by Julia Buckley
I might be a rarity in America: I don't own a cell phone. My children have them (mostly so I can keep in touch with them), but I haven't yet felt the urgent desire for a portable phone. If I have a night class, I borrow my son's phone so that I can call home and let them know where I am.
So far, what I've seen of cell phones out in the world has not persuaded me that I need or want one. A few examples:
Today my son and I went to a movie (Date Night--a sort of weird choice for my date with my eleven-year-old, but still a fun movie for both of us). On our way there we saw a female pedestrian cross against the light up ahead of us. She was on a cell phone and didn't seem to be paying any attention to where her feet were leading her. As if to prove this, she changed her mind mid-stride and turned around, heading back (still against the light), right in front of our car. I slammed on my brakes and leaned on my horn, frightened and angry that she would put us all in jeopardy. She sent me only a vague smile, as though my reality were different from hers. On the sidewalk her friends all laughed; it was an amusing story to them, not a near miss.
A larger danger than pedestrians on cell phones is, of course, drivers on cell phones. Last year when my older son was hit by a car (when he and his friends crossed the street responsibly), the driver was talking on the phone and driving too fast in the rain. My son's friend had to chase her to make sure she didn't drive away, and when she pulled over she continued to sit in her car and text message people on her phone.
I don't understand the curious addiction people have to cell phones. Of course I see the value of communication and the convenience of being able to communicate no matter where you are--but why is it MANDATORY for so many people? To whom are they talking so endlessly? Do they speak that volubly to their family and friends when they are physically present?
Recently we visited the most technology-addicted members of our family. Our niece had to be lured away from the television to greet us, and she texted people while we sat around the table talking. Eventually she excused herself so that she could go upstairs to play on Facebook and download some music. We continued to talk with her parents and siblings; later we adjourned to their living room where, during a lull in conversation, EVERY member of their family took out phones and started looking at them. I stared in mute astonishment. Finally I suggested that they could call us on those phones so that we could talk to each other. They laughed at the joke, but their eyes remained downcast, drawn by the lure of whatever magical thing is located inside those slim little pieces of plastic.
They seemed to have very short attention spans for the conversations we did have. They kept interrupting each other and interrupting themselves and running out of the room to answer their endlessly ringing land line. The evening was so fragmented I felt as is I were inside a kaleidoscope.
I was relieved to get back to my quieter house. My little family has many flaws, but I am grateful for the fact that they make eye contact with me when I talk and allow me to finish sentences without growing bored and seeking some sort of technological stimulation. I suppose that in my worldview, this is a major priority.
I'm sure that cell phones help people out greatly; they aid communication, perhaps even enhance personal security. But I fear that too many people, drivers especially, are becoming licentious with these tools and making them toys--toys they are reluctant to put down even when it's the polite, or the safe, thing to do.
Am I a curmudgeon?