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Cell phones have created distracted, rude society

Jan Hearne • Mar 11, 2013 at 2:14 PM

I do not understand the addiction to cell phones. I absolutely do not know why people have to be “in touch” no matter where they are. I especially do not comprehend why a cell phone transmission trumps the living, breathing person sitting next to you.

When the cell phone thing first started, I had a friend I often met for dinner. No matter what we were talking about or where we were, she continued to put me “on hold” while she answered her cell — usually a call from one of her adult children who just wanted to pass the time.

There was no, “I’m having dinner, can I call you back?”

No, the entire conversation had to play out, no matter how trivial.

As the little devices became more insidious, group outings usually resulted in the loss of at least one member while they stepped outside to take a call.

On one occasion, we were saying goodbye to a much-loved staffer. One guy spent most of the meal in the parking lot talking to his girlfriend, much to the disappointment of our friend who was moving out of state.

Years ago, I wrote a column about a diner who took a call in a popular restaurant, talking so loudly it disrupted the conversations of everyone around them. After the column appeared, the person, who recognized herself, emailed angrily, saying I didn’t know the situation.

Well, yes, I do. The situation is this: You get a call in public, you go somewhere private to talk. It’s simple, really.

If the call is not important, as in someone just wants to chat, you say you’ll call them later. You do not sit at the table talking, ignoring your dinner partners and inhibiting their ability to talk to one another.

Texting is not a “polite” way of communicating while you ignore what’s going on around you. You do not text at the table or in the movies or at a live play or at Down Home. Someone told me the room is often alight with cell phones while the musicians are on stage. How very rude.

Teachers I have known complain about cell phones in the classroom. Why don’t you collect them at the beginning of class? I asked naively.

Because the parents would be furious, my teacher friends told me. What if there was an emergency?

Yes, I grew up in a less dangerous age, if you consider growing up in the midst of a revolution under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation less dangerous, but in the 12 years from first grade to graduation, there wasn’t a single moment my parents considered so perilous they needed to get in touch with me immediately. Most news, no matter how dire, could wait until I got home.

If something happened that I considered an emergency — I forgot my gym suit, I had runs in both stockings or the book report due in 10 minutes was on my dresser — I stepped into the phone booth (yes, phone booth) and called my mom. If she wasn’t home, I suffered the consequences, or in the case of ruined stockings, endured abject humiliation certain the ladders running up my legs were blinking on and off like cheap motel signs.

Technological advances are meant to improve our lives, not diminish them.

Be present, the sages say. It’s not bad advice.

Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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