Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's time for my annual rant about cell phones

Okay, I admit I have written about this before, and likely will again in the future, but the fascination many have with their cell phones has me worried about society as we know it.  So let me get this rant off my chest so I can get on to other, more important topics in this space in the coming weeks and months.

The Pew Research Centre released survey results a couple of weeks ago on cell phone etiquette and what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and frankly, I am appalled at the results.  The Pew folks surveyed 3,200 American adults, most of whom not surprisingly had cell phones.  It would have been interesting to see how the results might have been skewed somewhat by including younger adults into the survey mix, but we can only surmise on that count, unfortunately.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who walks about 77% of respondents think it is okay to use their cell phones while walking down the street.  Most often they are texting, and oftentimes bumping into other people, telephone poles or even falling into wading pools.  Don't laugh, it happens.

About 75% of respondents feel it is okay to use their cellphone while riding on public transportation. Well of course, why do you think wi-fi hotspots are popping up at major transportation hubs now as well as on buses and trains?  Because people feel they have to be connected at all times.  I can live with people texting while on public transportation; what I take issue with is people having loud conversations or worse, arguments on their phones while riding said transportation.

Same goes for waiting in line, of which 74% of respondents feel is okay.  Everyone seems to do it, but does that make it right?  I know people want to maximize their time, but really, the entire time you're in a line up?  Not necessary.  If the line up is at the bank, it is even worse.  I think the height of rudeness while I worked in banking last year was people talking on their cell phones while I am trying to professionally serve them at the branch.

Now here is where the results become more interesting:  about 62% feel using their cell phones at a restaurant is wrong, which means 38% think it isn't rude, it is acceptable.  Sorry, it is rude, plain and simple.  I have excused myself from the table to deal with an important call maybe once in my life; the rest of the time it can wait until after I have enjoyed the meal I am paying good money for with the good company I am keeping at that particular moment.

Want more?  According to Pew Research, 88% of respondents agree using their phone at a family dinner is wrong, and thankfully 94% agree it is wrong to use their phones at a meeting.  Similarly, 95% think it is wrong to use their phones at a movie theatre or other quiet public place and 96% feel using your phone at a church or worship service is wrong.

Good for them.  But I must be hanging around the other 5 or 6 percent in these instances, because I always seem to see people with their faces buried in their phones at concerts, live theatre events and even at church.

So what do these numbers tell us?  For the most part, I think they suggest an addiction, plain and simple.  We can't put the darn things down.  Almost weekly for example, I spy people texting or otherwise engaged on their phones during the homily at mass at my church.  What did we do before cell phones came along, sleep?  Probably yes if the speaker was boring.

So how do you explain sitting in the audience at a live theatre event?  In all likelihood you spent good money to sit there in the first place; wouldn't you want to actually see what you paid for?

This year while attending shows at the Shaw Festival, I found things are getting worse than ever.  Prior to You Never Can Tell at the small Royal George Theatre back in June, I noticed a middle-aged couple at the other end of our row, he on his tablet and her on the phone, each texting people while the house lights went down and the curtain went up.  I mean, for at least a minute after the play started.  All that time, they never spoke a word to each other.  At intermission, the same thing.  The entire time, each one texting on their device, oblivious to the life partner sitting next to them.

At just about any other show I attended this season, people would hold off shutting off their phones until the very last second, and the moment the intermission starts, the phones are out again and they are reconnecting to the outside world.

Do we need to be that connected all the time?  What did we do in the days you had to wait for the payphone in the lobby to be free before you could check on whatever?  We survived, that's what we did.  We also more than likely paid attention to the play and the people around us.

It astounds me how many times I see people at a table sharing a meal, and each one is glued to their phones.  Just recently, I sat next to a grandmother and her 14-year-old granddaughter sharing afternoon tea and conversing, yet the entire time the young lady had the phone in front of her face, constantly checking on whatever.

If I were the grandmother in that instance I would not have been so polite and let it continue, but perhaps she is wise enough to know you can't stop it, so you might as well put up with it.  I am not at that stage yet, nor will I ever likely be.

If I am out with someone, I never check my phone unless I have excused myself to use the washroom first, and then only quickly before returning to the table.  But most often, the text I received or phone message was not urgent, not requiring my attention at all at that particular moment.

While in the theatre the phone is either shut off entirely or on mute, which should be sufficient.  Yet I constantly hear phones ringing while at the theatre, even after the obligatory "Please turn off your cellphones" message is broadcast in the theatre prior to the performance beginning.

Theatres are now even trying more clever ways to get the message across, making it almost part of the performance sometimes, which is lost on that person who has their face buried in their phone and isn't paying attention anyways.

I can understand paying a little more attention to it while alone, but still, you don't have to become a slave to technology.  Just last evening I was out for my after-dinner walk and I encountered a middle-aged gentleman walking his dog, all the while staring at his phone.  He never once looked up to see if there might be some danger up ahead both he and his dog might want to know about.  I suspect the dog was paying attention to the walk more than he was, although even on that count the dog seemed rather bored by the slumbering pace of the walk.

Here's my problem with cell phones:  although it is nice to be constantly connected to your friends and family, it is wise and I would suggest healthy to not be constantly connected.  One of the reasons I walk several times a day is so I can get away from the computer and other technology and marvel at the lovely day, the flowers blooming in the neighbour's garden or the cat that happens to cross my path.

You should take that break so you can experience life around you.  And no, I am not suggesting you should take a picture with the phone of something happening in front of you all the time.  That is the worst possible situation to be in, as you are capturing a picture of life rather than experiencing it first-hand.

Selfies?  Don't need them.  I know I was there and might even take a picture of something I saw, but validating my being there by snapping a selfie just seems a waste of time to me.  Good for you, you took a picture of yourself in front of that elephant at the zoo.  Do you remember anything else about the event other than the fact you posted a picture moments after you took it, and you are in the picture?  Probably not.

Let's at least try putting the phone down and start living life rather than recording it.  We'll all be the better for it.

End of rant.

September 16th, 2015.

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