Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Lost in the…something

with 3 comments

At the moment, I’m sitting at a computer at school absolutely losing it, because my phone conked.  It may not actually be totally and completely conked, but it might as well be, because I don’t know how to do the thing that is supposed to fix it.  Matt, my older son, does, and he got back for the week-end last night, so as soon as I get home this afternoon he’ll be able to try the “remove and then reinstall the battery” thing. 

In the meantime, I don’t exactly get it.  The building where I teach on Wednesdays gets virtually no cell reception at all.  I’m effectively cut off here no matter what I do.  I’d have no more access to phone calls here if my phone was working perfectly. 

And I’m not worried that the phone will be dead and cause me to be out of contact for days, or cost a lot to replace–the phone’s insured, and the company will overnight me a replacement if I call and tell them what’s happened.

Assuming it’s even happened.

And, okay, it wouldn’t get here until Friday, but there’s only one phone call that might come in on Thursday that really would have to be taken immediately, and I can back that up.

I don’t know what’s happening here exactly except that I’m used to having it, and not having it feels dangerous, somehow.  And dangerous is the word.  My car could break down and I’d be stuck on the side of the road unable to call for help.  Something like that.

But I was the last person I know to get a cell phone.  I’ve only had one for about a year and a half.  And I did my fair share of breaking down on the side of the road or (more common) blowing out tires.   In fact, about six or seven years ago, I practically made a hobby of blowing out tires on back roads in aeas without a housein sight.  I spent a lot of time trekking around looking for people willing to let me in to call somebody.

Sometimes I was just looking for people.  There aren’t a lot of them in some of the areas around here.

Maybe the problem is that I reailized, siting out in my car half an hour ago and trying to get the damned thing to work or open the battery case–that I don’t remember anybody’s phone number any more.  I can’t even borrow a cell phone from one of my students and call Matt, because I can’t for the life of me remember Matt’s number.  I know Greg’s number, but I also know that Greg’s phone is off so that nobody calls him up on a day when he can sleep in.

It’s the danger thing, though, that strikes me.  I would have said that I was experiencing none of the “fear” the news stations declare all Americans are awash in in a time of financial crisis, but maybe I’m just better at hidin it than most people are.  I’m not often a paranoid person–I do a good job of not borrowing troule most ofthe time.  I try even harder not to do that thing my mother was fond of of anticipating doom on any and all occasions.

But there I was, sitting in my car outside the new Tech Building, on a pretty day ih the middle of a pretty week, scared to death about my car breaking down orsomething else happening, some crisis, some emergency, in the face of which I would be helpless.

I wonder how much of what we fear has any connection wih reality.  In the middle ages, people died suddenly and young all the time–diseases we now think of as minor killed people off in a day or two, without warning.  Agricultural and other accidents, even crime, were rampant.  And yet I hear none of that fear in the work of Geoffrey Chaucerl. of Geoffrey of Monmouth, either.  Some of the religious writers might had it, but it’s hard to tell.  Most religious writers in the middle ages spent so much time worrying about Hell, they might have had little time for worrying about accidents.

Maybe part of the problem is that the world is so much more stable, and so much more predictable, than it was even a hundred years ago.  And I don’t just mean death and dying, I mean everything.  Vanity Fair–yes, I’m still reading Vanity Fair.  It’s a long book and I’ve had a lot to do–Vanity Fair is full of sudden twists and turns of fortune.  A man who is of the highest and most respectable level of society on Tuesday suddenly sees his investments go bac and ends up in bankruptcy court on Friday.  Ships sink.  Wars break out.  Put your money in the bank and when the bank goes bust it takes your money with it.  No matter what you do, no matter how careful you are, you can’t know from one day to the next if you will survive.

Maybe the underlying fear is hardwired into all of us, or most of us, so that we can’t get rid of it even when we’re in no situation that makes it reasonable.  Maybe that’s what drives the weird histrionic conspiracy manias that seem to flood the culture periodically.  There are left wing versions and right wing versions, religious versions and atheist versions, old people versions and young people versions.

I can see an explanation of this fear that is grounded in evolution–if you[re afraid you’re watchful and if you’re watchful you’re more likely to survive the unexpected on the rare occasions that it happens–and one that is grounded in religion (God is trying to tell you something about your immortal soul). 

But I suppose in the end I’m just angry at myself for feeling this way. 

And it annoys me that I can’t make myself stop, even though my reason tells me I’m being an idiot.

I’m gong to go teach classes without any students in them.

Written by janeh

November 26th, 2008 at 11:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

3 Responses to 'Lost in the…something'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Lost in the…something'.

  1. I really panic when I have computer problems. My deafness means I don’t use a phone. I use a relay service via the computer – I type a semtemce the relay operator reads it to the other person, then the operator types the reply in so I can read it etc.

    But if the PC doesn’t work, I can’t even call for help. The solution is to ask a neighbor to call a PC repair company. :(


    26 Nov 08 at 5:18 pm

  2. This has nothing to do with today’s blog but may amuse people.


    Rees is the head of the New South Wales government. The state equivalent of Prime Minister.


    26 Nov 08 at 6:34 pm

  3. I still don’t have a cell phone. I certainly didn’t have it those years I was driving on highways in the winter – and those were the kind of highway where you wait in your car if something goes wrong because you can’t walk far enough to reach help! I tend to think cell phones (and some other modern amenities like cars (now I live in a city) and cable TV) are completely unnecessary.

    Of course, I don’t think that way about Internet access. I feel every bit as isolated without Internet access as you do without your phone. I’m going on a short trip, and although I’ve set up the out-of-office notice on my email, I won’t be staying away from the Internet. The hotel will have a business centre with access, for sure. Oh, I know rationally that I would manage quite nicely if the hotel doesn’t have access and I can’t find an Internet cafe. I can survive without checking email, news, newsgroups, blogs and even the site with the cute pictures of cats.Of course I can. And if there’s an emergency concerning work, the house, the family, the cat, well; I’m sure someone will phone me at the hotel. But I really, really hate being without my nearly constant Internet access. It’s even been hinted that I might be addicted to it, but surely not!

    I think modern fears have a few different sources. In some cases, there are psychological reasons for them. If I find myself getting very anxious about the cleanliness of my house, I KNOW I’m worried about something else. I think the psychiatrists call it displacement. You’ve got some worry you don’t want to face or can’t do anything about, so you worry about something else instead. I think in a lot of cases, though, modern fears are due to rapid news transmission, so we hear lots about really extreme disasters from all over the world, combined with the average human’s difficulty in getting to grips with probability. Think about driving on isolated stormy roads. We all know of cases in which people had fatal accidents. A few of the accidents might even have involved people who could have survived had they been able to summon help – and the conditions hadn’t been so bad that help couldn’t have gotten through in time anyway. But people remember the family that froze to death and might have been rescued had they only been able to tell searchers where they were better than they remember the thousands of people who died instantly, or who simply had a chilly night of it before they were rescued unharmed. And because people remember the extreme cases and don’t think about probability, they say that always having a cell phone with you will save your life when it probably won’t, because it’s highly unlikely you’ll be in that kind of a situation.

    Maybe there’s also something in our culture that tells us that life is ssupposed to be good, and if you do everything just right, it will be. So people become prey to anything that will promise them that life won’t go wrong. Get the magic pill or gadget that will protect you against suffering.

    The medievals didn’t seem to have the belief that life was supposed to be good and free of suffering, so maybe they had fewer anxieties about the possibility that it wouldn’t be. They did have mass hysterias – flagellations and dances and later the witchhunts – which may have partly functioned as a reaction to tension. I don’t know enough about it to guess.


    26 Nov 08 at 6:40 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 737 access attempts in the last 7 days.