Have you ever been with a group of friends, having a good time – talking, or whatever activity you may have been involved in – when everything was abruptly interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone?

You assume that since you’re all together and doing something as a group, the person wouldn’t even think of answering the phone unless there was a chance that it was an emergency. You’re quickly proven wrong when the phone is answered and while the activity continues, the person starts having a completely unrelated conversation. They do not attempt to get the person off the phone or tell them that they are doing something with friends but continue to talk and talk without a care in the world.

What do you do when you know someone who makes a habit of answering the phone like this in similar circumstances and moreover, initiates phone calls when you are trying to spend some quality “in person” time with them? How have we, as a society, devolved to the point where it is common to see people on the phone in public buses having such incredibly loud conversations that you feel the urge to just join in and answer points in conversation that the person has raised? I was on the bus a couple of nights ago and there was a person who had spent nearly the entire bus ride talking to different people – loudly enough that I could hear her, and I was quite a few rows back.

She started talking about some guy that her friend was dating as I was getting ready to leave and after she mentioned that the guy was nice I turned to her and said, “Well, at least he’s a nice guy. That’s pretty important.” and left. The person walking behind me had a good chuckle as she was probably thinking of saying something similar, as were numerous people on the bus. I remember spending some time with one of my mother’s friends and noting that whenever she spoke on the mobile phone in public – it was rare for her to do so – she covered her mouth with her hand while speaking so she wouldn’t broadcast her conversation to the entire world. It makes me a little sad to think that when I was a child it was unimaginable that the average Herman would have an intimate conversation with a friend in public that was loud enough for that many people to hear unless Herman happened to be disgustingly drunk. Of course, if that were the case, Herman would have much worse problems than just talking loudly in public.

Back to the problem at hand – the cultural disconnect that technology brought into the world. We live in a world where more of the knowledge of the world is freely available to anyone who sits down in front of even a freely available computer at the local library, yet somehow we are raising children who know Lindsay and Britney but not Tony Blair or Karl Rove. The great music of recorded music history is becoming more easily accessible yet there are people who will without a hint of irony tell you that they only know music of The Beatles from the commercials they associate with that music. What does it tell us when the technology meant to connect us all is used to keep us apart – people walking down the street don’t stop you to say “Hello” because they’re too busy playing with their phone or trying to find their favorite song on their MP3 player?

Are we more interested in creating virtual communities and ignoring the physical communities, or should we try to find some common ground between the virtual world and the physical world so that we don’t completely remove ourselves from one to immerse ourselves in the other? We need to regain our humanity by running from technology, not embracing it, and we start on the road back us by banning all cell phones in public places.

15 Comments

  1. I remember when cell phones first came out a guy was using one in a public restroom stall. He scared everyone in the restroom because he was laughing and “talking to himself.” Totally creepy! Now we don’t think twice about that insane behavior because we’re used to the rudeness.
    I included a link to my previous article discussing students who sleep with their cell phones:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/08/23/sleeping-with-your-cell-phone/
    I can’t believe there is a want to add cell phone service on the NYC subway system and on airplanes. It will happen — people want to feel safer in times of terror — and having their phone on their ear lets them feel in control of the world outside.
    I hate those who have speakerphone conversations in public! Then we get to hear two people yelling at each other because they can’t hear each other! 😀

  2. David,
    Curiously, phones already do work in certain areas of the subway – the platforms for 96th street and 34th street on the 1239 line, to name two I have personally encountered.
    The problem with banning mobile phones outright is that sometimes there really is a legitimate need for them. It’s sad how the bad apples ruin the batch sometimes.

  3. Gordon, not sure whether banning mobile phone will make you a very popular person, at least to where I am right now 😉
    More than 35% of Malaysia’s population is online and the number has users has increased by the threefold by the last few years. Almost everyone, and I mean almost, have at least one mobile attached to their hips (or their pockets or bags). In my case, I have three mobiles, one for business calls in the peninsular, the other for my KK local numbers and the other a private number. My daughter has her trusted Nokia 5300 and you cant believe the amount of songs this gal downloaded in that thing! The ex has three mobiles too. It is not uncommon to see a group of people talking simulataneously on their respective mobiles while on an outing, and discussing the day’s deals. A group of teenagers downloading the latest mobile contents – JAVA games, coupons for movies, even karaoke songs (and gasps! karaoke by the roadside!). Fishmonger yapping away while selling his catches to you. About the only places where mobiles are less used are the upmarket restaurants, movies and places of worships.
    It has become a way of life.

  4. absolutly ban all phone use unless its a life threatening emergency in all public building that disclose sensitive data.like banks utility companies welfare and other government offices.public transit and venues such as theaters and resteraurant. no one wants to hear about your period while their eating and we could care less who’s cheating on who. you can just as easily go outside to have these conversations and leave everyone else to enjoy the venue.Yes i have a cell phone but i would never disrespect my friends by answering while i was out with them. i can always check my voice mail later. as for those drivers who use one while driving i think they should be treated like drunk drivers