Posted by: Nathan | July 29, 2006

Cellular Phones and Convenience

I’ve had this post percolating for so long that I don’t remember all I wanted to write about it, but here we go anyway. I believe the inspiration for this post came from our now infamous July 4 fireworks watching experience (Nate’s got a great rant on it) when some punk high schoolers talked on their phones during the explosive show. Grrrrr. Then, Jason posted on some do’s and don’t’s of cell phone use. Cool beans.

But what really irks me most about cell phones is the pervasiveness of their use. On a Seinfeld episode I recently watched, Jerry has a standup schtick about how with car phones, voicemail, answering machines, call waiting etc., “we all have nothing to say, and we have to say it right now!” How even more true in the age of cell phones! Everyone is calling everyone all the time. You can’t go anywhere without inadvertantly overhearing someone else’s (oftentimes very personal) phone conversation.

Of course, I admit that I want to have it both ways. I love having a cell phone instead of a landline, and we all know that cell phones are much cheaper than any of the big phone companies would be charging us without their existence. They’re convenient, perfect for emergencies, great for when one gets lost, travel, and a myriad of other situations. Regular phones just aren’t as functional. I have a cell phone, and I probably always will.

But what does it mean that we all want to be able to converse anytime anywhere no matter what? What cost are we paying as a society for this new convenience? No more silence. No more time to think without the possibility of someone calling you (or someone in close proximity to you). No more opportunity to say, “I wasn’t there when you called.” Sure, you can say, “I was in the other room,” or, “I didn’t hear it ring,” but it’s not the same. The person calling doesn’t necessarily believe you because it’s a cell phone: the go anywhere, have-it-with-you-always phone.

The greater issue is the alarming rise of things that are convenient but not necessarily good. We are a lazy society. Technology is always going to make things easier and more convenient for us–at what point do we stop and say, “That’s enough. Some things I like to handle myself.” Our society doesn’t value work (I know I don’t). I agree that technology ought to make things better for our world, but I worry that we confuse more convenient with better. Frequently, they march to the same drum, but they can be different (cf. homemade food, art, literature, euthanasia, abortion).

Clearly, cellular phones are not evil, and I don’t intend to give that impression in this post. I just hope as a society we can distinguish between when convenience is good (cheaper phone calls) and evil (bluetooth headsets–I said it!). If anyone has anything to say about this rambling post, feel free to comment, or call me on my cell. I’m sure I’ll have it with me.

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Responses

  1. Great post! You hit multiple nails each on their respective heads. Good stuff.

    I have to say I find it easier to ignore calls. For strangers, “I was out of service”, “I forgot my phone in the car”, and “My battery was dead” are all excellent greases for the social gears.

    For friends and family, I prefer to keep it real with “I didn’t feel like talking at the time”.

  2. Nice post big E. I would add that I think what we need is a new social norm. Now that technology has made it possible to get in touch with just about anyone at anytime, we need to be ok with them rejecting such attempts at communication. Personally, I screen all my calls. I don’t usually answer from numbers I don’t recognize. Also, if I’m having dinner, or in the middle of a conversation, I usually do not answer the phone. Cell phones have voice mail for a reason! That should give us the ability to communicate when it works best rather than letting the technology boss us around.

  3. I like your ideas, both of you. Maybe I just feel too guilty when I don’t answer calls. And, unfortunately, the “I was out of service” excuse works a bit too well with Sprint… Think I’ll be getting Verizon soon.

    Yes, I will be more assertive with my phone answering! It’s my phone, dangit! I say when I will and won’t answer. I’m totally on board with the new social norm, Dan. Thanks!


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