When it comes to cell phones, I admit to being behind the times. We don’t get a good cell signal on our street on Islesford, so we still need, and use, a landline at our house. I can sit on the wide windowsill in our dining room, with my head against the glass, and get a one-bar signal if I really need to use my cell phone at home, but that situation is more conducive to a stiff neck than a long phone call. We use the cell phone for times when the power has been out long enough to compromise our phone lines, driving a car or truck to the town dock to get the best signal. On those occasions it is not unusual to see one or two of our neighbors making phone calls there from their vehicles as well.

If one of us is off-island doing errands, we use the cell phone to keep in touch; a bit of a trick since there are also spots on Mount Desert Island where a signal is still unavailable. I take our cell phone with me when I travel, but the earpiece is broken and the phone is so out of date that I can’t find an earpiece replacement. I am not able to talk with my hands free while driving, so I avoid making calls from the car. This is just fine with me since I don’t like to talk on the phone much anyway.

We don’t feel the need to upgrade from our original Nokia phone since it still works. Sending a text message is a pain on this almost vintage model, and I don’t like texting either. I don’t understand the need that some people have to be constantly looking at a tiny rectangular screen for updates on everything from the necessary to the mundane. Aren’t they afraid that too much texting will cause their eyes to turn square? (A threat from my childhood after watching too much TV.) Isn’t it ironic that in their fear of missing some crucial bit of information from cyberspace, they have no fear of missing something that is happening all around them?

I was in New York last week to visit friends. On Sunday, my friend Susie and I went into the city to have lunch and see a play. I love New York City for its jolt of excitement and creative energy. The noise, the lights, thousands of people, the taxis, the clothes, the street vendors, the availability of just about anything at any time of day; it’s all such a polar opposite to my life in the Cranberry Isles. I would never want to live there, but I sure do love to visit. Quite a few of the people I watched held tiny screens in their palms. Even while they walked, they were texting. At the theater, just before the lights dimmed, we were reminded to reach into our pockets and purses and make sure our mobile devices were turned off. At the intermission, out came the phones, creating a sea of blue rectangles and a flurry of thumbs. More people were checking and answering messages than were talking to each other about the first act. Susie and I wondered aloud if future generations might forget how to communicate face to face in their determination to be in touch all the time on the screen.

The 18th century German philosopher, Immanuael Kant, said, “The nice part about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.” If he were alive today he might have replaced the words “living in a small town” with “having a ‘smart’ phone.” I like keeping up with my friends’ activities by checking my e-mails, Facebook, and their blogs several times a day. I miss the anonymous connection to them when I spend a day off the island without my computer. (Yes… I know…)

When my old phone gives out, who knows how I’ll replace it? I can’t imagine ever wanting or needing to have a “smart” phone, but I remember a time when I disdained the answering machine, thinking I really couldn’t be bothered with checking for messages. If people wanted to talk to me, they could just try to reach me again. What could be so important that it couldn’t wait? Now I am shocked when I encounter the rare person who does not have an answering machine.

If I immerse myself in too much telephone technology, I fear I might miss the quirky aspects of island living. Though I don’t want to discuss politics with him, I like knowing I can ask Ted, who works on the mail boat, about the weather forecast and, in a flash, he’ll whip out his own iPhone and show me the radar map of the latest system headed our way. If I were busy checking my e-mail on the Island Queen on the 6:30 run, I would have missed an early morning conversation with Barbara Meyers about why people always say, “We’re going to pay for this,” when we experience unseasonably mild weather as we did in the beginning of November. I could miss the sunrises, sunsets and moon rises by keeping my eyes glued to a little blue screen. If lobster fishermen texted each other, rather than talking publicly on the VHF radio, I would not have heard Mark Fernald say, “There’s a big liver floating here in the water.” Seriously. A random liver from a whale or shark just floating along in the ocean. You can’t make this stuff up.

This is the time of year when gratitude should be foremost in our minds. I, for one, am thankful to have so much technology to embrace when I’m ready, and even more thankful to live in a place where I don’t yet have to.

-Islesford November 15, 2011