“You have service in here?” I can't even describe the number of times I've incredulously questioned whoever was next to me, busily texting in a class where my phone sullenly reads “No Service” or even better “SOS”. I think I've asked that question more times than “What school are you in?” and “So…where do you live?” combined. And every time I ask it, I'm just as shocked. I have no service in the basement of Annenberg, SOS when I step foot inside Sargent; I lose my mom every time I open the door into my hall in Bobb and have to sprint down to my room, where I have to sit on the edge of my bed with my phone up to my right ear because if I move it to my left, there's static.
First world problems, right? But there's more to it than just the inability to immediately inform a friend that the baby on the screen in Childhood and Adolescence looks like he did when he was that age or that the kid sitting in front of me in Classics and Cinema really needs a shower. First of all, there's the dead zone rebound, which I'm pretty sure is a term that I made up. Eighty solid minutes of “No Service” later, you walk out into the open air of a beautiful but probably cold day and pull your phone out. In a minute you'll have 30 listserv emails, from clubs you're probably not even in. You'll have eight texts from friends asking what you're doing for lunch/dinner, because let's be honest: In college your day is pretty much just whatever leads up to your next meal.
More than just the initial annoyance of the rebound, though, there are times when it makes you look like an idiot. My phone's big on this. I've come out of G21 in Annenberg and texted my friend a question that she clearly answered in a text she sent an hour ago when I was sitting desolately in a dead zone.
I walked out of a class where I had no service and on my way back to my dorm decided to give my mom a call. We had a nice conversation about how great the weather was, something funny that happened to me in class and my brother's impending birthday. As I neared Bobb though, I heard my mom's tone for the first time. I had been pulling a typical “college kid” and talking only about myself and my mom had been half-heartedly murmuring “uh-huh” and “yea.” I finally asked her if something was wrong, she broke down and told me of a death in our family. Confused, I asked why she just sprung it on me. She seemed shocked and told me she had texted me to tell me to call when I was alone because she had bad news. If it hadn't been for the lack of service, I would have been able to be better situated to hear what she had to say.
Having little to no service at places on campus where a lot of time is spent is probably just a minor inconvenience to most people, but it's the little things that matter. My roommate and I can be heard on South Campus marveling at the number of bars we have. And our favorite joke revolves solely around the idea that we have more service in the basement of frat houses than in our own room. We actually have two service “spots” in our room, where we go if we want to make phone calls and we advise all friends attempting to use their phones to go to one of two of the spots, otherwise it would probably be smarter for them to just go outside. I've sat in the lobby and talked on the phone, and just today my CA told me the best place for her to get reception is on her toilet.
It's crazy to think that we can't go 80 minutes without having every friend we've ever made at our beck and call. The modern age is full of instantaneous gratification — if you're bored you turn on the TV, log onto facebook or StumbleUpon until you drop. In a dead zone though, especially when coupled with a class or meeting, the instant satisfaction of pulling out your phone and texting your friend is not there. That's a new experience for many, and it's unsettling. It also might have more serious consequences.
I remember reading an article in 11th grade about how instant satisfaction from television, texting and the Internet leads to an increase in drug use among teenagers and young adults because drugs are a similarly quick fix for boredom. Does that mean the sucky cell service at Northwestern is really helping students say no to drugs by weaning them off immediate communication and relief from ennui? Nope, Northwestern students are still going to drink or do drugs if they so desire, they just won't be able to text their friend about it until they get to a spot with service.