Cell Phone Time Machine

When people talk about technology, they are usually talking about computers and the internet.  In agriculture, GPS or drip irrigation are usually mentioned.  But the technology that may have benefited agriculture the most in the last twenty years is now so ubiquitous that everyone takes it almost completely for granted — the cellphone.

When I first arrived at the farm in 1992, we didn’t have any cellphones — very few farmers did.  We didn’t even have walkie talkies.  Instead, we had to communicate every instruction in person.  That meant walking or driving to the place where you thought a person or persons was working to talk to them.  If someone ran out of work and wasn’t sure what to do, they would either go looking for a supervisor, or simply wait until someone showed up to give them instructions.

When we got our first cellphones a few years later, it probably doubled our efficiency by 500%.  It also saved us hundreds of gallons of gasoline a year.  And while some people still describe electronic devices as “tethers”, for farmers cellphones were enormously liberating.  For us it meant being able to leave the farm to go to market, or run errands, or even to take a day off without stressing the whole time about being out of touch.

There are spots on the farm where our phones never worked.  But everyone knew where those spots are, and where the nearest spot with good reception was.   So it was quite alarming when a few weeks back, our phones started to lose service in places where they had always worked well. All of a sudden, we found ourselves driving around to find people or give messages.  But in the almost 20 years since 1993, we have grown and expanded and our farm is much more far flung.

It turns out that the cell provider we had used for over ten years is being shut down in a few months by the larger company that bought it, and they have already begun unplugging cell towers in our area.  No, customers were not advised in advance.  We quickly decided to switch to a new carrier — you know, the one that promises the best coverage everywhere.

I wasn’t excited about switching seven phones to a new carrier during our busiest time of year, but staff at the new company assured me they could do it overnight and there would be no interruption in service.  Well…the next day we had four phones that could only receive, but not make calls, and three that could make but not receive them.  The problems lasted for over 48 hours.  For those two days, we were thrust back into the pre-cellphone days of the “good old” early 90s and it was no fun at all.

Those were two of the most stressful days I ever have experienced and I hope it never happens again.  Tether, smether.  We heart our cellphones.




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