Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cell Phones... Best Friends or Worst Enemies?

            A few years ago, I posted about my 24-hour stint without a cell phone after it had been stolen.  I felt like a fish out of water at the time, obsessing over who was trying to reach me and what supposed earth-shattering news I might be missing as a result. (Truthfully, it was probably just a slew of messages from my mom asking me if I was still alive.) Of course the world kept turning and my life went on during my phoneless day, but I felt like I had learned something by the end of it… somehow I didn’t feel the sense of urgency to reach for my phone once I got my replacement. I felt oh-so-enlightened about “Dina’s day without a cell phone”. I reveled in how I managed to meet up with a friend with no communication at all as if it was the equivalent of rescuing someone from a burning building. But now, three and a half years later, I’m not sure if I really learned anything at all.

            Working in hospitality as I do, you get to observe human behavior up close and personal. As a server, I am the metaphorical fly on the wall, bearing witness to how my guests conduct themselves in a public setting. (And as you can imagine, some do better than others). There are things I see and hear that I wish could be deleted from my memory bank. However, one thing I find universally fascinating is people’s cell phone etiquette, or lack thereof.  It simply astounds me that almost EVERYONE has their phones out on the table at ALL times. Whether the person is a teenager or someone well into their retirement, people seem to be obsessed with being connected at all times.

            We all love our phones. I get it. I love mine too. But I think there’s a problem when your cell phone becomes a better companion than the person sitting across from you. I regularly go into restaurants and see people texting or checking social media instead of interacting with the people at their table. Everyone is so busy looking at what’s happening EVERYWHERE else and what they MIGHT be missing out on, that they’re actually missing out on what’s happening right in front of them. And I know I am guilty of it too. Far too often my cell phone is out on the table, and although my phone is on silent at all times, when I see it light up I just want to see who it is. It’s like a compulsion. And the fact that I run out of data every month tells you that my phone needs to spend less time in my hand and more time in my purse.

            Remember the days before cell phones? I do. When you angrily stood at a payphone in the middle of winter, freezing your ass off in your open-toed platform heels as you called into your answering machine to find out why the person you were supposed to meet wasn’t there? Oh, the plans changed and now said person is at a different bar clear across town? (Insert expletives of your choosing.) Ah, those were the days. Still, things always seemed to work out in the end and my social plans were always saved from disaster. And the bonus was that once there, there were no cell phones to distract you from the real live person you were hanging out with! Can you youngsters picture that? It was glorious.

            I’m not advocating the elimination of modern technology. Before cell phones existed, what happened if your car broke down in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night? Does that scenario sound like the beginning of a Stephen King movie? Well, it happened to my college friend back in the day and there was no payphone nearby—not that she would’ve gotten out of her car to look for one! Lucky for her, a car pulled up with a nice elderly couple inside. True story. They even invited her to stay at their home for the night. In fact, this couple was so good to my friend that she invited them to her wedding! Now that sounds more like a John Hughes film, doesn’t it? We could call it “Home Away From Home.” Suffice it to say, I don’t want to go back to the days without phones. I just want to find a happy medium for myself. As my friend Dee just said to me, “Technology is there to serve YOU. You are not there to serve IT.” (Dee’s a smart lady.) With that said, I’ve decided to keep my phone in my purse in social situations. I think it will be nice to unplug from the rest of the world and just spend time with the people sitting at my table! Of course I will inevitably pull my phone out occasionally to check it. I’m not a martyr. Besides, my mom isn’t the only one who likes to make sure that the people she loves are still alive!

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