I am in the shower. The water is lovely blazing hot and I’ve been freezing all day and I’ve just soaped up my whole body when my cell phone, sitting across the bathroom on the window sill, rings.
I ignore it. I am taking 10 minutes to get clean and warm, dammit, and I’m not hopping across the cold tile floors naked and wet and soapy to see who it is. They can wait.
Ten seconds later, my phone pings. I’ve gotten a message.
Five seconds later, another ping.
Suddenly I am anxious. I am still covered in soap – shampoo now actually – but three notifications seem like someone is really trying to get in touch with me.
The phone pings again.
My brain, given to drama and hyperbole under the best of conditions, is now racing along, conjuring horrible scenario after horrible scenario. Something terrible may have happened to one of the children and the school is trying to reach me. Owen’s hockey team was taking a bus to Cambridge for a match. What if the bus got in an accident? Or Matt, driving to Cambridge to see Owen’s hockey game, may have gotten in a car accident. MAYBE MATT GOT IN A CAR ACCIDENT WITH THE BUS.
For the next 45 seconds of mad rinsing of conditioner and complete foregoing of shaving my half-shaven left leg, I am certain something bad awaits me. Something very bad probably.
I get out of the shower, wrap a towel around me but don’t really dry off, grab my phone.
I have missed a call from SkyTV. They’ve called three times in two days to see if we want to switch whatever cable service we currently have to a different service, blah blah I was not really listening the first time when I said they’d have to call back and talk to my husband who handles the TV stuff.
I have gotten two messages from a friend on the east coast of the United States, who I had messaged when I woke up this morning in England, hours before anyone on the east coast would be awake, and she is now responding, having gotten her kids off to school and checked her phone.
I have gotten one message on a group chat with a bunch of friends about buying tickets to a show coming up in London.
My children are fine, presumably. My husband is still driving to Cambridge, I assume unharmed.
My hair is greyer than it was a few minutes earlier. My worry lines deeper.
Cell phones have made so many things about life simpler, it’s true. But at what cost? We’re never off, man. Never.
I remember being in the car once with the kids, going to meet Matt somewhere for something, and his phone was dead. We’d planned where to meet and at what time, but that had been hours earlier and we hadn’t spoken in the time between. The kids and I sat waiting, assuming Matt would be along as planned any minute.
One of them asked what we’d do if daddy didn’t arrive. How would we know where to meet him? What if he was going to be late? What if he got a flat tire? What if when he said meet him in the parking lot of the train station he meant the OTHER train station? What if he was sitting there right now wondering if we were running late?
“This is how it used to be before cell phones,” I told them. They didn’t understand. They’ve never lived in a world where you couldn’t instantly contact anyone and everyone you knew via multiple digital platforms at any given second.
I told them how when I was a kid, if I needed to get picked up after school by nana we had to plan it in advance, know what time, where we would meet. That if something came up during the day and plans changed, we had to either ask to use the school phone in the office or make a call from a pay phone (and I never had money on me). We couldn’t wing it.
If we went to a crowded place to meet someone, we had to specify precisely, exactly where we were going to meet. We couldn’t just wander around on our phones, talking to each other and relaying what we saw and describing where we were in relation to some large stationary object until eventually we walked up to each other, still talking over the phone while waving hello.
Even as I described all this, it seemed like a hazy, distant memory. Like I was pulling all of it from recesses of my brain I could barely access. I’ve become so accustomed to the convenience of instant communication that even though I lived through it for the first twenty-plus years of my life, even I could barely fathom how we got along back then. Really, what did we do if we got to the grocery store and forgot what we needed? My dad couldn’t call my mom to say, “right — milk, bread, and what else?” He had to know in advance, he had to call her before he left work and say do you need anything from the store and then write down anything she requested so he didn’t forget.
It seems so complicated. So much harder.
But then again, my mom probably never had a heart attack in the shower with one leg half-shaved because she’d gotten three consecutive text messages and missed a call and spent the next several minutes imagining the demise of half her family members.
It’s a trade-off, I guess.