lanldine. we don’t use or get many calls and sure don’t text, or read e mails or all that other stuff. But I am like you on wanting the good old days. Sure was easier!

    • Yes, for one, our expectations weren’t as high. Oh, I remember dreaming that my parents would allow me to have a phone in my room! They never did. We had one phone, in the kitchen, and if you wanted privacy, the cord stretched down the hall to the bathroom. And if you took too long, some little sister would pound on the door! My grandparents didn’t have a phone in the house until about 1970, and they never got used to it. They always associated the phone with bad news.

  4. People can’t understand how we can have a house phone attached to the wall. For our first anniversary Colin got me a reproduction crank wall phone. It’s in the kitchen. We don’t spend forever talking on the phone. We do have a cell phone. It’s 7 years old and only turned on when I’m away from the house. Mostly I call home. We’re having problems with the battery keeping it’s charge. I think we’re going to have to give in and get a new one soon. With the traveling we do (Bowmanville, Ottawa) it just makes sense for me to have one. We’ll be looking for the most basic/cheap one we can find.

    Speaking of traveling, us girls are going to be in St. Jacob’s next Saturday 🙂

    • I agree with the Amish, that a phone right at hand is too much temptation for many people to start gossiping! But you need one for business, I need one to take care of my husband. We lived without phones in the past – used a public one with a long distance prepaid card. It just reinforced the Plain stereotype, I know!

      I htink I’m going to go to the Superstore and look at the PC phones. Their prepaid cards are available all over Canada. (Superstore, for non-Canadians is a big chain grocery store that sells housewares and clothing as well.)

      I’ll email you about St. Jacobs, since I think Nicholas and I might go this Saturday too – I’ve promised him we would get back there when the weather was good.

  5. Magdalena,

    This is a connundrum indeed!! On the one hand, contemporary communications tech is grossly wasteful and unethical re issues of lythium potentially ballooning into the next big oil-type dependance/ecconomy with all its attendant immorality and exploitation.

    However, we need to be able to communicate with one another in case of emergencies at the very least, and, the reliable phone on the wall of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation is being phased out and largely has been rendered obscelete.

    if technologies are going to become ethically available, producers MUST address these key points

    Ethical/sustainable source of energy (we cannot risk lythium becoming the 21st century’s ‘crude oil’.

    A complete closed cycle of recycling that applies to everything from batteries to interior electronics and exteriors – screen, keypad, caseing etc.

    upgrades that do not force us to have to purchase an entirely new unit!! UNITS MUST BE PRODUCED THAT CAN BE FULLY UPGRADABLE!!! this way, a unit might last 10-20 years.

    PARTS MUST BE REPLACEABLE AT AFFORDABLE COSTS!! so that when a screen, for instance, fails, a new one can be installed, rather than the company compelling the consumer to simply BUY MORE STUFF!!!

    effective and efficient total recycling options must be made accessible, so it is easy for individuals to responsibly take care of their electronics when they do eventually fail beyond repair.

    CRMINALIZE IMMORAL PRODUCTION PRACTICES wherein increasing amounts of these items are produced by individuals in developing countries who are paid at virtual slave labour rates (its not good enough to give them a job that keeps them under the poverty line, people!!), disgraceful safety standards and virtually non existent enforceable occupational health and safety guidelines.

    CRIMINALIZE PLANNED obsolescence !!!! the practice by which goods are produced in such a way that if one small component fails, it is purposefully designed to be unreplaceable, forcing a new sale. THIS IS NON NEGOTIABLE!!

    If we wish to fulfill our God-ordained responsibility as Christians charged, among other things, with the stewardship of God’s created world, then corporations must be compelled by law if necessary, to look to the long term future, rather than the immediate short term nature of their profit margins. Yes, profit is important, that wages remain fair, plant can be developed and good, sustainable R&D undertaken, but they are not the chief reason a company is in business – a company is in business to provide a good or a service.

    Shareholders need to view their own responsibilities as a potential influence for good concerning the manner in which corporations are run, produce their products etc. Every shareholder if physically possible should engage in annual general meetings and hold the companies they own shares in to etthical accountability rather than seeing share ownership as merely a get something for nothing moneypump.

    Yes; this has turned into another rant… but things need to be said, AND THINGS NEED TO BE DONE – THE CHURCH HAS A DUTY TO SPEARHEAD THIS NOT JUST WITH WORDS AND ENDLESS COMMITTIES AND CONFERENCES, BUT THROUGH PRACTICAL ACTION that faithfully lives out the Gospel. .

    If readers are Christian, they need to bear in mind Revelation 11: 18 ‘I will destroy those who destroy the Earth’. Then go on to read Rev 16: if we Push the envelope too far, catistrophic disease and eccological collapse will be a very real possibility… these things aren’t in the Bible for nothing. If conditions are ‘right’ and people have not heeded God’s word, then it’ll be on for young and old. , prophecy will be fulfilled!

    Where the international Green movement fails is that it has no time for faith-based ethical platforms that champion the dignity of life and other issues such as those that guard the health and wellbeing re human intimacy.

    There’s much to be done.

    • I feel I’m just not ready to get back on the old battery treadmill, but the older phone isn’t going to work. I drive Nicholas to doctor’s appointments, and when I was in parish ministry, I used the cellphone a lot to check in with people when my work took me away from home – which was most days. It also meant that I could spend the day working in the pasture and still get calls. (And f it was an emergency, I might show up in overalls and wellies.)

      Of course, the cheapest phones (that I can afford) are not the most ecologically sane ones, either.

  6. Magdalena,

    many are deeply disturbed by the ‘battery treadmill’ be it concerning mobile phones or supposedly eccologically sustainable hybrid or electric vehicles.

    You’ve addressed another significant issue that i neglected to add to my list; the immorality of pricing invertion; that is, the most unsustainable products being the cheapest, thus giving individuals with little income and certainly no voice virtually no option to choose the more sustainable alternative (insert product) despite consciences yearning to do otherwise. This is an across the board issue from furniature to clothing, to foodstuffs, to appliances/telecommunications products. Such is nothing but scandellous, in my thinking. if you think we in the West have a plastics problem, the developing world is drowning in this gross poluter as all manner of stakeholders flood the market, use this for everything, rahter than natural, non oil ecconomy alternatives.

    I will stop here, else I will rant on about the disgraceful use of chipboard for furniature. if one IS going to log a forrest, at least turn the timber into items that will last for the generations to come, respecting the resource that is being used, the persons who will utilize the finished product and said person’s children and grandchildren…and practice sustainable forrestry stewardship also!!

  7. Thanks for your concern regarding my son and the challenges of caregiving. We don’t have anyone really for help. We have gotten ALOT of his seizures under control with gluten free and many other alternative things ( gone from over 100 sz’s a day down to zero to up to 10, depending if something sets him off.), but falling ( drop seizures) are still the main ones and adds so much pressure to those watching him, especially if they are not used to it. He wears a helmet but a house presents a lot of danger and one has to constantly help him to avoid dangerous areas and encourage him to sit. I have few relatives left and have only seen my brother once in the last 7 yrs. We do talk on a phone, so I am glad I have a phone. My husband has a brother and a father left in this town and we do let Patrick go visit grandpa now and then. He was at his house when the crisis happened the other day, in fact. It scared him so badly – he is 80. We will continue to let him visit his grandpa from time to time, and it IS a much appreciated break for me and Bruce, but we keep that phone by us and would never go anywhere. My daughter lives an hour away and if we had to go somewhere that Patrick just couldn’t go, we would trust her. The plan is for her to care for him when we are gone.

    I do feel like a hypocrite at times for having no time to fight the battles that I feel convicted about and that people here brought up. I just try my best to say no to things I feel I should say no to and talk to my Father in heaven about the things that bother me that I can’t change.

    • Our first and best work is always prayer! Even if you can’t lend your presence and abilities to a cause, you can and should give your prayer.

      I know what it is like now to be the sole caregiver – I’ve learned to apprciate the little breaks and from time to time, just put my feet up.

  8. When my husband was out of town earlier this summer he had urgent business which had to be conducted with a web company. Unfortunately his password didn’t work. When he called the company, they said they could only help him if he called from the home number on file. He explained he was out of town on business but it didn’t matter to them. We have Skype on the computer. He called me on Skype. The company was called on the land line. I held the phone over the computer and they talked to each other. LOL That was good enough though. They just needed to talk to him on the house number.

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