Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
The Last Man Without a Cell Phone
Plus! Inside the restroom at Jay Street-MetroTech!
Welcome to Issue #60 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Last week’s feature looking at the differences between Android and iPhone users spurred intense reaction from folks in both camps. But my favorite was the email from reader Luke C. in Bushwick who had an intriguing suggestion:
“I think you've hit on an age-old topic: humanity's natural preference for in-groups dynamics expressed through consumption; like Montagues and Capulets, only dumb, and boring. Given that our current media environment is rife with division that is amplified by both technology AND media, the next logical step is obvious: you must create a CAFE ANNE phone. This will be easy.”
Luke linked to a video about a prototype phone that Google had under development several years ago. It employed interlocking modules, like Lego blocks, that you could snap in and out of the body of the phone. Each module performed a different function so the phone could be totally customized.
“Imagine a world where we defined ourselves not by the prearranged consumer identities of Android or iPhone, but explored the world—both digital AND irl—with the help of a device that optimized for qualities like wonderment or investigative pluck. Think of the possibilities!” Luke wrote. “Please let me know as soon as you have assembled a team; I am eager to preorder.”
Wow, I love this idea. What could we include in a CAFÉ ANNE phone? I am thinking of a weird trash heap detector, a pigeon-speak translator and a module that serves delicious Café Bustelo, the world’s finest coffee. I’d love to hear your ideas—along with your thoughts about what you’d include in your own dream phone. Please respond in the comments or drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, I am very excited about this week’s issue. I asked readers to put me in touch with someone who still doesn’t use a cell phone, and you came through! Please see this week’s feature, “The Last Man Without a Cell Phone.”
I’m also pleased to announce a new series profiling NYC’s nine newly reopened subway restrooms. This week’s spotlight features the ladies’ restroom at the Jay Street-MetroTech station in Downtown Brooklyn. Please enjoy.
INSIDE: NYC SUBWAY RESTROOMS
Meet the Amazing Toilet Paper Dispensers at Jay Street-MetroTech!
Several weeks ago, the MTA had a big announcement. After closing all 69 bathrooms in the NYC subway system at the start of the pandemic, it was reopening the bathrooms in nine stations.
I had never been inside a NYC subway bathroom. But according to the press release, these nine bathrooms had all been deep cleaned and freshly painted! Why not give them a chance?
I started out Tuesday morning with the subway restroom closest to home—the bathrooms at the Jay Street-MetroTech A-C-F stop in Downtown Brooklyn. It’s a good thing I didn’t actually have to go, because the bathrooms were closed for cleaning—in both English and Spanish!
After a 20-minute wait, the rope came down and it finally happened—my first look inside a NYC subway bathroom. I was immediately hit by the powerful odor of chlorine bleach, so I knew it was truly clean.
I scanned the list of restroom improvements listed in the MTA’s press release to see which had been actualized. New motion-activated faucet? Check. Ceiling painting? The ceiling looked extremely fresh. New fixtures, including hand dryers? Not really—the hand dryer was definitely old school. Tile grouting? Check—there was tile grouting for sure.
But what really caught my attention was the restroom’s toilet paper and paper towel situation. The dispensers by the toilets and by the sink were stocked with the exact same paper product! It wasn’t quite toilet paper, but it wasn’t exactly a paper towel either. It was some sort of hybrid. The sheets were roughly the size of a Kleenex and folded into thirds.
What was this mysterious all-purpose bathroom paper product? Happily, there was a URL on the dispenser over the sink: www.OPSboxx.com. I raced home on my bicycle to learn more. And reader, a whole universe opened up for me.
What I stumbled upon was a patented paper product delivery apparatus invented by Archer Manufacturing, Inc., “The foremost leader in providing the world’s only 100% Vandal-Proof Soap Dispensing System.” The Southern California company has deployed its proprietary OPS dispensing system to prisons, psychiatric facilities, schools and public transportation systems across the U.S.
The hybrid tissue/towel in question is known as OPS Paper. It works only in OPS Dispensers which, in turn, take only OPS Paper. And yes, the product is specially designed to serve as both a “hand towel” and a “toilet sheet.”
The product’s features were explained in ALL CAPS:
• NO CARDBOARD CORES TO THROW OUT OR TO BE THROWN IN THE TOILET.
• UNLIKE ROLL TISSUE, ONLY 1 SHEET IS DISPENSED AT A TIME (dramatically, slows usage, no more clogged toilets, and savings in less sheets used per use).
• PLACE 2 DISPENSERS SIDE BY SIDE TO DOUBLE TISSUE CAPACITY IN HIGH VOLUME AREA.
But what really makes these dispensers stand out? They are indestructible. This is important because, as Archer Manufacturing, Inc. points out, restroom facility providers across the nation are battling the “TikTok challenge,” —a trend that has vandals posting videos of themselves deliberately destroying paper towel and toilet paper dispensers!
Archer Manufacturing, Inc. linked to its own YouTube channel, “Dispenser Truth”, featuring a video it created in-house to illustrate the problem—and the solution.
The video depicts a young man in a v-neck sweater and khakis whacking a paper towel dispenser with a metal rod. Why is he is so angry with the dispenser? We don’t know. The point is that the OPS dispenser survives the attack completely unscathed.
Next, we see a vicious vandal trying to set the OPS Paper on fire! The paper hanging outside the dispenser erupts into flame, but the stack inside is protected.
In the video’s home stretch, we learn that the OPS Soap Dispenser is vandal proof, too. The scary young man from the first scene returns to attack a soap dispenser with his metal rod. Only now he is wearing a teal polo shirt. What could this mean?
Again, that is not the point. The point, according to Archer Manufacturing, Inc., is that with these vandal-proof devices, “You can now put soap and sanitizer where you never could before!”
Even the NYC subway.
Curious to learn what OPS stands for, I sent an email to Archer Manufacturing, Inc. I soon heard back from Mark Werth, the company director. “I am from Brooklyn and know how important the MTA is to NY,” he wrote.
OPS, he revealed, stands for “Optimal Proportioning Systems.”
“OPS hand towel dispensers not only are Vandal Proof but, use smaller sheets of paper,” he wrote. “Have you ever noticed yourself using a paper towel in the center, and then tossing it? Or pulling out 2 to 10 sheets at a time. That is typical of most people, myself included. OPS towel dispensers prevent people from pulling more than 1 sheet at a time. Which means far less waste.”
Sold! If I ever need a dispenser for my home bathroom, it’s OPS all the way. Meanwhile, I’m curious. Has every reopened NYC subway restroom been converted to the OPS system? Stay tuned….
The Last Man Without a Cell Phone
In last week’s issue, I took a look at Android vs. iPhone users and which are more likely to be nonconformist. But the true independent thinkers, I added, are likely the 3% of folks in the U.S. who have no cell phone at all. I was dying to interview one of these rebels, but how could I find such a person? Happily, CAFÉ ANNE readers came through—twice!
My first lead came from reader Megan H. in South Carolina, who nominated her dad, David Haaga, in Rockville, MD. The 61-year-old is a psychology professor at American University in Washington, D.C. Megan sent me an email:
“my dad is one of the proud no cell phone ppl - technically he owns one but i don't think it really counts considering he does not turn it on or carry it more than a couple times a year at most. somehow he manages to be a professor, take the DC metro, drive around MD, v active long distance runner (without listening to music!!!!) etc etc without a phone.”
When I wrote to Mr. Haaga, he agreed to a Zoom chat—he’s not a total Luddite! I hope you enjoy our Q&A as much as I did. (Please note, both interviews have been edited and condensed.)
I can't tell you how excited I am to talk to you. I've been wanting to interview someone like you for years. Three percent of the population has no cell phone, but I imagine usually they're folks in the nursing home, you know?
My ultimate destination, I suppose!
So first, I wanted to get a little background on this cell phone that you don't use. Your wife bought it for you?
Yes. She decided that I needed one for emergencies.
But if you don't carry it with you, what good is it?
You might well ask! I guess the idea is, suppose the car breaks down. But as you say, I don't have it with me. Maybe if I ever climb Mount Everest instead of just reading about mountain climbing, I'll need some way to get in touch.
When was the last time you used it?
It's been a few years. I'm a distance runner. One time when I was volunteering as a course marshal in a point-to-point race, the race director said, “I want everybody to call me when you get to your spot, so we know people are all throughout the course.”
I said, “Ah, shit, I don't know how to do this.” So my wife printed out step-by-step instructions for me. When I called the guy, I was so thrilled! The call went through—it worked and everything!
I got home and emailed my daughters: "You won't believe what happened. I initiated a cellular telephone call!" And they were, I suppose, maybe a little sarcastic. They said, "Next you'll be getting a drone and a driverless car—it's a slippery slope!"
Why don't you have a cellphone?
I guess this will sound flip. But I would turn that around and say, "Why do I need one?" I use a computer—a lot! For my work, and reading things online. I do email. But I don't have any felt need to have it with me all the time. It's like, I watch TV, but I don't feel like I need to carry it around with me all day.
The cell phone feels like a solution to a non-problem. Before it existed, you didn't see undergraduates running across campus to get back to their room after class so they could make phone calls. But now you see them walking around, on their phone, all the time.
The contrast I've sometimes used is, I grew up in the DC area with no central air conditioning. And we knew perfectly well there was a problem. It was hot and stuffy all summer. And we're laying on the floor reading the paper in front of a fan. Everybody knew there was a problem, and central AC solved it. But in this case, what was the problem? I don't see the need.
Now it's getting it's to be a little bit inconvenient not to have one. I donate blood regularly. And you can't do Rapid Pass without an app. So I have to go and do their questionnaire on a computer, and it's a little cumbersome.
Also, all the pay phones have disappeared. But you know, I guess I'm a free rider. Anytime you need one, there's somebody around with a phone.
Do you carry a little address book around with you?
No. Why would I need that? I'm introverted and don't make a ton of phone calls. I have my little Rolodex at home, but I don't need that with me at all times.
What happens if you're running late?
I'm hardly ever late. But my theory is that the cell phone is iatrogenic for that purpose.
In my day, people mostly showed up on time. If somebody was really late, it was because they had a car accident or something. Now, when we get together, it's routine that somebody is very late. I think a contributing cause is, "Oh, I'll just text you if I'm running late." Because you can communicate that, you aren't as particular about making sure you're on time.
What effects have you seen of cell phone use on your friends and family, and on society?
In society these days, the zombification of people for sure. People are just always on it. When I'm riding the subway, walking around on campus—you see that sort of disconnect, of people being in their own bubble.
There's also a different dynamic for people in terms of downtime, to always have this very stimulating thing available. I like to read, but I wouldn't like somebody following me around all day, reading out loud. I would find that distracting. And I think it's distracting for people to have this device.
I'm talking to you, but if I start being boring, within five seconds, you're going to look at your phone. Or if I'm in a meeting with other faculty, you can just look in their laps and they're looking at their phone. They're dividing their attention.
What effect does that have on relationships or on individuals?
I don't really know. But I do kind of gather anecdotally that some people struggle with in-person communication, having relied really heavily on texting. I don't love talking on the phone. But now an actual call is seen as this sort of crazy intrusion: "What's going on with you? You should know to text me." And that's not a great development from the standpoint of figuring out how to talk to people.
I have an iPhone, but I really minimize how much time I spend on it. And one reason for that is it makes me feel like I'm gonna win. Because my brain is going to be in better shape than everyone else's brain! Do think you can think more clearly, or connect with people better than others, because you don't use a cell phone? Does it give you an advantage?
Oh, boy, I don't know about that. I would never want to claim that my people skills are above average, or anything like that. I would encourage people to compare themselves to how they might be without a smartphone.
Do you ever encourage others to get rid of their cell phones?
No, I'm not a proselytizer. If people are finding it handy, then by all means, carry on! My only kind of preachy thing is I would say, “Just think about it, and be intentional about it,” as opposed to this default setting of, “I'm always on it.”
You strike me as a fairly relaxed person. Is that correct?
I hope so. I'm a bit of a worrier. But I'm not super excitable, that's true.
Is that partly because you don't have a cell phone? Or is it more that you never got a cell phone because you're not wound up?
I think a lot of that stuff is more hardwired, and life-long. I've alluded before to being introverted. I only need so much stimulation, and then I need recovery.
These people who are bouncing around from one thing to another and can't stand downtime, I think are in a different position. I'm self-regulated. Immediately after talking to you, I don't need some other major thing to do right away.
Last thing, what do you do with your free time—in those little intervals that everyone else is killing by looking at their apps?
I read a lot, and post my reviews on Goodreads.com. So I do use the computer. I waste time posting on the message board on LetsRun.com. I read the newspaper every day, and do a lot of exercising, supplemental to running, to manage all my various injuries.
Can we say you have a running addiction then?
Sure, sure. Yes, it's very upsetting to me when I'm injured and can't run.
I was referred to our second subject, Peter Hirsch, by his wife, reader Heidi G. in New York. The professional French horn player, retired music librarian and dad grew up in Long Island and lived most of his adult life in Inwood, a neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan. He also agreed to chat over Zoom.
Why don't you have a cell phone?
Several reasons. I would say cell phones started to appear in the late 90s. There were people who had these things that looked like boomboxes before that, but it was only in the late 90s that you would actually see people using them in public. And pretty universally at that point, it was considered obnoxious. At least amongst the people that I was around. The idea that you'd be walking down the street and talking on your phone seemed exhibitionistic, very self-important. It just wasn't considered socially acceptable. And maybe I just never really changed my attitude about it all that much.
I also didn't really want people to call me I when I was doing something else. If I was walking around with one my pocket, somebody would be calling me on it, I'd just have to ignore it. And I really couldn't think of any reason why I'd want to make a call while I was out doing something.
Have you been pressured by your friends or family to get a phone?
Yes and no. I mean, my wife would be happier. And there might possibly be some time—I'm 72, you know—when I'm really losing it more than I am now, I could see the idea.
In the old days, I knew tons of people, the first reason they got a cell phone was, "Oh, in case my car breaks down on a deserted road." It's like a cliché. And maybe I'll reach that point. Maybe I'll break down and need a tow, so to speak.
But one reason I am resistant is I know many people, and I don't think I'm any different from them, who said, "I won't get a cell phone." And then I see they have it. And it goes on from that very easily.
My wife is good example. She'd admit this too. For many years, she just had a flip phone. She said, “I'm not getting a smart phone, because that would be the end.” And then she did, and she uses it a lot. Like everybody does. And I don't think I'd be any different.
I'm not saying any of this like I'm different, or more virtuous. It's like an addiction. It's like I know that if I smoked crack, I'd get addicted to it.
Do you carry a little phone book around with you?
Google Contacts is my phone book. Which, unfortunately, isn't with me. But it's almost impossible now to make a phone call from anywhere except home, honestly. A lot of things I took for granted, like a pay phone, they're gone. There are these Wi-Fi kiosks, but they mostly don't work and aren't as widely available as they'd like you to think.
Somewhere in the last five-to-ten years, cell phones just became the default. I have people give me instructions for how to get to their house, and they say, "Oh, when you're outside, give me a call." They don’t say, "Push the buzzer to my apartment."
I also find there's certain things you can't do on the internet, because they want to send you a text, let's say, in order to confirm that you're a real person or whatever.
It's sometimes been a goddamn pain. There was one case I was trying to set up something with my credit card. It was just mind-boggling what I went through. I had to fax my drivers license and passport. And faxing isn't all that easy these days either.
Tell me about the benefits of not having a cell phone.
I don’t get lost. People are losing the capacity to navigate. I see people using their GPS phones to walk around the city. The streets are numbered! I see people very frequently, in their cars, the GPS says “In 500 yards, make a left.” And they still get lost, because they've forgotten. They forget where they live!
I feel I’m more in touch with my surroundings. I still think people are fascinating. I don't think a 3x5 electronic screen is that interesting. There's beautiful parks here. I spend hours there every day and I see people trudging around, walking their dogs or whatever, pushing their baby stroller and looking at their phone. It would be a tragedy for me to be that cut off.
I just see the cell phone as a distraction. I'm not sure I know anybody who has one that I don't see a certain magnetic pull that takes them away from their being present. Including everybody in my family. And they recognize it. But I think it's somewhat regrettable.
As I said, when I'm outside or at home, I'm hearing what hits my eardrums, I can see what I'm seeing. What do they call that? Primary source material, that's what the world is for me. I'm not going through a secondary source, which is the phone.
My last question is, do you feel proud of not having a cell phone?
The only way I could express it is that when I meet somebody else who doesn't have one, I love it.
I know that the world thinks I'm a little bit off. And that doesn't matter. There's so many other ways I've dealt with that my whole life, that I mostly enjoyed—being a nerdy classical music kid, or whatever. So yeah, if people think I'm funny, that's alright by me.
But to meet someone who doesn't have one, I think we probably share the same reasons. This is just not something I want. And I don't need to explain it, at least not least to them. And I think they feel the same way.
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!