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The Conversation Culture
How Cell Phones Have Revised Reality

Sometimes when I watch old shows and movies, I think how much easier it would have been if they had cell phones. For instance, when the Colombians ambush Crockett and Tubbs from “Miami Vice” and they need to find a pay phone to call for back up. Or how a cell would have helped those confusing situations on “Three’s Company,” not to mention those poor kids in the “Friday the 13th” movies.

Besides stumbling upon a good idea for the next Sprint PCS campaign, this shows how much the cell phone has become a part of our mindset. It is second nature to reach for it and make a call, for emergencies as in the examples above or to confirm which type of take-out to bring home. They live in our pockets and purses, store our photos and schedules and are reflections of who we are. Just ask Paris Hilton, who’s T-Mobile Sidekick was hacked into over the weekend, with Web sites posting her private pictures, notes and contact information for her celebrity friends.

On a historic scale, cell phones are still pretty new but they moved fast into our daily culture. This was not entirely predicted by futurists, who foresaw large wall-mounted TV phones or at best bulky “Star Trek” like communicators or the Maxwell Smart shoe phone.

Under our noses, cell phones have changed society and human behavior forever. Cities are removing payphones and running out of numbers to handle all the new cell lines. Ringtones are so popular that Billboard tracks them in a special chart. People in third world countries are text messaging each other and “drunken dialing” is a new social faux-paus.

The advent of picture phones and videophones may revolutionize our reality once again. Now with the most basic of phones, anyone can be a photographer. A random sunset or get together with friends can be captured, as can evidence from a car accident or your friend’s embarrassing nightclub behavior. Reportedly kids are cheating on exams by emailing pictures of their answers to friends in class and horny boys are slyly snapping shots up girl’s skirts in the 21st century version of mirrors on top of sneakers.

With any change or advancement, there is naturally a backlash. In this case there is an anti-cell movement with “cell phone free” restaurants, special ads running before movies, and snidely glares from PBS viewers. They feel that the chattering class of cell users needs to quiet down. They ask us to remember a time, before cell phones, when life seemed to move just fine.

Could we really go back to life circa 1987 again? After living and talking through the mobile lifestyle, it is doubtful.

But a fair question is why do we need to talk so much? When stuck in line at the airport, why does it make us feel better to use the phone to complain to a friend? How did we deal back in 1987? Here the cell phone acts as security blanket. A retreat from a boring or tedious situation back to our real lives and the people in them. We can take them with us anywhere we go and remain connected. In fact, thanks to cell phones, email, IM and text messages we are more closely tied to each other than ever before.

So we may rival the great age of letters in terms of personal communiqués. But do we really have anything to say? The Guardian [Feb. 20, 2005] reported on the loss of conversation and the rise of blabber. According to a survey, small talk about work, traffic, TV and what’s for dinner has replaced deep dialogue. Certainly cell phones, which provide an instant outlet for chitchat, are part of the reason.

As an extreme reaction to the conversation culture that cell phones have wrought, the NY Post [Feb. 20, 2005] wrote about illegal jammer devices being used throughout Manhattan to disrupt service of those deemed annoying. Certainly in a commuter city with dozens of criss-crossing calls in confined spaces, it is understandable to look for some relief. Same goes for the skies. When the FAA announced it was reviewing the long-standing “no cell phone” policy on flights, they were overbooked with complaints. For good reason, who wants to be stuck next to the self-important loudmouth in 12B?

Despite the drawbacks and propensity to get irked by other’s behavior, we are better off for the cell phone. There are a million ways it makes our lives easier. With further advancement and functionality like MP3 playback and satellite navigation, it will bring more changes to our society. Some that we won’t even notice until years later.

For those few jerks that are the stereotype, refer to some cell phone rules of etiquette recently developed. Speak softly. Keep it short. Put it on vibrate instead of blasting your Def Leppard ringtone. Don’t let a call distract you from driving. And keep that drunken dialing down to a minimum.

More on my site – Culture Drift, http://www.culturedrift.com

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About Chip Ross

  • Connectedness?

    Sometimes cell phones feel like the precursor to mass telepathy. 😉