This article originally appeared in The Wave on September 28, 2005, and is being reprinted in response to your many kind requests.
Cell phones, cell phones, cell phones! On the beach, the boardwalk, the highway, in the grocery store, in restaurants’. Why do people like to talk on cell phones so much? Or, from a psychological point of view, maybe the real question is: Why do people seem to have such a desperate need to stay in touch?
In some ways, life before cell phones wasn’t as good as it is now. You’re at the grocery store and you forget an item you were supposed to buy. (Remember what it was like to use a pay phone?) Or, you’re on the road and something goes wrong with your car. (Remember what it was like to’walk?) Teenagers cherish cell phones. They can enjoy more freedom than in the past, while still giving their parents some peace of mind.
Think of all the business that gets done on cell phones. People can handle routine calls while waiting in airports or in traffic. If you budget your time well, the cell phone era is your era. It can mean more satisfied customers, better services and more income. Everybody’s happier, or at least it would seem this way.
But there’s a down side, too. Cell phones don’t merely OFFER connection to other people; they REQUIRE it. It’s a requirement we make up in our own minds, without even realizing it. We become chained to the expectation of being in touch with everyone at all times. Whatever happened to a quiet, uninterrupted stroll on the beach or the boardwalk? Or a tranquil, uninterrupted day fishing or boating? These are times that people used to put aside for the express purpose of NOT having to be in touch. It’s a shame to let such life experiences fade away, especially for those of us who choose to live here in such a beautiful setting.
If you manage to carve out quiet times for yourself, then you have my applause, but I’ll bet you’re in the minority. The key here is uninterrupted time, alone or with people you care about. This is the major problem with cell phone usage. If you always have your cell phone turned on, you have made yourself accessible to everyone at all times. You have, to that extent, handed over control of your psychological world to others.
I recognize, of course, that a cell phone can also, in some ways, increase your sense of control. It’s nice to have people be able to reach you when there’s a reason for it. It’s also wonderful to be able to contact them in return. But if you never allow yourself the option of being out of touch, you have made yourself a slave to that phone, and, by definition, to other people’s whims. Like there’s not enough stress and resentment out there in the world already!
Have you attended a play or a concert recently? Isn’t it annoying when someone’s cell phone rings? (If you haven’t been to a movie lately, get ready: It happens all the time!) Sometimes it’s an innocent (albeit careless) mistake, and the person feels badly and immediately turns it off. But, occasionally, rather than at least leaving the vicinity to have this crucial, apparently earth-shattering conversation, people rudely go ahead and proceed to chatter right then and there. If they are so indispensable, then they should not commit their time and money to an activity, shared with others, that requires quiet and undivided attention!
OK, so I got a little worked up. But I haven’t forgotten that my point here isn’t just about rudeness; it’s about the inability of certain people to ‘turn off’ particular aspects of their lives, even for an hour or two.
It’s healthy to have time to yourself once in a while. The world won’t end if you miss a call. Take uninterrupted time to explore a good book, enjoy a beautiful day, or engage with another person for a while. Ask yourself, before you go to a show, or sit down to eat or read the paper, ‘Do I really need to bring this phone with me?’ Or, ‘Do I really need to turn it on?’
I can rant and analyze all I want, but let’s face it: Human beings like to stay in touch. We are interpersonal, thinking and social creatures, and some of us need to have as few unexpressed thoughts as possible. I am really happy to live in a time when there are technological conveniences such as cell phones. Life is unquestionably better with them than without them. But I also want to live in a world where it’s OK to turn them off. Turning off your cell phone means more than just consideration towards others. It means gaining more control over your own life.
A perfect example: As I sit here in my office, quietly engrossed in typing these words, I glance over to my cell phone a few inches away. The darn thing is on.