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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

No cell phone

I am loathed to pen this post but I am weary of being repeatedly badgered about my steadfast refusal to own carry a cell phone. (For those not in the know, I was given a cell phone. Where it is now? Why, it's in the freezer somewhere. No, really.) This way, when I am asked the same dumb question(s) again, I can direct them to the URL of this post and save myself a lot of time and effort.

Eh bien, continuous. . .

Let me first give you a glimpse of my life in North California. I didn't carry a cell phone. Didn't even own one. Once a month, Mom calls on my land line and we talk for 30 minutes. That's it. In fact, there was a complete year where I didn't even have a land line; that spared me from solicitations for donations to John "Flip-flop" Kerry's doomed presidential campaign, and telemarketers touting anything from timeshares in Cuba, to instant salvation and rapture for US$500 through Landmark Education, to elephant dildos. Didn't need a telephone. Didn't find the need to yak about trivial nothingness.

Many years ago, I spent 3 days attending an Ignatian silent retreat at El Retiro San Iñigo, administered by the Jesuits. 3 days of absolute silence; even meals were consumed in silence. I only spoke for half an hour a day with my spiritual advisor. Tucked in the foothills of Los Altos, deep within the sanctum of dapple-lit groves and glades, draped in the deepest hues of red in fall, silence bore witness to my spiritual exercises, personal reflections, and communion with God. Cloistered in my bare cell each night, I wrote volumes in my journals, reflecting, analyzing, digesting, praying — changing, evolving. Those drizzly 3 days of absolute peace and reflection, in the crisp cold of late November, changed my life. Someday I will sign up for the 36-day silent retreat. 36 days of absolute silence. How many of you can shut up for 10 minutes?

So, there you go. I treasure silence. Silence is almost an extinct commodity in Singapore this fool's paradise. Every day, every hour, every second, we are assaulted by the din of traffic, mindless TV programs, advertisements, radio, and the inane chatter and banter of housewives, self-styled tai-tais, and unwashed school kids. (To my friends in NoCal, you think ricers cruising round, with their rap music blasting and their windows down is hell, you ain't heard nuthin' yet. Wait till you come to Singapore.) The last thing I need is a cell phone ringing in my pocket and some motormouth telling about his latest colonoscopy.

Cell phones are emblematic of the "Me! Me! Me!" generation addled by instant gratification. Can't get hold of me when you want to? Well, too bad. Life is unpredictable. Learn to deal with it. Learning to postpone gratification is part of growing up. If it is an emergency, you are better off dialing 999. The emergency services will get to you faster, I promise.

With regards to "What if YOU need help?"

Let's see, I have:

* Cycled 937.5 miles (1500 km) in East Java, Indonesia on a self-supported mountain biking trip;

* Cycled Singapore-to-Kuantan, as well as Singapore-to-Penang;

* Cycled solo 638.5 miles (1021.6 km) from Thailand-to-Singapore, via the east coast;

* Cycled solo 257.18 miles (411.48 km) through the bush in Western Australia, on Stage 1 of the Munda Biddi Trail, for 13 days;

* Gone on many solo epics in North California; some in mountain lion territory; many from dawn till dusk; some of them multi-day;

* Cycled solo road and off-road; up and down hills, mountains, valleys, canyons, and ravines; day and night;

* Hiked Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy alone;

* Gone caving alone in Santa Cruz;

* SCUBA dived alone (I'm trained and certified to) in North California, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia;

* Dived and touched the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales;

* Driven from Meteor Crater, Arizona to Santa Clara, California, an 11.5-hour journey of 817.5 miles (1308 km), stopping only to refuel;

* Spun and crashed my car twice (once in the rain, the other time, snow); changed smashed rim and limped home at 10 mph (16 km/h);

* Languished in my apartment, in bed alone with a 105.8 F (41 C) fever and bronchitis — drinking only water from the faucet — for 7 days, losing 13.2 lbs (6 kg);

and never — NEVER — have I found myself in need of a cell phone. Besides, the places I often go do not offer cell phone reception. E.g. what are you going to do 75 meters down on a trimix dive when you run low on (breathing) gas? Call the boat captain to deliver some to you before you drown? When I was lost and wandering around in circles on the giant bays in Point Reyes, even if I had a cell phone, it would be useless deadweight. There are no cell phone towers there. I had to figure out how to get out myself — and I did.

So, what makes you think I will need a cell phone on this tiny, insignificant, little island?

I rely on myself. I ensure that I'm prepared. That's it.

All your comments and conjectures are but monday morning quarterbacking. You dream up "what-ifs" — I have done it.

People tend to fall into this false sense of security with cell phones. Thinking that they can always summon help, they become complacent — ill-prepared. Last winter, 5 hikers got lost on Mount Hamilton. Between the 5 of them, all they had were 3 cell phones. No lights; no food; no water; no matches; no emergency shelter; no additional clothes; no compass; no map. When the sun set, they were hopelessly lost, thirsty, hungry, and in danger of hypothermia. In the end, they called in a rescue helicopter on their cell phones. What a bunch of fools, endangering the lives of rescuers due to their stupidity. IMHO, as a warning to others, they should have been left on the mountain to die.

Cell phones, in this case, soften the "penalty" for being unprepared — and inexcusably stupid — and that goes contrary to my beliefs. We should be all accountable for our actions.

So, expect trouble, but don't expect a rescue. Be responsible for yourself by going prepared. In addition to learning to recognize the pitfalls above, a little gear and planning is in order.
(Yosemite Search and Rescue)

So, the only reason which remains is contact. You see, I view contact very differently from most people. When I am out with someone, or engaged in an activity, I am there 100%. You can say that I am hyper-focused. I do not wish to be interrupted. It annoys the living shit out of me when I have to answer a call when I am in the middle of something, especially a meal. To me, that implies gross disrespect for my companion(s) or/and me. So, if a friend wishes to contact me, call my land line. If I am not contactable on my land line, it means I am not available, period. Go annoy someone else. If it is an emergency, dial 999.

And, to anyone attempting to contact me via a 3rd party's cell phone, be forewarned: if I even deign to speak with you at all, you would be instructed in unequivocal terms to bugger yourself silly with a retractable baton. There is a reason why I do not carry a cell phone, Sherlock.

Why should the onus be on me to purchase, maintain, and lug around a device which facilitates the convenience of — and enables instant gratification in — others?

Why should I be saddled with maintaining the settings of a device (on, off, audible ring tone, vibrate mode, et cetera.), and paying for services which I derive no utility from?

(Those are rhetorical questions, by the way.)

The act of carrying a cell phone is an invitation — and acquiescence — to the invasion of my privacy. That's how I view it. I know the concept of privacy is a difficult thing to grasp for most Singaporeans. After all, they are conditioned to readily write their Identity Card (IC) number on any list or form without demanding the inquirer's authority to make such a request. I know it might come as a surprise but there are very few cases where one is required by law to reveal one's IC number. In fact, you can even refuse to pen in your IC number when you sit in as a visitor to a session at Parliament. (The police at the registration desk will give you a hard time, but ultimately, they have no legal basis to coerce you into doing so.) Similarly, hospitals cannot refuse you medical treatment for refusing to reveal your IC number.

So, I value privacy. The last thing I need want is a device that reminds me of the presence of other people — or worse, let them contact me — when I am writing a poem, constructing a thesis, enjoying a book under a tree, or out savoring an experience alone.

L'enfer, c'est les autres.

For those whom subtlety is lost (or wasted) upon, a stanza of Nick Cave's caustic brilliance shall suffice:

Amateurs, dilettantes, hacks, cowboys, clones
The streets groan with little Caesars, Napoleons and cunts
With their building blocks and their tiny plastic phones
Counting on their fingers, with crumbs down their fronts


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