As Yalies return from Thanksgiving break, they leave a number of familiar novelties behind: home cooking, clean sheets, and, for many, the dial tone.
Cell phones have replaced land lines as the preferred form of communication on campus, singing their presence in classrooms as well as dorm rooms. They have become so ubiquitous that the University is even considering an idea floated by the YCC to switch from dorm room land lines to a cell phone plan. And in the face of such an overwhelming movement, even those who have thus far resisted the lure of cellular telecommunication are beginning to break.
A few students have survived for years without a cell phone for reasons ranging from convenience to cultural philosophy. One by one, however, they are resigning to an increasingly connected world.
For some, rejecting cell phones is a private cultural rebellion. Though mobiles may allow for greater contact than ever before, these dissenters feel cell phones actually hamper personal connection by doing away with common courtesy. Cell phones have become permanent appendages in many pockets, and one can seldom sit through a movie, meal or conversation without being interrupted by a ring.
Lulu Cheng ’08, who does not own a cell phone, said they have replaced more than the land line and not in a good way.
“A lot of people are too dependent on their cell phones,” she said. “They use it in place of a watch, in place of an alarm clock, in place of a friend.”
In defense of her values as well as her wallet, Jane Moore ’06, who spent two years at Yale cell-free, had refused to join the masses.
“Not having it before was almost a point of pride because everyone had it,” she said. “They think they’re cool when they’re using it. I kind of resent that.”
A distaste for cell phone culture was also a major disincentive for Emily Wheelwright ’06, who was finally convinced to get a mobile two months ago after years of pressure from friends. She said she still believes cell phones are “very anti-social” but has found that their benefits outweigh their disadvantages.
“I’m not sorry I got it, but I do feel a little bit guilty and hypocritical,” she said. “I mocked them for years.”
Wheelwright said she also does not fully trust the technology. Though it is not a major concern, she thinks about the risk of cancer each time she feels the device’s heat on her ear.
Paul Gleason ’06 did not object to cell phones for any philosophical reason, but said he simply did not need one. Gleason said he used to live with many of his friends and knew where to find them. When he was out, someone else’s phone was usually available for borrowing.
“It wasn’t some Ted Kaczynski I-hate-technology thing,” he said. “I just didn’t need it.”
Gleason moved off campus this year and got his first cell phone a month ago in order to keep in touch.
Those interviewed were pleased with the conveniences their new cell phones offer from calling cabs to killing time. They said that their friends are pleased as well.
Grace Morris ’06, a friend of Moore, said Moore’s new cell phone makes it easier for them to stay in contact but it has not changed the way they spend time together. As before, they make plans ahead of time.
“We still plan things out,” Morris said, “but it’s footnoted with, ‘just in case, I’ll call you.'”
Gary Gregoricka ’06 said his cell phone, which he purchased over the summer for an out-of-state internship, has helped him to reach beyond his usual friends and destinations. While Gregoricka said he was previously bound to the group with whom he started the evening because he often knew of nowhere else to go, a cell phone now offers him alternatives over the course of a night.
“Now that I do have one I find that I am branching out,” he said. “If I want to go do something else, I know I have the option to do that.”
Still, Gregoricka said while his phone has made a difference, it was not a life-altering change.
Owning a cell phone also gives a greater sense of safety, Moore said. Given what she described as a shortage of land lines on campus, she said she takes comfort in knowing that she can call someone at any time should she need help.
Moore purchased her cell phone this summer for an internship in Seattle and said she originally planned to stop using it before school. She continues to use it but still believes it is more of a convenience than a necessity, especially given the cost. Moore is from Australia and does not have a credit rating in the United States; she has to pre-pay for her minutes, most of which she does not use.
“Right now it’s more me indulging myself in something that doesn’t make financial sense,” she said.
Cheng said so many people rely on cell phones for everyday communication that those who are still holding out have become a curiosity. Like people who don’t watch television or vegans who have never known the taste of meat, cell phone rejectors have what she calls “mystique.”
“People who don’t own cell phones are much cooler,” she said. “As long as you can be reached by some message, that’s adequate.”
Pleased though he is with his new cell phone, Gleason still believes that there is no substitute for personal contact.
“A cell phone has made it easier,” he said, “but it’s really about making an effort to stay in touch, not about pushing buttons.”