Cell Phones in Hell

My son and I took the bus today to the library (a favorite jaunt) and, as I’ve observed before, the bus is a curiously popular place to have cellphone conversations. In about a two mile distance, we listened to one guy talking to his buddy about a football game, and watched with amazement as a teenager stood at the bus stop, waiting for the bus, on her phone, then stayed on the phone, flashing her pass and otherwise not acknowledging anyone, even the driver. What’s with people and cell phones anyway?

I have a cellphone, as does my wife, but I still don’t get it. What is it about cellphones that spontaneously disables people’s better sense of civility and polite behavior? I don’t go to a café to listen to the woman next to me argue with someone at her office, via cellphone, I don’t take the bus so I can hear a young woman counsel her girlfriend about dating strategies, and I don’t expect to barely escape getting hit by a car in a parking lot because the driver’s lost in a phone conversation, but they’re common occurances.

There’s something inisidious about the cellphone, partially because it’s so small, and partially because our society has gradually lost all sense of civil behavior in the last few decades. Ironically, the 80’s were the “me” generation, but cellphone usage is the tip of the self-centered behavior of our own times, isn’t it?

Last week the Boulder, Colorado city council passed a no pandhandling on Pearl Street law, to the frustration of civil libertarians and slackers everywhere. Yet this is the same place where my daughter doesn’t like to visit any more because of the (sometimes remarkably) aggressive youth asking for a handout. Some of them don’t take “no” for an answer, and it’s rather overwhleming for me, let alone my kids. But isn’t that in-your-face behavior coming from the same place as the “god given right to talk on the cellphone wherever I may be” attitude of more well-to-do people?

I just wonder how far we can travel down this road as a society, frankly. What would a society look like if everyone was totally focused on their own welfare, rights, and actions, to the complete exclusion of everyone else?

5 comments on “Cell Phones in Hell

  1. It’s essential we rein in out-of-control cell-phone use. What we have is a nasty combination of high technology, a dumbed-down society and a period of time when common courtesy is already down the toilet.
    I commute by bus from New Jersey to New York City and the horror stories are endless. Phones are ringing at car-alarm noise levels when you’re trying to get a nap; this makes it a health issue, not just a social issue. People can easily put their phones on vibrate or lamp mode, by the way.
    Ask for miminal courtesy and you get maximum attitude–one fellow passenger, whom I asked to please quiet down, spitefully talked louder and dialed up her friends, so that the return calls could add to the noise.
    Here are some things we can do:
    * We must have separate cell- and non-cell areas in commuter transit, restaurants and the like.
    * Require patrons to put ringers on silent or lamp mode. We ban boom-boxes, don’t we?
    * Businesses, who are usually reluctant to tell customers how to behave, should realize that for every cell-phone jerk they placate, it’s bad for business because others are turned off.
    * Responsible cell-phone users should speak out against the wacko elements in their midst–sadly, too often they have been enablers through their silence. There’s an awful lot of nimbyism among cell-phone owners.
    * Confront the offenders (legally, of course), and subject them to ridicule, if you must.
    Hope this helps.

  2. I don’t think cell phones spontaneously disable peoples sense of civility and courtesy. I think the introduction of cell phones into our society merely highlights or draws attention to the fact that we have produced a generation or two of very self-centered people. Now we just have to find out why and then take the courageous efforts to do something about it.

  3. I think you’re right, RKeith. The basic frustration isn’t the cellphone, it’s the sense of entitlement and complete lack of common courtesy shown by people using cellphones. How to change that? I dunno, to be honest…

  4. Well, this was written back in 2003…it’s 2007 now, and I hate what I call the ‘cell phone culture’…I’m completely flummoxed why people find a need to talk on a cell phone while driving or in public if it is not an emergency or important business call (and if driving should ALWAYS pull over if it’s an ‘important call’)…Can’t people even leave their cell phones at home once in awhile, when making a trip to the store?…Why are people constantly attached to their phones?…I don’t get it…I’m finding technology and the culture at large becoming more and more obnoxious…
    There was a column written a couple yrs. ago by a columnist in ‘Financial Times’ about ‘cell phones’ and the breakdown of civility…He said it so well, and I wish I had his statements…
    This breakdown of common civility seems to keep happening…and is a big problem…

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