Monday, July 27, 2009

Cell Phone Fundamentals

Recently, I dined at the home of some friends whom I hadn’t seen for more than a decade. They regaled me with family photos, told me stories of their travels, and gave me the rundown of their children's activities and accomplishments over the years. Whenever I threw a word or two into the conversation I noticed that the host would look down at his lap. Was he praying? Straightening his napkin? Listening intently? Then I detected the slight bobbing of his shoulders. He was texting on his BlackBerry. When others at the table spoke, same thing—the head bent down and the shoulders bobbed. I thought about poking him with my fork, but I didn't want to be rude.

Have you ever been out with someone who checked or answered their cell phone every few minutes in the midst of your conversation? Clearly, there are much more important things (and people) in their lives than you. The most disturbing part is when they don’t even bother to excuse themselves. You get to listen to their social planning, the rescheduling of a meeting or the crisis at hand. And when they're done, they reiterate what you just overheard..."My client cancelled again," or "I'm meeting Tom and Mike downtown for a drink later." Do we really need to know this...again?

As with long distance calls of yesteryear, there seems to be a universal urge to speak at twice the normal decibel when talking into a cell phone. While watching my kids’ tennis lessons one day, a man argued unabashedly with his ex-wife, yelling into the receiver as if she lived in Australia. Did he not realize that twenty people could hear his every word? Or did he simply not care? Like paralyzed bystanders, nobody in the room asked him to move his conversation elsewhere. I guess we were concerned about offending him.

In Florida last winter, I was surprised to see an elderly woman charging along the beach, chatting intensely on her cell phone. The salty breeze, the sloshing waves, and the soft sand beneath her feet seemed wasted on her that glorious day. Further along, two college age gals lay side-by-side on oversized beach towels, immersed in simultaneous cell phone discussions. The beach used to be a place to commune with nature, to rejuvenate our souls, to relax with others. Didn’t people go to the beach to zone out of their busy lives? Now they seem to be zoning out of the beach to keep up with their busy lives.

One time, when stopped at an intersection in my car, I saw a young man precariously riding his bike with one hand on the handlebar and a phone to his ear with the other (and no helmet). A split second later, the chap lurched forward and flipped over the handlebars, flying headfirst onto the path. I was about to pull over to check on him when he sprung up from the ground, shook himself off, and got back on his bike. He must have had a very hard head, not to mention a thick one. “He’s crazy,” my son Ryan said. “Why would anyone talk on the phone while riding a bike?” The same could be said about using a cell phone while driving, which makes most people crazy--including me.

I'm all for modern technology, but perhaps there should be a mandatory course on "Cell Phone Fundamentals" that everyone must pass in order to obtain a license to own one. Rule #1: It is prohibited to speak on the cell phone with a loud voice in a public place; Rule #2: Cell phones must not be used in natural settings—including beaches, lakes, forests, hiking paths, and mountains; Rule #3: If messages need to be checked while dining out, leave the table and find a discreet place to do so; rule #4: No texting or talking on the phone while sharing a meal; Rule #5: Cell phones must not be used while driving cars, bikes, skateboards, scooters, or (for those aged five and under ) tricycles.