Thursday, September 07, 2006

Can you hear me now?

A few days ago I rode the Gold Line back from watching the Roots play live on Jimmy Kimmel in Hollywood. A number of times the company I was with was discussing cell phone etiquette and how rude it was to not call people back or dismiss an incoming call. Others argued how rude it was to pick up a cell phone call while in a person-to-person conversation. We jabbered endlessly about the subject and eventually disembarked the metro train. I drove home and was just about to get out of the car when I stood up and noticed a lack of something. All of a sudden I frantically patted down my body and realized that I had left a ligament on the train. My cell phone had pulled a Tim Lahaye. Frantic thoughts went through my mind, "How will I be able to contact anyone? How will they contact me?"
That night I stayed up until 2:00 trying to work the who situation out with my cell phone company. It was not until I knew that I would have another digital connection to the outside world within a few days that I could sleep soundly.
I've never been a drug addict but I would compare the last few days to not having a fix. I find myself wandering aimlessly around the house wondering what other people are doing. Leaving the house is leaving my comfort zone because, "What if someone calls?" I find myself putting the lamp to my ear just to remind me of how sweet the sensation of "Lupia" is (PS if you haven't named EVERY possession that you own yet, you need to get on it.)
Four years ago I got my first cell phone. Before that life wasn't that bad. Even this past year in China I had a cell phone but would rarely use it because it was culturally accepted to only send text messages. The cell phone phenomenon tells us so much more about the culture in which we live. In China I never felt the need to always talk to people on my cell phone. Rarely would anyone call. Here I feel guilty if I don't pick up the phone. In the past if someone called and missed you and you didn't get back to them for an hour or God-forbid, A DAY, it was no sweat. Now, if I missed a call and didn't respond with urgency, especially from work, I had better have a good explanation. Maybe it is because of my people-pleaser tendencies but I feel pressure to even talk to people when my cell phone is low on minutes and it costs me extra money.
Cell phones, obviously have become a status icon within our society. The nature of the status they represent is unique, however, in that they don't represent financial status. Instead, to many, they represent relational wealth. The more you are called, the more important you are, the more people need you. If you don't keep up with your calls, eventually, people might decide they don't need you. A lack of calls might as well be a lack of friends in some instances.
The danger in this is not in the fact that people correlate cell phones to relationships. The danger is the type of relationships that cell phone relationships represents. For many, they would prioritize a twenty minute cell phone call over a 5 minute interaction with a stranger who they might not talk to if they were not making the call. The idea that relationships can happen spontaneously in the moment then becomes unconventional. It's for that reason that I hate to not have my phone because now I might have to talk to people that are my actual neighbors rather than someone who is a further distance away but more agreeable to my personality.
In the end we find another fast-food, get-it-when-and-how-you-want-it solution that steals from the nutrition of natural undigitized life.
Don't get me wrong...cell phones have their place...and I can't wait to have mine back tomorrow.

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