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In the Scheme of Things


Nan Russell

Sep 7, 2014

No Cell Service

No Cell Service

I was standing in the lobby watching for my husband out the doorway, when I noticed her. She might have been 12 or 13; her sister slightly younger, and it was clear from the body language between them that something was wrong. The brown haired girl, in shorts and hiking boots, was holding up her cell phone to show the desk attendant at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park that she, "couldn't make a call to her parents."

"Yeah, there's no cell phone service in the park," he casually responded, unprepared for what happened next when she began to cry. Between sobs, she stammered that she "had to call her parents." He spent a few minutes with her trying to figure out why she was so upset before calling reinforcements in the form of a manager, who calmed her down enough to get out the story.

It turned out she and her sister were staying in the campground across the lake. They'd arrived to set up camp a couple hours earlier and then she persuaded her parents to let them hike around the lake to see the hotel. She told the manager that they were given permission "only if they would call the minute they arrived."

"I don't know what to do," she said several times. And that, of course, was the problem. They were strangers in this strange land of "no cell service." No texts. No calls. No contact. And while the manager offered her options, the girl's reaction got me thinking. This almost teenager wasn't prepared to handle even a slight deviation from the easy contact comfort of technology. What would she have done in a real crisis?

Are we teaching our children that all they need is a phone in their pocket, rather than the concept of "Be Prepared" as the Boy Scout motto coined a 100 years ago? When you live in a connected world, thinking through what you'd do in an usual situation may become a dying art. My mother used to tell me when we went somewhere new, "If we get separated, here's where we'll meet." Or, in a case like this "If I don't hear from you by 2:00, I'll come to the hotel and find you."

On my office bookshelf is a porcelain plaque that reads, "Common sense is not so common;" it's a quote from Voltaire, an 18th-century enlightenment writer. Three hundred years later, too many of us are not "enlightened" enough to plan ahead, check for service, develop a plan B, or know how to maneuver without technology. Many of us aren't coaching our children or anticipating for ourselves how to handle a crisis if the cell phone doesn't work, the GPS is down, or there's no Wi-Fi to tweet or post.

As wonderful as it is to have that sense of security with a computer in our pocket, what happens when we don't know how to operate without it? Can your child read a map? Use a pay phone? Change a tire? Understand a compass? Maneuver through unexpected occurrences calmly and thoughtfully? What would they have done in that National Park hotel? What about you?

In the scheme of things not everything old is outdated. Some things are critical in every age -- like common sense -- and never go out of style. It seems to me, the "enlightenment" we collectively need in this age of technology requires adding be-prepared-common-sense thinking to our everyday lives.

Nan S. Russell - Gellatio.png
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