How a burn phone changed my life.

After my recent personal economic downturn I did an essentials-only budget. The most obvious trim was one I’d been planning (and failing) to do for months: getting rid of the monthly cellular bill in favor of a burn phone.

Due to my job I couldn’t drop the cell without having a replacement in hand. But researching the best options was just one more chore on a to-do list as long as my leg.

The layoff got me off my dime, as it were, and within a few days I’d canceled the cell service and bought a pay-as-you-go.

Compared to my old metal flip phone, the new model feels like it’s made out of potato chips. Yet the flimsy little plastic thing could save me as much as $70 or more per month.

Just as important: The new phone is changing the way I live in the world.

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I realized that I’d fallen prey to that peculiarly modern malady: calling people for no real reason. Apparently we’re afraid to be unconnected. A jokey neologism was invented to address this: “nomophobia,” for “no more phone.” Some people consider their phones an extension of their brains and have trouble making decisions without consulting Siri or Googling the best driving route.

That wasn’t me, exactly. I couldn’t access the Internet because I opted out of a data package. Yet when I found myself at loose ends – waiting at airports, say, or walking to the post office – I’d often phone my sweetheart or my daughter.

Now that I have to pay per call, I use the phone a lot less. The result? I’m living the quieter spots of my life, rather than trying to fill them with noise.

Friday’s walk to the post office was a good example. I delighted in the golden birch leaves against the blue sky, the new termination dust on the mountains, the mild temperature, the slight breeze. I even enjoyed the autumnal smell of dying-back vegetation.

Normally I might have described all that to my partner, my daughter or whoever I’d called. Instead I fully experienced the day vs. narrating it for someone else.

Paying attention to the moment

How does all this reaching out affect what we should be experiencing in the moment? Recently I attended a birthday party at which the guest of honor’s dad – who is divorced from the child’s mother – spent just about the entire time looking at his smartphone.

Fatherly interactions came only when the child was able to get between him and the device. I seesawed between wanting to weep on the child’s behalf and wanting to drop that smartphone into a pitcher of Sprite.

His behavior is no longer considered strange. Folks with any down time – even when other people are in the same room, or at the same dinner table – relentlessly check e-mail, visit entertainment sites, skim friends’ Google Plus pages.

It’s a given that they’re also tweeting, checking in and posting photos of what’s in front of them. Here I am. Here’s what I’m doing. Where are you? What are you eating, drinking, watching, touching, feeling?

This “can’t be disconnected” tendency is rubbing out the boundary between real and virtual life. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, smartphone videos – we don’t live our lives so much as perform them. Rather than make memories, we archive our daily existences for an imagined audience.

Guys make sure the tape is rolling before they propose. Parents are poised to record Baby’s First Taste of Sauerkraut or New Puppy’s Inability to Climb the Steps, hoping their videos will go viral. Desserts can’t be enjoyed on their own merits; they must be turned into cupcake selfies.

How much to share? And oh, the overshares. Arguments with our kids turn into Facebook posts. Boyfriends and girlfriends – or, worse, married people – blather on blogs about their significant others’ inability to take a joke, diaper a baby, keep a job, induce an orgasm.

More than a few evince a complete disregard for someone else’s privacy. Others are simply tiresome. (There’s a reason that the STFU Parents blog — “You used to be fun. Now you have a baby.” — is such a hit.)

I don’t know whether the sharers are seeking approbation or validation, if they’re trying to multiply their joys by sharing them with friends or if they’re just showing off.

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