The Cell Phone. It’s the thing that’s essential. No cell phone, no life, right? I know.
I get struck by a fleeting wave of acute nausea in the pit of the tum when I don’t know where my cell phone is. We always know where our cell phones are. It’s on your desk, in your bag, next to the bed, in a pocket or wherever. I sigh in despair when people put them on the table at a restaurant. There are, of course, those moments when it’s not in one of its allotted places. Oh dread! A frantic search through the bag or car and, Oh relief! Apart from those rare moments we always know where the cell phone is. It’s our line to life and we hang onto the line fiercely.
Do you remember the BC days. That’s not before Christ, it’s the days Before Cell. People had to keep appointments because there was no way to cancel at the last minute with a detached, dismissive text saying: “Sorry, implausible excuse, can’t make it,” which you often receiveas you pull into your parking space at the meeting place a polite five minutes early. But on the other hand, if you were held up in traffic there was no way to assure the person you were meeting that you were on your way, nearly there, but circumstances were hindering punctuality.
Back in the day people respected the fact that you had dressed yourself nicely, brushed your hair, put on face, and then navigated the arbitrary erraticism of traffic just so that you could sit opposite them, look into their faces and converse over lunch or a cup of tea and some cake. They gave you attention. They talked to you. Nowadays the likelihood is that they will make pseudo apologetic silly faces at you, or indicate with hand flapping motion that the person on the other end of phone is talking too much as a way of trying to divert you from the fact that they are actually being horrendously rude.
Piffle to the hand flapping. You also have a cell phone. Why did you have to leave home to watch this theatre of non-apology? Why does the person who hasn’t left the chair in their home or office have their attention instead of you, who is present? Why don’t they get the other person to leave home to have a conversation? Put down the cell phone! Talk to the one present. Or perhaps the one present should go home and phone so that they can also qualify to chat.
Personally, I’m known among my friends. I had lunch with a couple of friends not so long ago. They acted like guilty schoolgirls when I arrived. They were sitting together at a restaurant, one was engrossed in her cell; the other had the Ipad out. When I approached the table and said “You’ve got to be kidding”, they both hastily put their toys away. Really? You’re meeting people for lunch and you can’t take time to eat that lunch and converse with people who have gone through grooming ritual and traffic stress to be with you? Must you constantly be involved in your phone? Put it away!
The sad fact is that while we were blissfully enjoying a shared etiquette of giving attention to the person or people in our company; while we were indulging in the delicious art of conversation and the good manners of human interaction, the world changed. It’s not just the intrusion of cell phones. Who writes a letter anymore? When was the last time you used your handwriting for anything significant? It hardly happens. A hand written note or letter is rare treat. Now it’s all instant gratification. Now it’s text messaging and instant messaging and email. It’s technology ad nausaum.
The book of etiquette says you should leave the table if you must talk on your cell phone because you are preventing everyone else from conversing. Have you noticed how people always talk louder than normal when on the cell? But even that is unsatisfactory. A friend of mine disappeared from the table to take a call during a dinner engagement. He left during hors d’oeuves and didn’t come back till desert was nearly over. What in heaven’s name is that? We could see him outside the restaurant pacing up and down and talking on his cell. Then he’d hang up and dial again and so on. I turns out he was having a fight with his girlfriend. In the pre-cell days he’d have had to fight when he got home.
Another friend went to the theatre with a guy who spent the whole time smsing. Throughout the whole show he was smsing, and at interval he was talking on the cell. She was furious. She was completely ignored. Needless to say she never saw that guy again. It’s so obviously rude not just to her but to all those seated around him in the theatre. Why did he not know that? Why did he not leave the theatre to text? It’s incomprehensible.
I met some people for breakfast. There is something irritating about people showing up late, and then constantly texting. I’m not up this early, dressed up, made up; hair done and hungry because I have a desperate need to not have a decent conversation. It’s breakfast, for heaven’s sake. Next time, send me a text.
Irritated? Yes I was, but I was also resigned. It seems that nowadays, if you really want someone’s attention you don’t meet them, you phone them. People love to be on the phone. People are constantly in “I really have to take this call” mode. The cell phone has taken over their lives. The tragic thing for social interaction is that they really do need to take the call.
I’m not totally innocent. I reluctantly admit that I have my moments. I was on the cell in the car, driving. It’s not allowed, I know. It was just after my mother passed away.
The call was from someone at the office of The Speaker of Parliament. I sat up straight in the driver’s seat when they said they were calling from that office. I drove around a corner and there they were; the traffic cops. They, of course, pulled me over. What could I do? It was The Speaker’s office. I couldn’t say “Oops, traffic cops” and hang up.
The traffic cop stood by the open window. I stayed on the cell indicating with my finger “I’ll be right with you”. I was talking to the speaker’s office about some essential logistics to do with a memorial service in CT, hosted by Parliament, which I was to attend as family representative, and at which I was to speak. I mouthed a silent ‘I’ll be right there’, to the traffic cop and continued the call.
There was a taxi stopped by the traffic lights just opposite us. The people inside the taxi were laughing and pointing and yelling things at the cop. Eventually he walked off to pull others over. When I’d finished on the cell I stuck my head out of the window and called to the traffic cop, “What about me”?
“Get lost”. He yelled, making a dismissing action with his arm.
“Thank you,” I called back.