Cell Phones & Leashes – A Deeper Social Analysis

I was inspired by this wonderful article “The Perils of Repair” to write what follows:

Communications in my life between my other and I are usually as follows: a few emails back and forth in the morning, a call at lunch, another call on the way home, and a final call before she comes by for the night.

That is, until yesterday.

Cell phones have become a prescription drug with extremely hazardous side effects & dangerous dependency disorders. It’s not my intention to bring out typical arguments heard about the same subject, more so and observation as to what cell phones have done to me and other “test” subjects. This isn’t a rant about annoying ring tones.

I’ll begin & quickly dispense with the main personal benefit of having a cell phone – so I can speak with those closest to me in the event of an emergency. This is THE reason, and by now, the only thing keeping me hooked.

I, like most of you, am constantly servicing everyone else’s computer. I do this for acquaintances at work, friends of friends, sons of bosses, etc – some of the friendliest people, but more often than not, completely dim when it comes to computer maintenance or even safely surfing the web. The problems are typical and usually software related.

I, like most of you, have become a permanent tech support rep for half of these people. I’m called at all hours of day and night. I’ve exercised patience with even the silliest of concerns, questions, and problems following my service.

Over time, I’ve noticed a change of tone in the voices of these “friendly & helpless” friends & users. This tone comes through thickest when it hits my voicemail. Plainly put, it’s a tone of authority fueled by an annoyance with the problem – and a greater annoyance at my current unavailability.

Since I’ve gotten older, I (sadly) have learned how easy it is to blueprint the thought process of most of the people I meet. I understand that these people can forget themselves at times due to frustration and helplessness. I understand that sometimes these people just need help.

I have come to the realization that this problem is far more serious. As cell phone users, we the people are expected to be AVAILABLE.

Let me say that again – we are expected to be available.

To the 8th grade student with 60 minutes a month, that doesn’t mean much. But when you possess a skill that the majority does not have, a skill that puts you on your cell with strangers and referrals, this can become a problem that far exceeds an inconvenience. It’s insulting, it’s an invasion of privacy, and it’s flat out obnoxious.

In extreme (and often) cases, user “X” calls and is angered by your absence. He’s shown me that a part of him thinks that I’ve got nothing better to do than to sit and help him out, usually with a problem I’ve already helped him with. A problem I’ve taught him to avoid.

God forbid we’re in the middle of a personal matter. God forbid we’re at work and cannot answer our personal phones. God forbid we are a generation of computer people with our own lives. God forbid… well, we just don’t feel like talking on the phone.

Greater Social Impacts

Let’s change course here.

I used to work for Jim. Jim has a semi-serious computer problem that I end up fixing. Jim is a respectful and intelligent man and only called me when he absolutely felt he had to.

Jim has a son – Michael. Michael watches me reinstall Jim’s PSU in their basement and small-talks. Later on, Michael asks me to go to a bar with him. No biggie, he is after all, Jim’s son. We have a drink, and I call it a night early because I was tired.

Michael starts calling me three and four times a week. At first, I told him (truthfully) that I was busy and didn’t have time to hang out on the weekdays. After that, I tried the cowardly technique of “not answering.” Dozens of calls and voicemails went by. Sooner or later my conscience got to me and I had to answer.

I tell him the following:

  1. “I’m a full time employee/student.”
  2. “I hate talking on my cell phone – to anyone – period. I do not have time to be having conversations, and I cannot make time.” (The first part of this is true.)
  3. “I’ve got a lot going on right now, and I cannot make time for new friends.” (I know this sounds terribly insensitive, but it had to be said after weeks of calling.)

Michael continues to call. Here and there, every two weeks or so – “You never answer your phone, just calling to see how you’re doing.” Some of you might say this isn’t a big deal.

Every time I pick up my ringing cell and see that it’s him, I feel a hard pang of anger. I say it is a big deal… because Michael brings out the worst in me – he’s a person I have to constantly say “No” to.

Of course, I’ve got a cell phone and I’m expected to answer because after all, these things aren’t nailed to the wall next to the stove or anything.

So Yesterday….

I made a pact – my girlfriend and I will talk when we have to. She will call if she needs help with anything, or to be buzzed in.

Why? Well, I can recall the intelligent discussions my own parents used to hold after work. I saw the conversations that followed, inspired by the preceding discussions. No matter what problems they ever had, they could talk. It was refreshing for them to come home, see & speak to one another for the first or second time that day.

Sure, there are vacations and exciting circumstances that merit cell phone calls – I admitted earlier, I’m an addict.

But “Hello” “Hey” “What’s up?” “Nothing” (pause) is time that could be better spent – period.

I see a good deal of people in relationships getting sick of one another. I also see a good deal of controlling men AND women handing out agendas over cell phones. I hear a lot of fights over cell phones.

Mostly though, I just hear mindless chatter that’s spoiling that “Oh so fresh” feeling when you haven’t see your significant other all day. I haven’t had that feeling since High School and I’m really looking forward to it again.

Patrick Daniels

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