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.
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.