Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Today I set off to pick up some stuff at a store about fifteen minutes or so away, and about two thirds of the way there I suddenly realised I’d left my cellphone at home. It was the first time in a very long time that I’ve been anywhere without a phone and I suddenly remembered what it used to be like.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, cellphones were still fairly scarce, restricted mostly to executives and tradespeople who needed to be reached on the road. In those days, I used to carry plastic phone cards for pay telephones. The cards had a stored dollar amount and were available in different amounts. McDonald’s sometimes gave them away as a promotion.

Phone cards were needed because it was becoming extremely difficult to find a pay phone that accepted money. Now, it’s hard to find a pay phone of any kind.

I got my first cellphone after Bell South began offering Prepay in New Zealand. With it, a customer could buy a phone without a contract, and buy airtime in advance as needed. Bell South’s New Zealand business was sold to Vodafone which in the years since has taken it from an also-ran to the largest cellphone operator in New Zealand in terms of connections.

I’m now on my fourth phone, but still with Vodafone Prepay because it suits my needs, which are clearly very limited. Nevertheless, I carry my phone everywhere just in case—in case the car breaks down, I see a crime or my partner rings to tell me we need milk. I can even post to my blog with a cellphone, though I haven’t done that (yet).

All of which means that it felt odd to be running around without my phone. And yet it also felt a bit liberating to be incommunicado, even if it was only for a short time. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but it’s probably a good thing to be reminded from time to time of how things used to be. It helps us appreciate how things are now, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the past.

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