Everyone I know owns some kind of cell phone. Even at the elementary schools I substitute teach in, the students have cell phones. I think this ubiquity is a recent development. As recently as two years ago, I knew people who did not carry their cell phones everywhere. Even I was not that attached to mine; I would leave it everywhere, miss calls, forget to take it to work with me, you name it. Now? I have a super fancy smartphone, which has become my main communication device, book-on-the-go, and babysitter all in one. And I am not alone.
I was late to the smartphone revolution, having just bought one about a month ago after my dog ate my old reliable slider phone. The main reason I switched from the basic phone to my pretty white iPhone? I tell people it’s because I needed the GPS, since I get lost all the time. This is a lie because I have a fantastic sense of direction and no problem asking other people how to get places. The truth is, I felt lonely. I would go places with friends and everyone would be on their cool phones. I was left without an activity and without a conversational partner.
Experts say that we’re losing our ability to have conversations, and they might be right. But I’m more concerned with our behavior towards one another when it comes to our phones. The Emily Post Institute has four simple rules about cell phone use: Turn off the ringer in quiet places, step away from others if you take a call, don’t say anything personal or confidential if others can hear you, and watch your volume. These are all good rules, but they’re not enough. After all, those are the same rules you would use on a landline, aren’t they?
I propose some better, more useful rules. (Sorry, Em.)
1: Just Turn It Off: Are you with other people? Are you supposed to be sociable with those people? Turn off your phones. Be able to have those conversations. Remember those arguments we used to have about silly little facts that didn’t really matter? Now people just reach for their cell phones to determine the correct answer. Stop that! Arguing about trivia is fun and a good brain exercise! Next time you’re at the bar, consider turning the whole thing into a game. Make everyone put her phone in the middle of the table. First person to reach for her phone (for a non-emergency reason) has to buy a round.
2: Create a Sacred Space: I got this idea from a Huffington Post article, but it rings true. (Rings, HA!) We do so much texting now. I’m guilty of that one. Any little thought that pops into our mind, we send it off to someone who would appreciate it. Again, some argue that texting destroys our ability to actually connect meaningfully. I would disagree. I think that it allows us to share thoughts that can later be more fully explored with friends and family, not to mention allows us to stay connected in the moment with those who can’t be with us. However, regardless of what you think about text messages, there are some places it shouldn’t be done. Create agreed-upon “sacred spaces” in which text messaging is not allowed. In our family, there is no texting or cell phone use at the dinner table. Phones are not supposed to be seen. Make your own rules about no-phone zones, and stick to them.
3: No Phones at the Movies: All movie theaters now have that short film that runs before the main feature that reminds you to silence your phone. Most people, however, don’t follow that rule. There is nothing more annoying than being at that quiet, tense part of the film and hearing somebody next to you buzz incessantly, or even hear a full-on cell phone ring. Just turn off the ringer! Even better, turn off the whole phone. I can see your phone glowing as your answer text messages and tweet about how good the movie is. You paid $8 to see this movie. How about you watch it and get off your electronic leash? (Unless, of course, you’re at one of these theaters.)
The best quote I happened upon while thinking about this article was this:
Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference. (New York Times)
The most important rule you can follow is turn off the tech, and engage in the mess. Until next time!