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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

24 February 2010

The Expectation of Contact

Around Christmas I was at a dinner party (nothing fancy, no tuxedos). At one point, I heard the cell phone buzz of the guy seated next to me. He fished it out of his pocket, looked at the message, then put it away. It was a girl friend of his (not even a girlfriend, just a gal he knows). “I’ll call her later,” he muttered. In a minute or two, it buzzed again. Same drill. Then it buzzed a third time. This message was clear and insistent: “WHERE R U???” Curiosity got the better of him; he excused himself from the table and left the room to call her.

I’ve seen this happen numerous times since then. We all have cell phones now. And if someone wants to get a hold of you, they assume they’ll be able to. People have what I call the Expectation Of Contact. Whether it’s a text message or an actual call, nowadays there is no reason to not be able to get a hold of someone. There is no excuse; the assumption is that you can and will respond to a text message or answer your phone. And if you don’t, people will keep trying and trying until you do.

I shouldn’t be surprised. People looooooove to talk.

I have a favorite pastime. When I’m sitting at a stoplight or in heavy traffic, I’ll watch the cars going by in the other direction and count how many drivers are talking on their cell phones. Let’s call them “cell phone talker-drivers” or CPT-D’s for short. It varies depending on the time of day, but the number can be as many as 60%, a figure I found astonishing.

Do people really need to talk that badly? Evidently.

Anecdotally, I’ll note here, and it will probably not be popular to say this, but the vast majority of CPT-D’s are women. I know that sounds sexist, but it gets worse. Here in Pensacola, black women CPT-D’s far outnumber whites. If you see a black woman driving a car in this town, I’ll guarantee that she’s talking on her phone. Or is about to. Or has just hung up.

I’m just sayin’.

I was in the Pensacola Airport one day, waiting for Air Tran’s 6 o’clock departure to Atlanta. Across from me sat a very pretty, and very young black girl in her crisp Navy white uniform. While we waited for the flight to be called, this girl spent the entire time on her phone - on two separate calls. Realize, this was 5:15 in the morning. Of course, she might have been talking to people in the Eastern Time Zone, which would have made it 6:15 for them. Still, pretty early. She talked incessantly, non-stop about some inane crap (those around her couldn’t help eavesdropping, as the terminal is pretty quiet at that hour of the morning). She talked all through the boarding process, and even as she got onto the plane when I lost track of her.

People do love to talk.

The Expectation Of Contact works both ways. People simply cannot be out of touch. There is a neurotic need to be able to be contacted. Most of my friends now have these super-neat iPhones or Blackberry’s. The internet in your pocket! Oh, if it would only stay in your pocket… When we go out - to eat, say - the phone gets placed on the table, face up so the owner can see any text messages or Facebook posts that come in. Because God-forbid someone might send you a message and you not receive it for an hour or so! The phone is consulted regularly, and many people I know think nothing of saying, “Hold on, I have to answer this,” and then responding to a text message.

The phone has become the third-party...the uninvited guest. When I first started noticing it, I used to get royally pissed-off. Now I shrug it off. It is what it is. In my opinion, people have become horribly rude and inconsiderate.

And there is nothing you can do about it. If you call to their attention how rude they’re being, they’ll simply deny it. To them, it is not rude at all. We live in the age of the Expectation Of Contact. Simple as that. The phone is not an intrusion anymore, it is a great societal benefit! Now, you don’t have to be separate from your friends and family merely because they’re not in your presence. They can still be here! At any gathering of people these days, cell phones are always out and always in use.

I must be old-fashioned. I leave my cell phone in the car when I go out to dinner or even to a bar. There is nobody that needs to get a hold of me that badly that it cannot wait. There is nobody I might suddenly, urgently need to call or text while I’m with other people. I don’t have to check Facebook that often.

I know that technology has brought us all kinds of tremendous devices that we simply cannot live without. And I know I’m being a Luddite, but sometimes I wish that cell phones had never been invented.


Capt. Schmoe said...

I used to feel the same way you do until I received a blackberry.

Guilty as charged. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Russell from texas.
I feel the same way you do, cell phones are for the owners CONVIENCE. Way too many people get mad if you dont answer their calls immediatly. How did we survive before they were invented, pleasantly i think. They do have a place in our lives but they seem to have taken it over and I dont like it. Guess i am to old.
PS you need spellcheck on this thing.

Hal Johnson said...

I guess I'm sort of in-between. When I'm at work, if a bunch of us guys go to dinner, I'll leave my phone in my pocket. I usually turn it on "silent." If it buzzes me, I'll often check to see if it's my wife or son. If it's anyone else, I ignore it. If it's my wife or son, then I willingly enter the Rude and Inconsiderate Zone, while leaving the table.

Bob Barbanes said...

Don't get me wrong- I don't mind people checking the phone if it buzzes in their pocket. What I consider rude and inconsiderate are the people who lay the phone on the table, giving as much attention to it as to me. And of course the ones who actually answer calls and texts at the table. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought I just invited YOU out to dinner. I didn't know I invited you AND ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!"

I accept that society changes. My generation looked at the telephone as an intrusion. That is clearly not the case anymore, and even I agree. I wouldn't be without my cell phone. In fact, I have two. I want the people who are important to me to be able to get a hold of me. But there has to be some discretion applied. It is the usage of these admittedly marvelous devices that has gotten out of control, especially with (but not limited to) younger people.

Who knows where the technology is going to go? We may see a day when, instead of a call, a holographic image of the actual person pops up next to us. Instead of a ringtone, the person merely says, "Excuse me," over and over until you let it butt-in. I'd kinda like to see that happen, actually. It will forever stop people from taking their cell phones into the bathroom. ...And, come to think of it, other inappropriate places.

Bob said...

Oh wow, Bob, I could have written this (though not as well as you). Just like you, I do not take my cell phone when I go have dinner with someone. If for some reason I need to have it, I'll tell the person I'm with that one of my kids or wife might need me and I don't mean to be rude. At this juncture in my life that hardly happens.

The people who put them on the table next to their silverware? I have been known to say maybe this is not a good time, maybe you need to devote your attention to your calls. I have yet to become as tolerant of it as you. It still pisses me off.

When my kids are home, we have "text-free meals."

I don't care how far technology has come; good manners and courtesy never become inappropriate.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

What a topic! I have actually left the house occasionaly without my cell, and guess what..... the world did not end! Not only that, I actually suffered a harmonic bliss while it was absent. I can remember when I thought the pager was the ultimate collar/ inconvenience/ intrusion on life. Yes I have a cell phone, but until someone else pays the bill....... I will answer only when I feel to do so. Regarding the people that answer at all times and in any surroundings, habits such as those will unfortunately be present in society whether we like it or not. Then again, I am the optimist that believes there is always hope for change.
Bottom line..... I do not want to listen to your phone conversations in public places.
If you absolutely have to answer the thing, do your business briefly and HANG THE DAMN THING UP! Better yet, don't answer in the first place.
Communication is a wonderful thing, but there is a time and place for everything.
Happy talking,

Stan said...

I always enjoy reading your posts, Bob, even when I often don't agree with them (I lean moderately right, politically). On this one I agree 100%. I turn my cell phone off when I get home, and if I am on-call for flying then I leave it on vibrate when I'm out. Otherwise, the odds of a call being life-or-death are extremely low and a call can wait until it is convenient for me to call someone back.

My kids know that they will lose cell phone and driving privileges if they are ever seen, heard, spotted, or otherwise reported using a cell phone while driving. They'll lose the phone if it is heard or spotted at the dinner table, or used at school.

Perhaps insurance companies could insert a clause about not covering your vehicle if you have an accident while you were on a cell phone at the time (and a similar clause for drivers or passengers who were not wearing seatbelts, DWI, etc.)? That might encourage drivers to focus on the personal responsibility that comes with operating machinery capable of killing and maiming.


Guanaja Sharon said...

Yo Bob!
Just was catching up on your Blog when I read this one!

You are absolutely right! Rude hardly covers it when someone decides that a cell phone conversation with a third-party is as equally or more important then your presence.

Here on the island I gave in and bought two cell phones; one to hook to an antenna because I cannot get good reception without it and the other to carry when I travel to the Mainland so I can reach my husband or he me if necessary. You understand that rationale as once we get reach the Mainland, we don't want to return and find out there was a few more things we should have picked up.

I preferred the VHF radio we all used on the island but with the onset of cell phones, no one uses it anymore exceot boat captains.

I get totally frustrated when visiting the U.S. with people that drive while talking on a cell phone, use them when a plane lands to tell someone on the other end that they have landed! Gee, earth shattering! And, absolutely hate it when people whip them out in restaurants. Nothing for the average person is that important that they can't wait until after a dinner to check their "important" calls.

I have to laugh, however, at a story a friend told me. It seems he returned to his home country after several years absence and was taken to dinner by a friend that he had not seen in a very long time. While sitting at the table, the friend answered his cell phone 3 times and engaged in very long, meaningless conversations. After the 3rd conversation, my friend reached over, took the cell phone from his friend and dropped it in his glass of beer! The friend got the hint and apologized.

Now I understand that cell phones can be expensive and this was a drastic move. It was a good thing that they were such great friends because their friendship might have ended then and there! But if someone is this rude, who needs him as a friend?

The world needs to wake up and re-think the proper etiquette thing. Sorry, but you or me or the average person does not need to be connected 24/7 with other people of equal status!