Monday, November 20, 2006

Did I tell you I hate cell phones?

I shouldn’t publish this. But I have to get if off my chest. Hate cell phones. HATE cell phones!

Why, you defensively asked (let’s face it, some of you are probably angry at me already)? They are incredibly convenient, saves lives, help catch criminals, rescue lost souls and those whose tires have gone flat, and have even allowed otherwise impossible last minute phone calls from an infamous doomed airplane. They are merely one more technological stepping stone, just like rubbing sticks to make fire, forks, land line telephones, cars, trains, personal computers, and the airplane were in their time. Numerous technological improvements have occurred with phones before the cell -- touch tone dialing, wireless (we called them space phones), answering machines, digital transmission, to name a few.

Why should cell phones be any different? Won’t we get used to them?

No doubt we will. There is not even the tiniest denial here that cell phones will continue to proliferate much faster than nukes until the next technological improvement makes them obsolete. But in the meantime, cell phones have greatly increased our communal blood pressure, loneliness, rudeness and have played havoc with cultural norms.

You love your cell. Some of you would not want to admit it but you are even angry at any suggestion that something is amiss with them. You believe that having a cell phone soothes you, keeps you company, and will save your children from being kidnapped.


Here are ten reasons we should all hate cell phones:

10. They stop people who are actually with each other from having conversations. This essay was inspired by hearing about a police officer who was retiring because cell phones and instant messaging had so diminished the conversation and comradery which he most enjoyed about being a cop.

How many times have you passed a car, or been in one, where everyone was using a cell phone instead of talking. Ever passed the mall entrance where kids are standing around not talking to each other, but into their phones. Ever go out with a friend or even on a date where your companion spent an hour or so taking calls. Ever have your conversation interrupted ten times in an hour. Don’t tell me the answer to any of these is no, unless you were so busy on your own cell phone you don’t notice.

9. A culture of rudeness with cell phones was immediate and ubiquitous. Cell phones have institutionalised rude behavior under the cover of new technology. The most spectacular and quite common cell move is the swoop, which can be described like this: You are speaking with someone face to face. A strange, way too loud, unnatural tune begins playing and in one motion your companion twists like a yogi, sweeps down her (yes, usually her – see below) hand, and scoops up the phone faster than a speeding electronic transmission. People who would be mortified to be impolite in any other way, immediately found this behavior acceptable, and do it over and over.

8. It gives people no peace. Even when they make no calls themselves, they can’t drive a car, walk down the street, or meditate without the cell going off. Some of these people are working and these are important calls. It doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying to them and those around them. I have been in this position myself. Likely, when they are in an office, the land line is constantly ringing, but that’s different. They are supposed to be working and it has an end when they leave. Now, there is no longer any down time. Surrender, Dorothy, and answer your damn phone.

7. It makes people lonelier. Whenever someone tells me that their heart is broken and they are desperate for their loved one to call, I recommend they turn off their answering machine when they leave the house. When they come home they will not have the intense expectation and then the repeated disappointment that the light will be blinking. I have gotten some pretty good feedback on that advice. But, now, no one can do that, can they, because they can’t turn their cell phone off, can they?

I always feel sorry when I pass someone who is sitting on a bench or ledge or even walking down the street, staring hopefully at their phone. They can reach out across the country, but often there is no one to call and no one calling them. Poor souls. I wish they would try reading a book, but I don’t think they would want to. Its not digital. The loneliness shows plain on their face, reflected in the pale light from the screen.

6. It increases our blood pressure. The cell phone is not solely responsible for this phenomena. Three relatively new devices contribute, and the cell is probably third. First is phone mail. Your question is never on the menu, and if you hit zero to get someone, many systems will thank you and hang up. They are deliberately meant to be labyrinths that frustrate and make us give up without speaking to anyone. When I am made emperor, the second thing I do is make it law that every phone mail system must have an opt out to get a human by pressing 0.

Second is the famous computer bar creeping across the bottom of your screen at the speed of ice melting in Anchorage in mid-winter (that‘s a pre-global warming, metaphor of course). I personally blame bar creep for my blood pressure problems.

Their seems to be some illusion that someone will answer the phone when you call them. But too often they can’t. It can be very difficult to reach people on their cells. They may have to keep their phones off, or they may have it on vibrate. Sometimes the damn things don’t work at all, partially work, or drops the calls like a New York Jet receiver drops passes on fourth and one. No doubt you have more than once sat at a table for lunch with a group of people who could not relax because someone was supposed to meet them and, heavens, couldn’t be reached on their cell.

So why is this different from a land line? It’s the expectation. Cells have created the expectation that whoever you call will be there or see that you called, and immediately return it. Doesn’t work that way in real life and makes people crazy.
Sadly I have read about “no cell phone days” in Europe where many people were greatly relieved to have the day free, but admitted they could not stop themselves from cheating. Sounds like an addiction, doesn’t it?

5. Normal meet and greet manners are shot to hell. You are in a mall or some other public place and you see someone you know. As you walk by you smile and say hello. In return, you are lucky if you get so much as a blank stare. Maybe, he or she will make a small gesture to show you that they are on the phone, which, of course, you already knew. Or maybe you get in a car, picked up by a friend on the way to work. You say hello and start gabbing. She’s gabbing back. Suddenly you realize that she’s not talking to you. This can go on for minutes, maybe even a half hour. When that call is over, how soon until the next one?

Earlier today I saw someone I knew and said hello. Foolishly, I reached out to shake hands. With his cell pressed to his ear, he almost dropped his books and tripped over himself. Good Lord, what have we done to ourselves?

4. Cell phones make people angry. We see this all the time. Those of us not on cell phones hate it when people talk on them on trains or on a line or in a restaurant. Since we can’t hear the other side of the conversation, we here only the unnatural staccato of the person we are near. And always, THEY ARE TOO LOUD.
They weave all over the road and give us the finger when they cross over into our lane. They hold up the bagel line while . . . “And then she said to me . . . wait, one second . . . how much is that. Hold on. Not you. Thanks. What? Oh, sorry. Three fifty or two fifty?” C’MON!!!!

Recently, I was at the library and could not find a quiet spot because of all the people answering cell phones (I will ignore the crying babies for the moment, but it almost made me insane). I tried Borders thinking the constant drone of noise would make it less difficult to concentrate. Wrong. Cell phone talkers speak louder than everyone else and there is no natural rhythm when you are hearing only one side of a conversation.

3. They create yet another rift between men and women. You notice most of these examples use “she”. That’s because the majority of these violations are by women. Go ahead, call me a misogynist. Everyone knows this. I once picked a jury in a wrongful death case where my client had been driving an SUV. Quite a few people on the jury could not get out of their head the image of a women in an SUV gabbing on a cell as she drove at top speed. Truth be told, I had the same image, because I’ve seen it so many times. Yes, of course, these complaints apply to lots of men and I know some women who hate cell phones too. But I also know a lot more men who think of the cell as a necessary evil, rarely use it and don’t give out their number. Women seem to think it’s the greatest invention since . . . the telephone.

2. They make us irrational. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 2003 statistics show that cell phone use was responsible for just 1% of accidents. Despite that fact, the public perception is that they cause many accidents (rubbernecking is apparently the biggest cause and a pet peeve of mine). State legislatures seem determined to outlaw driving without hands free units while leaving us free to eat, drink and dance while driving, or when we are barely awake. People seem to get angrier if an accident is caused by cell phone use. Why should someone be angrier because someone kills a kid while on a cell phone than they would if it was the result of speeding or falling asleep.

One of the biggest irrational fantasies many people have (yes, women) is that the phone is actually an electric leash which somehow protects their children at long distance. Note to parents. Your children may be lying to you and you can’t get to them fast enough if something bad happens.

The ongoing frenzy and desperate fear in the eyes of New York City parents who are told their kids can’t bring cell phones to school is insane. INSANE. It’s a safety issue, they say. How do they think parents managed for the last few million years. Were kids dropping dead in droves just 15 years ago before everyone had a cell phone? Did I miss that?

1. People walking down the street apparently talking to themselves is just strange. I think this one speaks for itself.

So, despite all of these reasons, why do I own a cell phone? The fact is I got one after being trapped in a severe weather disturbance far from help. I ended up trying to cancel it before the contract ended. After that I stopped using one until a job forced me to get one. The italics around forced is because the phone wasn’t required, but there were fewer and fewer phone booths around, and I got tired of climbing stairs or looking all over for one in order to call the office or a client. My daughter wanted one, and it wasn’t much more to get two, so I did. But everything is fine because of my rules, which work. Fortunately, there aren’t ten.

1. The phone is for me. If I tell you I’ll have it on, I will try to remember to do so. But otherwise, don’t expect it to be. Sometimes I lose the phone for a month or more at a time. Know what? I really don’t care. I can make calls when I want. Otherwise, its usually off.

2. I am not a slave to my phone. Don’t leave a message. I only check on them once or twice a year.

3. If we are going to meet, we can use cell phones, but let’s have a time and place set and try to live up to it just like we would have before they invented the damn things.

4. I try not to talk in restaurants or too loudly in a store and then I stop while I’m being helped. I actually violated the first during a bad work week recently, and, here’s a concept, I apologized to people around me. One more. If I have my phone on and it rings, I say excuse me to the person I am talking to before picking it up.

5. When it came to my kid, there was no electronic leash. There were no excuses permitted because of cell phone failure. There were still land lines in the world.

6. When it is on, the ringer is on low or I have it on vibrate.

That’s about it. Its not that hard really. Now you try it.

p.s. That was very cathartic.


  1. As I agree with everything in this post I deem it to be one of the great cultural essays of all time and should be required reading at every purchase and every renewal of a cell contract.

  2. rape and new york rock


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .