Elusive Signals

One of the most frustrating (and yet strangely endearing) quirks about New Zealand is the utter lack of cell phone service. People in the United States love to grumble when they happen to drive into the countryside and lose service for half an hour – in the technology-soaked Land of the Free, it’s mind-boggling to imagine living in a place where cell phones don’t function. But in Kiwi Land, it’s simply a fact of life. Almost everywhere you go, it’s almost guaranteed that you will lose your signal. In fact, unless you live in a city, you’re pretty much better off assuming you won’t have service at all.

A map showing mobile coverage for a major cell phone provider, highlighted in blue.

Even though major phone companies like Vodafone and Telecom control the airwaves here, they still haven’t managed to solve the problems posed by mountainous terrain. In fact, during my first five months in the country, I had zero cell phone reception at any of the hosts I stayed with. They didn’t live in particularly isolated areas, but they still relied on their land lines to connect them to the outside world. Hello, 1995!

As someone who grew up in the cell phone generation, it was quite an adjustment to revert back to home telephone service. It was also quite unnerving to imagine being disconnected from the world in case of emergency (which I experienced firsthand when my car broke down on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere). I didn’t really have anyone to call, and I wasn’t expecting text messages or phone updates, but I still felt a little nervous that I couldn’t call someone “just in case.” I definitely had my share of nervous moments, traversing empty landscapes with the hope that I wouldn’t fall and break my leg or run out of gasoline in my car without being able to call for help.

But despite the nervous fear that came with losing my perceived connection to the world, it was exactly the remedy I needed. I came to New Zealand searching for change. I was looking for a way to distill my life into its most essential elements, and find the space to improve on all the deficiencies I’d accrued over the years. Instead of relying on my modern gadgets I got the benefit of relying on my common sense in a sticky situation. I also got to remember what it’s like not to bully yourself for not being popular enough when no one texts or calls you for days (or weeks) on end. The lack of cell phone coverage probably even benefited my body, thanks to the removal of all that constant cell phone radiation! While I’m grateful to have my beloved cell phone permanently attached to my side again now that I’m in Wellington, it was nice to learn that sometimes going back in time is exactly what you need.

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One thought on “Elusive Signals

  1. Sonia Kuch says:

    Here, Here! I wholeheartedly agree. Cell phone connectivity is the same here in England. For the first few days we had no cell phones at all. It was strange not to check my email or facebook. David and I had found ourselves doing this more and more in the U.S. he is happy as a clam with limited cell use. He tells everyone he is going “old school” and loves it! I now have a cell phone but don’t have a plan yet and just “top off”. Meaning, add phone points whenever they run out. Now I am forced to talk more instead of relying on checking my phone or texting. What a concept eh? Sadly, our youth and community at large our forgetting what it is like to rely on the senses you discovered without your phone. It’s nice not to see people on their phones in the restaurant, while driving or just walking down the sidewalk. Don’t get me wrong….I still like to know I have my phone! The second day we got here I was to meet David on base to complete a task He was not at our meeting point at the designated time. I thought “now what”? “How do I get a hold of him?” “what do I do”. So, I went inside another building, asked about where he might be and they ushered me to a room where he was to be in 10 minutes. Voila! Problem solved. Sadly the first thing that went through my mind was “if I had my cell I could just text him!” Instead of, “okay, now worries, we’ll figure this out”.

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