Last week, I put down my phone. I went two days without checking emails or text messages. I felt like I kicked Oxycontin, at least for 48 hours.

I’ve been pretty much a goner. A goner like everybody else is a goner. I’d sold my soul to the cellphone devil for a pocketful of messages and a jumble of emails.

An excellent tool has become a fantastic drug. Cellphones wake us in the morning, tuck us in at night and ping while we’re sleeping as if to say, “You’re still somebody. Wait until you read this. It will change your life.”

We harvest our messages like eggs. We had chickens growing up until the dogs ate every one of them. It was thrilling to walk to the barn before school and see how many eggs the chickens had laid in the warm hay.

Cellphones are like the dogs. Instead of eating chickens, they are eating us.

Enough, I thought. I have to take a stand. Take a stand before there is nothing left of me but a silhouette, an ear, a nose and a breeze whistling through the barn.

We were at Ventura for a boys’ weekend. The idea was to talk, read, eat, laugh and walk. Maybe I can focus on them, if I’m not focusing on it.

I put the phone down, but that was only half of it and I don’t know why it took me this long to realize it. In order to have a chance in cellphone rehab, as brief as rehab might be, you have to turn off your cell.

If you don’t, when the phone rings, lights up or dings, the temptation is too strong to swivel, lunge and devour.

The first thing I noticed was how locked in my friends were. They could barely take their eyes off their screens. Their weakness made me feel good. Superior, and as if I regained the high ground both in our friendship and in my life.

In the first few hours, I found myself walking by the phone, craning my neck and hoping that somehow, it would ignore the power off mode and light up as the sun might burst through black clouds.

The phone remained dark no matter how many times I walked by and craned my neck. Eventually, I changed my flight path so that it did not include the sideboard on which the phone slumbered.

Meanwhile, my friends were a cell-centered mess. Major league addicts without hope. I understood; I was like that two hours ago.

I went to bed. The morning would be the test. Harvest time and the promise of all those delicious warm eggs.

Instead, when I woke up, I jumped in the cold ocean, drank a cup of coffee and watched my friends continue their weak, wayward ways. We could still be friends but we were going to have to be different kinds of friends because I was Mr. Changed.

Then, it happened. It was strange, but strange in a good way. A maybe-there-is-something-to-this way.

Cellphone absence engendered cellphone freedom. I almost began to develop an aversion to it. I could walk by the phone and not want to cradle it as if it were my forever baby.

There was some collateral damage when I turned on the phone again. Sue had sent me a sweet message two days earlier and I had not responded to it and I think I may have hurt her sweet little feelings.

I couldn’t. I was off the grid. Off the grid becoming a better person who will even become more lovable.

The emails had piled up. I’m still waiting for that one that’s either going to make me richer, more famous or answer all of my big questions.

I recommend powering off. It’s a way of regaining the high ground, even if you’re only standing on an anthill. The air is sweeter and not many people are breathing it.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.