What if We Put the Cell Phone Away Awhile?

We’re all used to seeing people gathered.  That’s nothing unusual.  People gather for a variety of reasons and occasions.  But, it’s become a rare sight to see people gather and engage with one another without distraction.  Long gone are the days when people gather solely to spend time with each other.  It’s as if there is no value found in having in-person, one-to-one, uninterrupted conversations anymore. 

There was a time when things were very different. 

I grew up during a time when telephone usage was not so much a right as it was a privilege.  Those were the days when we actually checked first, to see if our parents were on the phone or if they intended to use the phone soon.  We got permission to use the phone.  Yes, permission!  There was a time.  If by chance you were grounded for any reason, chances were, the telephone would be included in your loss of privileges.  

Maybe you recall what the telephone looked like back then.  Can you believe we actually had to insert our finger into a small circle to dial one number at a time?  The only way to rush the process was to dial faster.  Then you patiently waited for the phone to ring and hoped to not get a busy signal.  As time went on, those phones were fancier.  They included more options.  There were more colors, shapes, styles, including a trim or princess style, wall mount options, and even push button options.  

What is a cell phone? 

I had never heard of a cell phone.  Oh wait!  I do recall seeing one in a movie once or twice.  It was some rich guy driving a convertible sports car.  There was this box between the two-seater.  It rang!  He opened the box, answered the phone receiver and began to talk to the caller.  Sounds pretty fancy huh?  Maybe once upon a time it was.  Not anymore though. 

History shows that kind of technology took a long time to become what exists today.  Mobile phones were actually first developed as far back as the 1940s.  But, it wasn’t until the mid 1980s that they became widely available.  In fact, the first mobile telephones were barely portable compared to the compact hand-held devices in existence today. 

There’s no denying that cell phones today have us positioned to never feel like we’re really alone.  We don’t have to give up anything really.  We can play games, listen to music, watch a movie, shop online, text instead of talk to someone and of course, keep up with social network sites. 

You don’t have to talk to people anymore.  Don’t feel obligated to be friendly. 

Practically everyone is hooked on something.  You don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to.  Well, that is a choice. 

This was one woman’s recent experience.  She shared it to make a point. 

“I was eating lunch outside while listening to MJ's new album when an elderly woman asked if she could sit.  I muted my headphones, smiled & said of course.  I listened to MJ for awhile longer before feeling like I was being rude.  So I put my phone in my purse, a minute later she asked if I was from the area & we started talking.  ______ (name removed here) has 2 Master's degrees, theater & special education.  She went to Catholic U for grad which is 5 minutes from my house.  We talked for about 20 minutes, I was sad to leave her but, she has my card.  I'm glad I put my phone away.” 

Are we sacrificing opportunities for priceless moments and memories? 

There’s no denying technology has come a long way with enhancing our options for communication.  Technology has advanced to the point of literally being able to save lives.  The immeasurable conveniences are not likely to be debated.   

But, has society become so spoiled by such modern conveniences?  Is there a tradeoff?  Have we lost sight of some things which none of us can put a price tag on?  People are to the point that they can’t even manage a short conversation without at least looking at a cell phone to decide whether that caller is more important than the person they’re already talking to. 

Some people could become defensive just reading this.  Everybody has an explanation for why they can’t ignore a ringing phone.  Not ever?  Some people offer explanations such as, “I have to see if it’s my child calling”.  But sometimes, children are already in the presence of their parents.  Others might say, “I’m expecting a call that I don’t want to miss”, etc.  There’s always an excuse for not ignoring a ringing telephone.  But, sometimes the phone isn’t ringing.  There’s just some other reason to be fiddling with the phone.  

We can’t blame technology for human behavior. 

I was at a restaurant recently.  As they walked by, I noticed a woman with a young boy proceed to take a seat.  She was maybe in her mid-thirties.  As they sat at a table angled across from us, her back was to me.  She’d have to look over her right shoulder to see me.  Whether or not he was her son wasn’t clear.  But, it’s also not relevant to my point.  What I observed was him eating his food basically, alone.  The entire time, as she ate with one hand, the cell phone remained in the other hand.  She was not talking to anyone, just fiddling with it, doing something or another.  

He, who appeared to be maybe 10 years old, said something to her.  That was the only time she spoke to him.  She offered a brief response then, went back to fiddling with her phone.  Who knows!  Maybe she needed to update her Facebook page so all her friends knew where she was.  The young boy just looked around from time to time and over at her off and on.  He might as well have been dropped off and been told “I’ll pick you up in 20 minutes”.  I felt sorry for the young boy.  I really did!  Just imagine, as I did, how much differently this particular dining out experience could have been if the woman had just put the phone down and powered off.  

How do we justify trading the personalization of face to face conversations? 

No matter what anyone says, no matter what explanation anyone offers, the reality is, society as a whole, is missing out on moments that could otherwise be priceless.  Opportunities to make lasting memories are being sacrificed.  But, think about it.  That moment and memory is never going to be as priceless as it perhaps could have been.  That concept changes the second the cell phone rings and becomes a priority.  Heaven forbid it isn’t answered.  

There’s always justification.  Well, as long as people keep justifying the inability to put down their cell phone it will continue to cost.  Just not in the way you might think.  One day though, that reality just might catch up to you.  Will it have been worth it?  Just think!  There are actually people who know nothing at all about sitting down having a face to face conversation without a cell phone near by; powered on. 



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