Please turn it off.

Last week I filled up my car with gas and went to pay.  The girl sitting behind the counter was texting on her phone.  She didn’t look up.  “Hi,” I said, and stood there, waiting impatiently.  No answer.  I knew the baby would be screaming in the car by now and I was already late to pick up the toddler from nursery school.  After a few more seconds, she looked at her screen.  “$35.74?” she asked to confirm.  “Yes.”  Her eyes shot back to her phone as I inserted my Visa and proceeded to pay.  She looked up just to tear off the receipt and pass it to me, but even then didn’t acknowledge my goodbye.  I left with the sour taste in my mouth that I seem to have so often these days.

The truth is, I’m sick of people’s phones.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to visit with a friend, only to see the phone get whipped out of their pocket and placed on the table between us, like a third person who gets consulted continually throughout the time we’re together.

I’ve often called people, only to have them pick up and say, “Hey!  I’m really sorry, but I can’t talk right now.  Can I call you back?”  Why the heck did they pick up in the first place, I want to yell?  What’s the purpose of having voicemail if you can’t resist answering your phone, even at inconvenient times?  And then people get mad at me for not picking up or – heaven forbid – daring to turn off my phone.  “What’s the point of having a cell phone if you’re just going to turn it off?”  I’ve been asked.

I receive text messages saying, “Thinking of you!”  I know I’m supposed to think, “How sweet!” and text back a reciprocal message, but my rage incapacitates me.  I think about a lot of people on a daily basis, but the ones who need to know about it get phone calls from me, not three-word texts!

How about those animated group discussions where everyone is arguing over a fact by trying to recall a name, a date, a location.  Suddenly I hear the dreaded words “I’ll google it!” and one person whips out their smart phone.  Conversation stagnates because there’s no point arguing any longer with solid facts about to be revealed.  Inevitably it takes forever and by the time they have the answer, conversation has moved on, their discovery is no longer relevant, and they’re more of an irritating disruptive voice than an enlightening one.

Then there are those people who start telling a story about something that happened to them and out comes the phone to show me pictures so that I can visualize their experience.  Since when did the art of storytelling become reliant on digital photography, I wonder?  It’s distracting, especially because the phone owner then has to explain the photo, and ultimately moves right away from telling the story.

So many times I’ve wanted to start up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to me, but I’m intimidated by The Phone.  It is so riveting, so crucially important to the stranger at that particular moment, that I would feel downright rude interrupting such an intense interaction.  Even more, the stranger would likely look at me in horror, or at least surprise, for daring to do so.  That’s not conducive to friendly introductions.

And then there’s the brand-name love that makes me quite irritated.

Have you ever noticed how people with iPhones always call it “my iPhone” instead of just “my phone”?  This seems especially weird when you turn the tables, which I did a couple of days ago.  I started referring to my phone as my LG Gossip to a friend who continually talked about her iPhone.  She looked utterly stunned, especially when my husband picked up on it and commented on his Samsung Rugby.  Then she laughed a bit sheepishly and we didn’t hear anything more about the iPhone.

I find it particularly tragic when I see a mother at the park with her child, yet her head is bent over her phone while her child plays alone, not even getting eye contact when he looks up for an approving smile.  How about those pathetic-looking dates when a couple sits across from each other in a restaurant, each one focused on their phone?  Is there really that little to say to each other these days?  Have people forgotten how to interact with each other?

One catalyst for my musings on this subject is an article published last fall in the NY Times called “You Love Your iPhone.  Literally.”   Apparently iPhone users’ brains respond to the sound of their phones in the same way that they respond to love and compassion.  How scary is that?

The writer talks of addiction and the feeling of panic when a phone is not present.  Unfortunately, I know what that’s like.  I used to feel lost if I forgot my phone at home.  I, too, have experienced the “phantom vibration syndrome” that the writer describes — mad scrambling for my phone when it’s actually not ringing at all.  When I started noticing these things, though, I realized something had to change.  I now leave my phone at home whenever I go out with my kids.  It gets put on silent every afternoon during nap time and is left downstairs when I go upstairs to bed.  I’ve still got a ways to go, I’ll admit, but acknowledgment is a first step toward improvement.

What are your thoughts on technology etiquette?  Would you consider yourself addicted to your phone?

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8 thoughts on “Please turn it off.

  1. Hi Feisty with Red Hair: I loved reading your blog and as a mom of 2 I could empathies trying to get 2 children ready to go out. Hope to read more. Birgie

  2. hey Kath
    I just discovered this and I love that you have started a blog. This is great. I really appreciate you writing on this topic cause it irritates the heck out of me too. Today my lab teacher was refering to directions to get to our placement and she said “well you all have iphones right so you can just google it.” I was happy to know that i didnt’ and hope never to own one. I am excited to read more of you writing and will pass this on to my friends.
    love you
    elanor

  3. Imagine my shock listening to Lloyd thank his iphone when it gave him directions. When I said “did you actually just thank your phone?” he sheepishly said “I’m a polite guy, besides, it said “Your welcome””.

    Love your new blog and now I’m following you!

  4. Thanks Katherine,
    I love all the entries so far but I was nodding the entire way through this one. Ron and I just hope they continue selling “dumb phones” long into the future so that we can continue to use our phones solely for calling friends/relatives when away from home especially on the road.
    Keep writing and we’ll keep reading 🙂
    Jenn.

  5. …”I’ve often called people, only to have them pick up and say, “Hey! I’m really sorry, but I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back?” Why the heck did they pick up in the first place, I want to yell?”…

    – great point, the strange thing is I’ve come to accept this new norm rather then get pissed, though the deeper 1980s pay phone version of me is yelling in my sub-concious, “hey, I just spent .25 cents on that call”…note, he doesn’t know the rate went up to .50 cents. I will get more upset when people do this. Not acceptable.

    …”how people with iPhones always call it “my iPhone” instead of just “my phone”? “…

    – nice observation…the genius of Apple’s cult branding, I never thought self-reference for one’s possession could have “me” and “I” spliced together.

    …”I find it particularly tragic when I see a mother at the park with her child, yet her head is bent over her phone while her child plays alone, not even getting eye contact when he looks up for an approving smile.”…

    – this one is truly sad. This example sounds like it could extend into an Alfred Hitchcock-like movie, where young children are completely devoid from parental engagement or response, as such parents are always lost (addicted) to the false promise of their virtual smartphone world. At the end of the movie, we find out what were the adults so busy looking at..photos of their children! Enter strange music here.

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