Please Add Me To Your Do Not Call List

Technologies are neither categorically good or bad. As such, I musk ask: what, then, is the purpose of modern communication technologies? I would argue that the purpose is to add value to our lives and to improve our ability to communicate in some way. Certainly some modern communication technologies add value to our lives, say, email and some don’t, e.g., cell phones. In fact, I think cell phones not only fail to add value to my life, but they have, on the whole, made me socially, spiritually, and mentally poorer. And I don’t say that lightly, consider this essay to be my polemic against the cell phone. Email, on the other hand, has greatly increased my ability to communicate both efficiently and effectively. I adore email for these reasons. I realize I’m probably in the minority with this opinion (hopefully not) so please allow me to elaborate.

First, let me be clear. I understand, at least in theory, how someone could argue that cell phones make their life better. In emergency situations I also see how having a cell phone could be incredibly valuable. That’s a valid point and I think it’s largely the reason I justify owning a cell phone myself, otherwise it’d be gone. I would, however, like to remind readers that emergencies still happened in the pre-cell phone era. People not only survived emergencies back then, but they also managed to meet people in person (usually on time) without having to reschedule using cell phones as well. With that being said, there are three reasons in particular as to why I despise cell phones.

I enjoy face-to-face conversations immensely. It is, after-all, probably the most effective and nuanced way to communicate with someone. My first problem with cell phones is that they destroy, rather than foster, face-to-face communication. I often see people abruptly end a face-to-face conversation to take a call or respond to a text, both in personal and business situations. I find this unfathomable, especially in the personal situations. People who do this to others are essentially communicating to the person they are conversing with that whoever is calling or texting is more important or interesting than the very human-being in their physical presence. While that may indeed be true, having some social grace and tact is important if we are to have any semblance of civilized culture. The sheer rudeness cell phones create is utterly disturbing on many levels.

There is also something incredibly irritating about always being perceived as available. On occasion, my phone will ring, buzz, and beep on the hour — all day long. Aside from demonstrating how popular I am, I think this anecdote illustrates another problem I have with cell phones, i.e., I simply don’t want to be answering calls and responding to text messages all day long because it breaks my concentration and I can’t get anything done (such as writing essays like this one).

Finally, cell phones have this strange ability to create emergencies out of situations that wouldn’t have been emergencies in the past. In my last job, I often reminded myself that there is no such thing as a marketing emergency. This belief of mine, however, didn’t preclude colleagues of mine from believing in the existence of marketing emergencies and I speculate that cell phones were somehow responsible for instilling this belief. The fact that one owns a cell phone doesn’t mean that they should be available at all times. Past colleagues and bosses of mine didn’t seem to understand this point and would frequently harass me with calls until I picked up and provided an answer to their work related inquiry. Occasionally, this actually happened to me while I was on vacation, which elegiacally reminded me that I didn’t really get to take real vacations.

The rebuttal here is, of course, to suggest to just turn the thing off. That is indeed a temporary solution, but the process of having to listen to and delete the plethora of voicemails that accrue while your phone is off is often equally obnoxious. I’m not interested in “Band-aid” type solutions when it comes to a matter so serious as cell phones.

In general, thinking before you speak is a good idea. When I overhear certain phone calls or am unfortunate enough to be the victim of a painful call myself, I quickly realize that not everyone believes in this seemingly simple concept. The beauty of email, I find, is that it lets you think before you write. As such, I don’t feel rushed to provide a hasty response to a question that may easily get misconstrued over the cell phone. Also, email is patient, it’s not buzzing in your pocket (unless you have email on your phone, which I refuse to get). You can answer it when you want and when you’re ready.

I’m around computers with enough frequency that this is a very realistic alternative to having a cell phone for me. Furthermore, I’m very diligent (and much better) at responding to people via email (and in systematically choosing who not to respond to), which thus enhances my productivity and effectiveness. Rather than effectively improving our lives, I think cell phones are often instead cancerous to our well-being, usually with the added insults of detracting from our effectiveness as communicators and by destroying our ability to be present with others.


9 Comments on “Please Add Me To Your Do Not Call List”

  1. datxomin says:

    Cell phones are often used inappropriately… but so are, for example, cars. Still, I must agree with you. The demand that one must be immediately and permanently available is irrational. I usually mute the beast. I also get a new phone number at least once a year. Friends, acquaintances, and colleagues know that I can always be reached by email (which I too favor).

    I suppose I should say that I am, in general, an early adopter of technology. For instance, I learned to program computers +30 years ago because I rightly thought it would be an invaluable resource in research. However, I left in the box the first half a dozen cell phones my wife bought me.

    • Greg Linster says:

      You bring up an excellent point.  It’s the culture that cell phones create, rather than the actual cell phone itself that I was railing against.  Removing the cause of the irritation (the cell phone) or finding strategies (like changing numbers and constantly muting it) are probably better solutions to my problem.  Changing a widespread cell phone culture would be no easy task. 

  2. whatafy says:

    Cell phones must be used only for phone calls. Not for internet, videochat, listening to music, reading etc. 

  3. This is why I opted for a Skype VOIP number and gave up my phone. That and it saved me over $500 a year. I do carry a deactivated iPhone 3 however, but it just works for email and Skype when I need it and have a wifi connection.

    Those who must carry phones are required to set firm boundaries with others around these matters. Yes, it will piss people off, but you must tell people, “I’m eating dinner. Please call back in 15 minutes,” etc. if you hope to have any sanity. Even email can be firmly abused, and few people respond in a timely manner any more due to the excuse that they are “too busy.”

    • Greg Linster says:

      @twitter-17816738:disqus Great points Duff!  Yes, email can definitely be abused as well.  I think you must not only set boundaries with others, but with yourself.  If you don’t bring your phone to a dinner, you won’t be tempted to answer it.

  4. Matt Coughlin says:

    Great essay, Greg. I’m in total agreement. Social norms change regularly and I think it’s interesting to see how the cell phone hasn’t only changed our interactions with others, or lack thereof,  but also changed language. Language is fluid and change isn’t bad but while I was teaching it pained me to have students turn in papers (both formal and informal) with “u” instead of “you” or (and this is not a joke) “GR8” for “great”. They knew they made a mistake but in there haste to get it done (or they were interrupted with a text while writing the paper) failed to see the mistake.

    I’ve been without a TV for two years. We’ll watch movies on the computer, but it’s rare. Amazing how much more productive we are and how much time we spend talking to each other when we might be tuned into the tube. We take a lot more night walks too. It’s not for everyone but it may be healthy to disconnect from all media and technology for a few days every couple of months. It’s a good way to refresh.

    A decent book to read about this topic: “The Winter of our Disconnect” Not sure the author’s name.

    • Greg Linster says:

      @2c0cd1686cf7cf06a77abb5cef059f7b:disqus Matt, thanks for the book recommendation (I added it to my Shelfari account) and for the thought provoking comment.   You bring up an excellent point about the effects of text messages and tweets on language and our overall ability to communicate.  In many ways (although not all), I too think it’s dumbing down our ability to communicate. 

      I imagine that getting rid of the TV has brought you tremendous benefits, both psychologically and physically.  We still have one, although, we only use it to watch the occasional movie on Netflix.

      Late night walks are one of my favorite activities too.  I’m not sure if it’s playing Australia, but have you seen Midnight in Paris?  If not, I think you would really enjoy it.  The film enchantingly looks at what can happen on late night walks.

  5. Godless Freedom says:

    Couldn’t. Agree. More. It has become the norm at my daughter’s elementary school for grade six students to receive cell phones as graduation gifts from their parents. I have explained to my daughter that this will not be the case when it is her time to graduate. I have explained to her the evils of the cell phone culture and told her that if indeed she does need to get me in an “emergency” she can borrow one from a friend. 

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