Turning Off the Cell Phones … (DE Coast Press)

Cell phones on the beach. On the highway (in spite of the new laws!). In the grocery store. In restaurants. They’re everywhere. For me, the question isn’t why people love cell phones so much; it’s why people have such a desperate need to stay in touch.

Cell phones certainly make our lives better. You’re at the grocery store and you forget an item. (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 enjoy more freedom than kids in the past, and phones can give parents some peace of mind.

Think of all the business that gets done on cell phones. If you budget your time well, the cell phone can mean more satisfied customers, better services and more income. Everybody’s happier.

But there’s a down side. Cell phones don’t just OFFER connection to others; they REQUIRE it. It’s a requirement we create in our minds without even realizing it. We chain ourselves to the expectation of being in touch with everyone at all times. Whatever happened to a quiet stroll on the beach? Or an uninterrupted day fishing or boating? These are times that people used to set aside for the express purpose of not having to be in touch. It’s a shame to let such experiences fade away.

If you manage to carve out uninterrupted times for yourself, you have my applause, but I’ll bet you’re in the minority. Note the word “uninterrupted” — alone or with people you care about. And this is the problem: If you always have your cell phone turned on, you have made yourself accessible to everyone at all times. You have relinquished control of your time to others.

Of course, the cell phone can also increase your sense of control. It’s nice to have people reach you when there’s a reason for it. But if you never allow yourself the freedom of being out of touch, you’ve 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 already!

Have you attended a movie, play or a concert recently? Think of how annoying it is when someone’s cell phone rings. Often, it’s an innocent (albeit careless) mistake, and the person feels badly and turns it off. But, occasionally, rather than leaving the vicinity to have this apparently earth-shattering conversation, people rudely go ahead and chatter right then and there. If they are so indispensable, then they shouldn’t commit their time and money to a shared activity that requires quiet and undivided attention. 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 occasionally have time to yourself. The world won’t end if you miss a call. That’s what voicemail is for. Before you go to a show, sit down to eat or read the paper, ask yourself, “Do I really need to turn the phone – or the ringer – on?”

I can analyze all I want, but let’s face it: Human beings like to stay in touch. We are interpersonal and social creatures, and some of us need to have as few unexpressed thoughts as possible. (Prime example: Facebook!) I love living in a time with technological conveniences like smart phones (basically little computers that happen to make phone calls). 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. And it’s more than just consideration toward others: It means gaining more control over your life.

As I sit here in my peaceful office, quietly engrossed in typing these words, I glance over at my cell phone. Sure enough, the darned thing is on. Go figure.

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