November 12, 2015

That Wi-Fi Only Life

I remember arriving in Prague and looking wistfully at my Blackberry.

"Guess you'll just be my alarm clock for a while."

I had some serious reservations about not having a cell phone when I was sent to Belgium from the Czech Republic.

How would I know if I would be picked up from the airport?
Who was picking me up?
How would I know if the people who said they were picking me up were actually the people taking me from the airport?
How would I communicate with anyone?!

When we lived in America, we needed unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited data. Marc and I signed up for a joint cell phone bill before we even got married. We were saddled with $200 per month phone bills and thought it was totally normal and part of the monthly budget.

Then I moved to Europe.

Moving across the world made me feel like I could do anything. All of a sudden, all of those previous impossibilities were really now possible because, hello: I just got on a plane with a carry-on and within five days had a new address and job.

Could I play volleyball after college? Yes. Could I live overseas? Yes. Could I learn a new language? Yes. Could I travel solo to new places? Yes. Could I start writing again? Yes. Could I ditch my cell phone? Yes!

Europeans have normal cell phone plans with minutes, messages, and internet. They are not to blame. I'm the rebel who bucked the system as soon as I could say, "Je ne sais pas," to the questions about why I didn't have a cell phone plan.

In Belgium, I passed my days winning volleyball games, Skyping with family and friends, planning trips, going on trips, and blogging about my trips. I felt connected to everyone the entire time. My roommate/teammate communicated any team/coach/club messages I needed to know. I couldn't speak French anyway, what was the point of paying to receive calls and messages I wouldn't understand?

Not even two weeks after my return to California for the summer, my Blackberry died completely. I got through an entire month of directing camps without a cell phone.

My first club in France immediately took me to a cell phone store and got me a prepaid flip phone. I spent some euros on it here and there, but never anything too committal, especially when it became apparent that even when I didn't have any credit, I could still receive calls and texts!

One year, we figured out that our monthly home internet plan included a free cell phone. We still used the ghetto flip phone and sometimes even remembered to turn it on during the day.

(See? I really did used to live by the social laws of the 21st century! I even used to drive!)
The growth of the internet changed everything. I don't think I know anyone who doesn't have internet access at least once a day.

Then, electronics (mostly smartphones) that could access the internet changed everything again. I lived off of an iPod Touch as my primary contact device for three years. How much did I pay per month? Nothing.

And when I deleted Facebook (Could I ever delete Facebook? YES!), the truth became obvious. Not having a real phone plan was about so much more than saving a buck or two.

I prefer communication on my own terms.

I went from being a seventeen-year-old who regularly left my Nokia at home to a twenty-four-year-old who was never more than six inches away from my Blackberry. College social life revolved around our cell phones. My coaching responsibilities insisted I be available at any and all times to any and all persons.

I left America and my phone plan behind and found freedom from all the noise.

I'll admit, living only off wi-fi connections has its inconvenient moments. It usually means I have to arrive places a little bit earlier, have to wait a little bit longer, and get to wonder if the person I'm meeting up with will actually show up and find me.

This drives some people literally crazy. But like all those millions of people (some of them were you, too) from the 1920s to the 1990s, I'm still managing to get picked up at the airport without having a cell phone. It's not a miracle; it's planning!

I'm not trying to convince you to swear off cell phone plans like I have. When I have wi-fi, I use an iPhone to FaceTime, Skype, iMessage, email, and so on, just like everybody else. But as soon as I leave an internet area (which, in Germany, is basically anywhere outside our home), it's a no-call zone.

Some of us are really good about turning our phone off during meetings, dates, church services, family dinners, movies, performances, graduations, when we go to sleep, etc. I was one of those people who was careful to silence my phone, but always wanted to be able to click a button to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Now I miss a lot of "information." It's quiet, it's peaceful, and it's nice.

Most of us probably won't go canceling that free upgrade on our next billing cycle, but maybe we could let go sometimes, and leave the phone behind. Disconnect for a while, be with people, go outside, and listen to the world around us. All of that pre-technology life is still out there, we just have to try a lot harder to be a part of it.