Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cell phones changed society

Well, duh.  Of course cell phones have changed society. But it is something I have been noticing more and more lately. I drove by a bus stop on the way home from work and the three people waiting were nose down in their cell phones.  Years ago, the scene would have included newspapers and books. Or bored people staring at their shoes.

I often see people walking down the sidewalk while texting. I saw a woman with her fingers curled around the push bar of a stroller while her thumbs were working overtime. I have even seen a woman riding a horse, texting on her phone.

I suspect most of them don't even realize how drastically cell phones have changed our lives. (Yes, I know.  The dreaded "when I was your age.")

Phone receivers used to be attached to the phone.  It was a big deal if you had a cord long enough to reach into another room.  There was no expectation of privacy.  If you wanted a private conversation with a friend, you went to see them.  And there was only one phone.  That everyone in the household shared.  Willingly, or not.

When I used to co-drive a semi-truck, we had to look for a pay phone or hope the delivery site was friendly enough to let us borrow their land line so we could get our next assignment.  And the term land line didn't exist.  There was no other kind.

Vehicle trouble?  You hoped someone would come by that would call for help for you.  Or you left your car and walked to a place to call.  Lost?  You had to stop and ask for directions if you weren't out in the middle of nowhere.  Running late?  There was no way to warn whomever you were meeting.

All of those situations have been improved by the invention of the cell phone. But a big problem with the omnipresent cell phone is the expectation of instant access. Before answering machines and cell phones, if you didn't get an answer, you tried to call again later. If you got a busy signal, you knew you didn't have to wait as long to call back.

Now, if you don't respond to a call, an e-mail or text immediately, people worry or get offended. My mother (who keeps her own cell phone turned off) couldn't reach me on my land line or my cell and assumed something was wrong. I was at the gym and had it turned off. You know, to be polite.

I'm not one of those people espousing the evils of cell phones. I have a smart phone. I check Facebook and email almost every time I hear it ping. Almost.

I don't respond if I am visiting with someone live and in person.  You know, that's where both of you are physically in the same place at the same time.  I dislike when someone texts or reads an e-mail when we are together.  It makes me feel like their virtual world is more important, or I am boring them.

I understand people with kids responding to calls from them.  That's just good sense.  But I have been stuck sitting at a table looking around and trying not to eavesdrop on the conversation my lunch companion is having with someone else.  (Okay, now I just play games on my smart phone. And sigh, heavily and often.)

Some of my friends accept and agree with a ban on cell phones while we are visiting.  Others think it's quaint and old-fashioned.  I don't spend much face time with those people.

Next up.  How the Internet changed my life.  No, not really.  Or maybe not.

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