Monday, April 12, 2010

The Reigning Evil

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?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

You put your finger on it when you said it's an addiction, Julia. The unreasonable behavior, the inability to put anything else priority over its use, the disregard for others in pursuit of its use, it's all there. But like alcohol, the cell phone is not used addictively by everyone who has it. I am thankful for mine when my battery dies on a rainy road and when I lose my husband in Home Depot.

Sheila Connolly said...

It is so sad that people prefer to communicate electronically, rather than in person. Are we really so afraid of looking someone in the eye and saying what we think? Cell phones make it easy to distance ourselves from messy things like emotions, but aren't we all losing something in the process?

Obviously I'm a Luddite--yes, I have a cell phone, which I check sporadically, and I can't even figure out how to get pictures off it. As Liz said, it provides a nice sense of security when you're in an unfamiliar place. But I couldn't call my missing husband because he rarely carries his phone, and it's never on.

Julia Buckley said...

Liz--you made me laugh with that image of the lost hubby in Home Depot. :) And I think that's an important distinction--that not everyone is addicted.

I admit that I am fascinated by many aspects of technology, Sheila, (after all, I'm talking to you on a blog), but I do understand the appeal of the Luddites.

Laura DiSilverio said...

You're not a curmudgeon! My hubby and I have a pay-as-you-go cell phone that we only carry when we travel out of town or (if we remember) when we're out on a date and the kids are home. Neither of my girls (5th and 7th grades) has asked for a cell phone yet--thank goodness!--although my 10-yr-old observed the other day that she's the only kid in her class who doesn't have one. As to your family members checking messages while you're visiting, that's as rude as opening a book or newspaper and reading it in front of guests.

Debbi said...

No, you're not a curmudgeon, just because you'd prefer people to actually pay attention to their driving when they're operating the heavy machinery that is a car.

And, it's not completely unreasonable for drivers to wish that pedestrians look where they're frackin' going, instead of completely tuning out reality while yakking it up on their phones.

I have a cell phone (my husband insisted on it, for safety reasons--in case I break down, etc.) and, for good or ill, you do get hooked to the convenience of being able to reach people (or vice versa) anywhere at anytime.

However, I can't imagine talking endlessly on these things the way I see some people do. (Can't these folks take even one single moment of peace and quiet? What happened to simply being by yourself? What's with this need for constant communication through technology?)

And is it (ever so slightly) ironic that I'm making this comment on a blog?

Just sayin' ... :)

signlady217 said...

Don't despair, you are not alone! I don't have a cell phone, either. Haven't really felt the need for one, except when I travel out of town by myself (which is maybe twice a year.)

I know Oprah has some kind of program going where you sign some kind of commitment form about not being on your phone talking/texting while driving. It's helping bring awareness to the fact that this has not just become a major problem, but a huge danger, here in America especially. Too many people have been injured/died from this, that's for sure.

And you're right, it's just rude too.

Julia Buckley said...

Well, thanks for not banishing me into the land of curmudgeons. I feared I would become the Andy Rooney of Poe's Deadly Daughters. :)

It's good to know that all of you with phones are able to balance the use of them with other things in life!

And Laura--thanks for agreeing about the rude behavior. The people I mentioned and I come from the same family, but we have such different ideas about what is appropriate. I wonder how that happened. Let's just say my mama would side with me. :)

Marilynne said...

Funny! I got my first cell phone after my car broke down on a busy freeway at dusk in a very bad part of town. I managed to stop near a call box, but then I felt so vulnerable standing there waiting for an answer so I could ask for help.

We don't use it much, but for emergencies it's great.

Anonymous said...


Julia Buckley said...

Marilynne, that does make cell phones seem appealing. Not to mention you can't find a phone booth anywhere these days!

Anon, if you're calling me a fuddy duddy, please expand. And I enjoyed your quaint spelling.