On July 13th, I became the owner of my first cell phone. My resistance to having one in the past was not entirely for financial reasons, nor because I suffer from high-tech phobias, nor because I’m an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. I’ve been an internetting software engineer since the mid-eighties, usually up-to-date on things that are new.
The change came because my daughter, Cyra-Lea, recently got married and moved to Indiana, where her husband owns a business, and is firmly rooted. While we miss her, this move is compatible with what children do — grow up and leave home, sometimes leaving families behind. Having to adjust hardly makes us unique. But in our desire to keep in touch, we got in on Cyra-Lea and Eddie’s family plan, which for $15 a month per phone allows us to talk at any reasonable time, and also gives Suzy and me a means to communicate in emergencies. Our plan is to use it for little else so as not to eat into the kids’ monthly allotment of minutes.
Minutes? There’s a term that has taken on a whole new meaning in recent times. As in, “I can’t call you tonight because I’ve used up my minutes!” Ten years ago someone overhearing that conversation would have no idea what it was about.
Telephones in general, as interrupt-driven devices, are the rudest gizmos ever invented by mankind. I’m shocked by how enslaved people have become to them. The advent of cell phones has only served to increase their power over their owners. Users feel obliged to jump up and answer them no matter how important whatever else they are doing is.
When I worked for Motorola I would sometimes take advantage of this insight when I wanted to speak to my boss. If I went by his office and saw someone else was there, rather than stand outside and wait (visibly), or come back repeatedly, I would return to my office around the corner and call him on the phone. No matter who he was talking to, he would leap to answer the phone while the other guy had to wait. I got special pleasure out of doing that when he was busy talking to his own boss, a man I personally loathed. Meanwhile, my own problem would be resolved.
I have learned to ignore telephones. One day at Motorola my boss came by my office saying he’d tried to call me, and thought I was in. I’d forgotten that I unplugged my phone several days before when I was busy and didn’t want to be interrupted and never got around to reconnecting it.
Yesterday we were doing the work Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for, making return visits on people in their homes, which I sometimes refer to as “riding around in cars with girls,” because of the spectacularly unproductive use of time it can be when done in the disorderly hit-and-miss manner it often is in our area. We had five in our car. I was driving. The lady in the back seat was on her cell phone more or less constantly the whole morning. As she got in the car, she asked Suzy to describe Cyra-Lea’s new house, and as Suzy started to talk, the inquirer punched up a number on her cell phone and began to talk to someone else. Nice.
At one home, while two people went off to talk to someone, we waited behind. I took the opportunity to call Cyra-Lea. The conversation went something like this.
“Hi Cyra-Lea, whatcha doin’?”
“Hi Dad, I’m buried in writing thank-you notes. Why aren’t you in field service?”
“I am in field service, waiting in the car. In fact I’m doing something right now something that I hate!”
“You hate field service!?” She took the bait.
I replied in a clear voice. “Of course not. I love field service. The thing I’m doing is taking the opportunity while I’m waiting in the car to yack on a cell phone instead of conversing with the others in the car as though they aren’t worthy of my attention. I’ve always hated it when other people do that to me, leaving me to stare out the window and look at my watch twice a minute, so I thought I’d try it and see if it gives me some kind of buzz that I was missing in hopes of figuring out what the appeal is.”
Cyra-Lea cracked up on her end. I don’t know if I made my point with the others who heard me. I’m sure they were all too busy on their own phones.
A cell phone, properly used, can definitely be an advantage in simplifying communication.
On my flight to Indiana on July 13th, my flight out of Phoenix was delayed an hour so that I missed my connection. Having no cell phone, and not knowing my daughter’s cell number, I had no means of reaching Cyra-Lea to tell them my arrival would be delayed two hours. As a result they wasted two hours looking, and we all missed a meeting that night.
Yes, I should have written the number somewhere I could get it so I could call from a pay phone, but I’d never had a flight bumped before, so it never occurred to me to do so. The irony was that I had my new cell phone in hand later that evening, as it was waiting for me at Cyra-Lea’s house.
Upon returning, I arrived at the airport to find that my flight was canceled and that I would have to stay overnight in Louisville. Suzy had preceded my return by eight hours and was planning on picking me up at 10:30 p.m., when she had to be up at 4:45 a.m. the next day to get to work. Without easy access to a phone, it would have been tough getting in touch, as I would have had to find and dump endless quantities of change into a pay phone.
Regrettably, no protocol of etiquette regarding the proper use of cell phones has yet emerged, or if it has, I am unaware of it, and most people ignore it, as in most matters, the majority do whatever works best for them personally without regard for other people.