My Life in T9 (or: One Last "Woo-Hoo!" for Alexander Graham Bell)

Girls hated it. Well, maybe “hate” is the wrong word. They didn’t understand it, really. The strange thing is, every time I’d explain my situation to a girl, no matter where she’d grown up or how popped her collar was, she always had the same look. I got used to it, eventually. It was a look somewhere between incredulity and confusion, the kind of look you’d get if you asked a class of third graders to dissect Dostoevsky. Girls just did not understand this complication of mine. In all their years, I was often the only one they’d ever met in such a situation.

I use the word “situation,” because that’s what it was to them. It was something I’d learned to deal with, I’d tell them jokingly. But truthfully? Life really was better without it.

They didn’t see it that way. They’d cast me that look — always that look — and try to find the right way to phrase their next question. Sometimes, they’d scan me over, searching for more overt signs of my madness. And when none were to be found, they’d part their lips just so, and a few words — always the same words — would slip out:

“If you don’t have text messaging on your phone, then….”

A pause, their minds turned into a personal T9 — the cell phone predictive text feature — trying to sort out the words and cues buzzing in their brains.

“Then…. how do you live?”

The question was never asked with a smile or a laugh; they were always serious. They’d hush, waiting for my answer. Sometimes, they’d even put down their phones, thumbs akimbo, desperately seeking justification.

But how to explain such a life choice? Voluntarily, some two years ago, I called up my cell phone provider and asked them to block all incoming text messages. No longer would I fear that brief whir, my phone spinning on the countertop, a ringtone jingle fading as quickly as it had arrived. No longer did I worry about flipping open my phone to find “R”s or “U”s masquerading as full words, punctuation lost in the rush to 160 characters. No longer would I awake from a mid-afternoon’s nap to see one simple letter — “K” — and wonder why I’d been stirred by a non-vocal affirmative.

Girls did not understand this. I would explain that, no, it wasn’t that hard to survive without texting. It wasn’t like I was depriving myself of human contact. I was still reachable via any of my three email addresses, plus instant messenger or Facebook.

Or — and this typically drew the most confused look of all — I could always be called on my cell phone. I only had about 500 minutes per month, I’d say, plus free nights and weekends. So I was always happy to actually talk via phone.

Sometimes I’d get a nod back, or at least a smile that showed that they didn’t think I was completely crazy. Oftentimes, I couldn’t even get that. I began to realize that I had a personal public relations disaster on my hands.

Last year, I caved and bought a text messaging plan: 200 texts for $5 a month. I’d finally accepted that there were two situations in which I liked texting: 1.) At sporting events, when the volume of cell phones in a single stadium sometimes makes calling impossible, and 2.) For brief, GPS-type purposes during those crowded or just-too-freaking-loud-to-hear occasions.

Initally, I didn’t even tell friends that I’d unblocked text messaging. I let them know slowly, my phone’s message inbox pinging infrequently at first. That was last fall. Some friends kept calling, which I liked; others decided that the sound of my voice — or the threat of entire minutes of small talk — wasn’t worth the bother. They started texting frequently. Lately, it’s only gotten worse.

College students don’t use texting like I do: as a last resort. As a demographic, we use it to make dinner plans or — increasingly — to pass along a random line from whatever Andy Samberg’s latest “SNL Digital Short” was. The two word message — like a stray status update directed, for whatever reason, only to me — is as popular as ever. “Just showered,” SMSed one friend last week. “You would,” said another. “What up” my phone reads, over and over again, the question mark lost in our digital drain.

Last month, I noticed that 200 texts had become an imminently reachable monthly milestone. That became even more evident when I went to AT&T’s website and discovered these words:

“AT&T bills for all messages whether sent or received, read or unread, solicited or unsolicited.”

All of those unwanted texts — every “k,” and especially every “i’m on a boat” or “when bruce willis died at the end of sixth sense'” — had pushed me far past my limit of 200. And each of those overflow texts started costing me, sometimes just a dime, or sometimes more. I didn’t ask my parents to send me a video message of the JumboTron shuffle game at that sporting event. But they did, and it cost me a quarter each time.

The obvious solution for me is to bump up to the next level of text messaging plans. On AT&T, that means going unlimited — and I’m just not prepared to make such a change in lifestyle.

The thing is, I still prefer actually speaking to people. Like yesterday, when a random-but-pertinent thought popped into my head, I gave my friend a ring. I heard him sigh over the phone. “You’re wasting my minutes,” he said. I found that strange. This friend pays for about 1,000 minutes per month and gets free nights/weekends. In the four years I’ve known him, I do not believe he has ever reached that 1,000 minute plateau — and I’m adding up all of the time he’s spent on the phone during those four years combined.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at my latest phone data right now. I have 366 anytime minutes remaining this month (I started 15 days ago with 500). I have 4,852 night and weekend minutes, and 1,748 rollover minutes. Hypothetically, I have enough minutes to talk for nearly five full days without incurring any extra charges. Logically, I expect to use approximately two percent of those remaining minutes.

I should note, though: when prompted, AT&T didn’t send me that update about my minutes via email or the postal service.

No, quite naturally, they sent it to me in a text.

(H/T on the photo above to user kiwanja, via Flickr.)