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On Call: The beauty of no bars

Sometimes, no cell reception is the best reception.

It's mighty quiet up there.
Russian River Travel

Like many people, I feel a bit naked without my cell phone. If I ever leave the house without it, which a rare occurrence in itself, I will go back for it under almost all circumstances. I'm not proud of this instinctive reaction, and I acknowledge the technology-rules-man overtones, but that's what modern urban life has become.

Every summer, however, I look forward to a few days when packing a cell phone is not a priority. Sonoma County's Russian River area is a beautiful and relaxing spot to spend a long weekend. Few things can beat reclining by the pool with a cocktail and the hot sunny weather is welcome after a cold San Francisco summer. But the best thing about the Russian River is that cell phone service can be hard to come by. Except for a few spotty areas with AT&T service, the entire area was one huge dead zone. And that suited me very well. Since my phone didn't work, there was no point in even thinking about it--quite a liberating feeling indeed. So there it would rest on the table for three days while I enjoyed a peaceful vacation without the intrusion of a ringtone or the outside world at large. After all, isn't that what a vacation is all about?

But this year I had a rude awakening. After arriving at our resort, I was surprised to learn that I had reception. My bars never slipped above two but I had enough coverage to make calls and send texts. While part of me was suddenly pleased that I could keep in touch with friends who were staying at other resorts, I also was somewhat miffed. Now the office could call or mom could phone to tell me I forgot a relative's birthday. Suddenly, I feared the real world would do more than just invade my vacation; it would sit next to me at the pool. As I see it, when I'm completely out of touch I have a good excuse not to take the call. But, if I get reception I feel that I have a responsibility to answer. You may think it's crazy, but that's just me and I know quite a few people who feel the same way.

Fortunately, my fears proved to be (mostly) unfounded. The office or mom never rang, and it was nice to send a quick text about meeting the group for dinner. Most of the time, I left my phone in its rightful place on the table while I walked the short distance down the hill to check up on a friend who was staying in town. Only once did an unwelcome call invade my space, but I convinced myself to let it go.

On the other hand, one of my gadget-obsessed friends didn't fare quite so well. While trying to find directions to a nearby town, he quickly became exasperated after he couldn't get a GPS satellite lock on his iPhone 3G. You should have seen the bewildered look on his face when I handed him directions I had written on a sheet of paper.

Though I could never ditch my cell phone for good, it wouldn't be wise in my line of work, but still there is something very delicious about being able to ditch your mobile for a few days. That's why next year, I may have to stay somewhere else.

Kent German, CNET's cell phones guru, answers your questions about cell phones, services, and accessories and reports on the state of the industry. Send him a question. For past columns, check out the columns in the On Call archive.