To my distinct displeasure, I am now the owner of a credit card and a smart phone.
To anybody else, these possessions may seem trivial, such a regular part of daily life that they aren’t worth talking about. However, to me, they represent major compromises between how I would prefer to live and modern culture.
You see, all my adult life, I have been wary of manufactured needs. I never bothered with a mobile phone because I mostly work from home, where a landline is available. When I’m away from home, I’m on my own time, and didn’t want to be accessible to business colleagues. As for friends and family, they never had business so urgent that they couldn’t wait for a few hours to get in touch. By not carrying a phone, I removed unnecessary stress from my life.
Similarly, I didn’t carry a credit card because I worried about plunging into debt, and because I am scornful of demands for instant gratification. Instead, I used a debit card and PayPal, paying as I went and resting much easier as a result.
The trouble is, personal phones and credit cards are so convenient that modern life no longer leaves room for those like me who would prefer to be without them. Oh, I suppose I could live an Amish-like existence, but, for all my stubbornness, I’m not prepared to do that. In the last few years, the inconvenience of not using these artifacts of modern life have simply become too great.
I started carrying a phone because Trish’s illness meant that I needed to be accessible in case of an emergency. Ironically, I bought my first phone two weeks before her death, but I kept it because around the same time pay phones started to disappear. You can still find them at Skytrain stations, but elsewhere in greater Vancouver, they are almost extinct. When you do find them, they are in dark corners where nobody sensible ventures, and using them means standing knee-high in garbage and trying not to gag on the smell of urine that’s all around.
Also, many bus stops no longer post schedules. Schedules are usually a case of wishful thinking at the best of times, but if I want any indication of when the next bus might come, my only alternative is to use the phone.
In the same way, credit cards have become equally unavoidable. I can do without them from day to day, but the book and music stores that I used to frequent have slowly disappeared. For that matter, so has the large Virgin and later HMV store downtown. I can order in one or two stores, but have to wait three to six weeks for delivery, and then only if I don’t want an e-book. By contrast, an online order saves me money, and, in the case of music and ebooks, is often immediately downloadable. Usually, the sites I order from won’t take PayPal, or online debit from my credit union. Under the circumstances, I can be perversely stubborn and penalize myself or else get a credit card. I chose not to penalize myself.
I have to admit, the credit card is convenient and the smart phone I bought yesterday is a marvelous piece of technology (there was a sale on; otherwise, I’d have stuck with a basic phone). And I do keep within reason. The credit card has a low limit that’s paid off monthly, and I’m not going to be doing much searching of the web on the new phone.
But I still feel like I’ve lost my integrity. More importantly, I feel angry that I can’t live the way I prefer unless I do without and suffer inconvenience.
I didn’t ask much – just to pay as I go, and not be tied to a piece of technology that keeps me always accessible. To me, these seem both modest and sane goals, and I suppose that I could have denied myself a few things to have the satisfaction of standing on principle.
Yet after a while, such rearguard actions become futile. Peevishly, and with a good bit of grumbling, I’ve been dragged along with everybody else — and feel lesser because I’ve given in.