On The Virtues Of Not Having A Cell Phone

Feb 6, 2018

"You should have a cell phone," my mother-in-law says.

When I go for a hike, I bring a map, my car key, gum, and a bottle of water. When I reach the summit, I stop and look about.

I try to identify the surrounding mountains, the direction I'm facing, the birds buzzing the low brush.

I don't take pictures of the view or of me looking at the view, or sit and stare at a small screen.

I don't listen to tunes with buds in my ears.

Sometimes I sing.

Especially if I'm on a section of trail that might be popular with bears, I sing. I've seen ten bears hiking this year, and that is more than enough.

I also do not take a cell phone grocery shopping. Or to work. Or for a walk around the local pond.

I have a desktop at work and a laptop at home, and that, to me, is enough.

I check email between each class, and once more at the end of the day. If students want to stay and talk, I stay and talk to them. If this means I'll arrive home a half hour later, so be it. I don't call my husband to tell him this.

I arrive home when I arrive home.

Susan Johnson hikes every day she can -- without a cell phone, much to her mother-in-law's chagrin.
Credit Tom Johnson / Courtesy of Susan Johnson

My husband makes his own hours, so I never know when he'll be coming home, either. And that inexactness is exactly fine with me. If he did call me throughout the day to tell me where he was and what he was doing, it would drive me crazy.

We still have a land line, and when my mother-in-law calls, we pick up every time. And we do call her before leaving to visit, saying we’ll be there in about two hours.

And when we arrive there in about two hours, we sit and listen to her concerns, which are many, because she's 89.

I try to console her that my hiking without a cell phone should not be one of them.

"You got along fine without a cellphone when you were 57," I tell her.

I don’t tell her about the ten bears I’ve seen while hiking this past year, including the mama bear with her two cubs I surprised -- so stunning a moment, I composed a poem about it. Or ask her how a cell phone would have helped me encounter fewer bears.

My mother-in-law doesn't want my arguments. She wants me to be safe.

And I want to be safe, too, of course.

But for me, safe means not relying on any device. For me, safe means relying on myself.

Susan Johnson, a teacher at UMass Amherst Isenberg School of Management, hikes every day she can. She lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts.