Monday, July 23, 2012

Cell Phone Ettiqute (or Lack There Of)

I usually strive for sunny and positive.  This post is not that.  It is more irritated and disappointed than anything else.

I am increasingly frustrated with the intrusion of cell phone technology into my life and social interactions.  I can no longer keep it quietly to myself. 

When I am with my friends I have noticed an appalling amount of them spend much of their time on their phones—when driving, hanging out with friends, out a ball games and concerts, even at the dinner table!  It drives me bonkers.  I can’t help but feel it is incredibly rude.  Perhaps this behavior is just inevitable in my peer group and I should learn to accept it, but I find it so unacceptable that I just cannot seem to do so. 

Example # 1:  I am talking with friend A.  She receives a text.  She tries to continue carrying on the conversation with me while she engages in a totally different conversation with someone else in a series of back and forth texts.  But, I can tell she is no longer with me.  She is splitting her focus and it is abundantly clear in her conversation with me.  It is no longer articulate and lively like it just was moments before.  It is distracted and disjointed with lots of ums, uhs, likes, and little to no eye contact.   A story that should take 30 seconds takes several minutes as it is being consistently interrupted.

I loathe this.  I don’t care how much they tell you they are listening while they fiddle with their phones it is absolutely not the same.  Multitasking works in that each of the tasks is done a little less well because you’re not giving it 100% of your attention.  This is no different with phones.     Only the thing they are doing less well is being my friend which makes it more important to me.

Example # 2:  When I have a small group over to the house for dinner, conversation, and board games and friend B spends the evening partially contributing to the conversation all the while playing games on his phone how am I supposed to feel?  I, for one, feel insulted.  I want to say, with snarky sarcasm, “I’m so sorry that your group of friends are so terribly boring that sitting and talking, connecting with us, is not excitement enough for you….that you need to play a video game in order to have the evening be enough fun and stimulation for you.”

 I think this is pathetic.  It’s pathetic that people aren’t satisfied with conversing with their friends and family.  It’s pathetic that fictitious games are more relevant and important than real live people.  It’s pathetic that friend B thinks it is acceptable to do this and that society isn’t bucking it.  I know many people that do this sort of thing.  In my circle is it dishearteningly common--to the point I don’t think anyone finds it rude except me.   It’s perfectly normal now. 

To me even if I am not enthralled in the activities when I am a guest at someone’s home it would be beyond common courtesy to just withdraw from the conversation to do my own thing.  Again, I just find it rude, rude, rude.  (And even though I am sure they find me rude when I try to tell them they should join us real people, I refuse to just let it slide any more, especially when they are guests at my home.)  When did we let rudeness get canonized into acceptable social decorum?

I can understand the convenience and purpose of cell phone.  I know people who use cell phones in ways that are completely agreeable to me.  They have not let it take over center stage of their lives.  I admire that.  Tools are great, but they are just tools.  People forget that about their cell phones.  They are tools and nothing more.   It is more like they’ve become a dear friend or a personal assistant to keep their scattered brains together.  It has become phone, day planner, address book, camera, computer, mp3 player, TV, ebook reader, dictionary, GPS navigator and more.  I know people make the argument that having all these things in one device is brilliant.  In some ways I can see what they are saying.  But paper day planners never interrupt you in the middle of talking with your brother.  TVs used to stay at home meaning people had to converse with each other or use their own brains to entertain themselves in cars, in line at the bank, waiting for the bus, etc.  Computers used to not be in your pocket telling you where to turn left to get to your friend’s house across town meaning people had to actually plan ahead and know where they were going or how to read maps, all skills that are pretty important.   There is a lot cell phone offer, and there is a lot they take away.

It seems like such a vulnerable position to strive to put yourself in to—utter dependence on technology for normal day-to-day activities that didn’t previously require it.  Example 3:  Friend C regularly breaks and/or loses her phone.  That means she loses her “whole world.”   She’s got no phone numbers to call even her closest friends, no day planner to remind her of class schedules this week, no photos of her children at the zoo, no sense of direction about how to get to a house in the Heights, and in the cases where she loses it, a whole wealth of personal information free floating in the city.  Not to mention the money it costs to replace her phone.  I just can’t understand why she continues to follow this misguided path.  This has also been the case with friends in areas without cell service, such as camping up in the mountains.  They are lost and you can tell they really feel it.  It’s almost like you’ve caught them naked.  They don’t quite know what to do with themselves.   There is nothing to fiddle with during the lulls in conversations or the quiet of the night.  They don’t have their safety net to protect them from their own thoughts.

You might think all this cell phone technology makes people more social and more connected which might make all these things worthwhile in the end, but from my personal experience that is not the case.  I also believe the connections made are much shallower.  Example 4: Friend D doesn’t like to talk on her phone.  She only likes to text on it.  When we were discussing this I learned it was because she doesn’t like to “waste” time with all the “niceties” that go along with making a phone call.  The “Hi, how are you?”  “Oh, good, just working on a little project in the yard, waiting for you to get off work.  What are you up to?”  “Oh, I just got home and now I am starting to cook dinner.  We got some great stuff at the market this weekend.  What time are you coming over?”  She just wants to skip right to the heart of the matter the “What time are you coming over part?”  For me, the niceties are a part of the friendship.  I don’t want to skip them.  I enjoy them.  I was baffled I must admit by the fact she would skip them over every time if she could.  It also makes me feel self-conscious when I talk with her, like I might be wasting her time with my small talk.  I always thought that the “niceties” were life.  And they are nice in any case so why the rush to eliminate them?  I don’t understand why we’re in a hurry so much.  We drive because it’s too slow to walk, make minute rice because brown takes too long, and text so we don’t have to converse with our friends?!  What is going on?!

Example 5: Friend E never checks his voice mails.  I don’t even bother to leave them anymore.  I am irritated by this growing trend as well.  It’s like they’ve forgotten that the first use of the telephone was for talking to people.  If it’s not a text it is too much work for him.  When I’ve asked people say they like texts better because they don’t have to stop what they’re doing to answer it, but I’ve already made my feelings on that pretty clear.  They are indeed stopping what they’re doing.  I’d respect them a whole lot more if they just said “Excuse me a minute.” and stepped away to talk or text. 

But there seems to be no time to stop and talk or stop and text.  Its a go, go, go life and there isn't time.  That is also why I see so many people driving and using their phones.  Its a perfect way to make use of that dead time where you're driving.  I know this because almost a decade ago I was quite guilty of this myself.  The only problem is that distracted driving is as dangerous as drunken driving.  But, it hasn't nearly the negative social stigma of the latter.   Example 6:  The only serious bicycle wreck I've been in was because of a woman who commited the duel error of driving while talking on her phone and not using a turn signal.  Fortunately I only got scrapes and bruises, but with cars and bicycles it could have been deadly!  I kept asking myself if she hadn't been on the phone would she have used her blinker?  Would she have seen me?   Could it all have been prevented?  I'll never know, but I do know that driving was not the only thing she was focused on.  I know two people who have died in car accidents where cell phones were at least partially responsible for their deaths.  And yet I see people I know and love and countless strangers who have their own loved ones casually multitasking between the wheel and the screen....when one of the tasks is easily lethal.  I find it appalling and scary.  I share the road with these people!

Obviously I cannot control other people and wouldn't really want to.  I don't want to be a dictator.  I just wish other people could see all that cell phones are causing them to lose, not just all they gain.  I keep having this delightful, dreamy thought about the zone of influence in my own home.  My thought is that I’d like to make my house a cell phone free zone.  Or not cell phone free, but cell phone restricted.  Something along the lines of, you can leave your cell phone in the craft room.  If you want to use it you have to stay in there.  But, I think this would scare my friends away from ever coming to my house…with the exception of Derek.  I know such a rule wouldn’t bother him.  I also would expect this rule would not ruffle our immediate families too much.  But in our peer group…oh, I can only imagine the outrage.  Which I find depressing and disappointing.  I honestly feel many of them would never voluntarily go to a place where they couldn’t text at will.  I hope my personal peer group is an aberration, and that this isn’t indicative of young people in general, but I fear it is more commonplace than I’d like.  For better or worse, people be kind, about their cell phones.

Is it too much to ask that the people I am with really be with me?  To be here, in this place with these people having this experience together.  To have the whole of my friends spirit in our exchanges with each other.  Is that too much to ask?  Am I being selfish because I want them to be 100% in the moment with me?

I feel in my core that the answer is no, but that I am so nearly alone in this assessment as to make it irrelevant.


  1. Beth,
    You ARE not alone! However, when I have expressed even a bit of your frustration, I have been met with remarks such as "This is a new world." (you are old, get with it); "Be tolerant of young people (I am engaging with someone who decides to ignore me? and I am in the wrong?); just because you don't text, doesn't mean you can rule what they do." (my ego is involved and not my ability to control).

    A friend was here. His daughter needed to retrieve her wedding ring to sell it. She came on sort notice from 65 miles away even though she had planned to come here three days before and had not told either of us. Actually, she could have told him and he could have dropped it off before he came here.

    She brought her boyfriend and her girlfriend. My house was a wreck and she was bringing strangers. We sat outdoors. The daughter, boyfriend and girlfriend all sat and texted continuously and looked at each other and laughed. They were in the same space and TEXTED then laughed. So, I felt like they were talking about me!

    Yes, even outdoors a cell-free zone should be necessary. People who say, "This will just be a second" as a way of apology always end up in an extended conversation or texting session.

    Rude people will use any media to show their superiority or contempt for others. My ex would sit down and I would say, "Oh, let me tell you....." He would say, "Just a minute." and pick up the newspaper and hold it between us, insist I keep talking. It really broke my spirit, over and over.

    About 15 years ago, I was at a NYE party where 98% of the people were over 45. The host received a call and we ALL had to shut up. Then, she passed the phone to others who passed it on. For 45 minutes the party was shushed, even personal, quiet conversations. The woman who called did not feel like coming to the party, but she called and stayed on the phone, "catching up" with the people who bothered to come. She could hear each person shushing people in order to hear her.

    Sorry for my own post on your

    When I talk to my daughter and she answers the phone with, "I am driving," we dispense with the niceties for safety sake. The conversation is very short. "Love you" from each of us ends the conversation after I ask what I have to ask. Otherwise, niceties are just that--nice.

    Someone had to say what you did! This was not a negative post. It was an affirmation for me that an old woman is not just behind the times, intolerant, and crotchety because others do not share her ideas.

  2. Bravo. And I so very much agree. It is worth it to really connect to people while with them.

  3. Excellent post, totally agree.

    One more thing - those people who, in public places (eg on trains) or in a group of friends, feel free to take or make a call and conduct a conversation in a loud voice that means everyone else has to fall silent and leaves everyone present eavesdropping on a conversation that doesn't concern them, whether they want to or not.

    At first I embraced all the modern technology eagerly, but the more I go on the more I suspect it's smuggled in changes that I didn't bargain for and don't like, so that the rhythms of normal life are sent all out of kilter.

  4. One reason I like you is because you embrace life's simple things and do not follow others. As a result you have a rich meaningful life. If your friends do not visit because your home is an electronics restricted area then they aren't really your friends. Try it and see.

    We are now witnessing the result of a generation that was raised on violent video games, too much tv, and too little family interaction where work was play and social time. Cell phones are just making that worse. I think it encourages shallow relationships and lying. Everyone has the perfect spouse or kid or parents blah blah. They can hide behind FB or cell phones. They judge by pictures. It scares the bejesus out of me and I'm glad I'm old.

    I share your feelings and observations on this matter. I call them iPhone iDiots. I have a post that might give you a chuckle related to this topic.

  5. Cell phones have changed things for sure! They are convenient, but now everyone is available to answer their personal phone 24/7. In the old days you had a land line, and perhaps an extension phone elsewhere in the house. Before cordless phones any phone conversation was limited to the area the phone was located. If you left the house you were unreachable by phone, and, man this is really amazing, people actually survived living like this and generally were happy!!!
    If I go to someones home I will generally leave my phone in the car, or mute it, so that I will not be disturbed while visiting.
    With technology telling us who is calling, when they called, allowing them to leave voice mails, send emails, or text, there really isn't ANY reason to respond immediately if you are visiting in person with someone else, BECAUSE if it truly was URGENT the person trying to reach you could let you know.
    People are rude, but I think they are unknowingly rude, there has to be a polite way to bring their attention to the matter.
    My neighbor will invite me down for a coffee, then get a call from a friend and spend fifteen minutes chatting. In the past I would wait patiently, but then started to excuse my self and leave, I have noticed that she now asks friends if she can call them back later! So that works for phone calls, but not sure what to do about texting!


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!