Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 34;   August 20, 2003: Cellf Esteem

Cellf Esteem

by

When a cell phone goes off in a movie theater, some of us get irritated or even angry. Why has the cell phone become so prominent in public? And why do we have such strong reactions to its use?

The waiter appeared. "Need a few more minutes?" When Jeff told him they were ready to order, the waiter turned to Molly. Just then her cell phone rang.

Everyone check your cell phones

Everyone Check Your Phones - NYC. Photo by LaMenta3 / CC BY-SA.

"Come back to me," she said to the waiter, and then to the phone, "Hello." The waiter continued around the table, and when he returned to Molly, she was still on the phone. She held up her index finger signing, "Just one second."

The waiter knew just what to do. He said to the table, "Let me know when she's ready," and headed off to place the orders. Somehow he must have known that everyone had to be back by One.

Jeff felt a little irritated with Molly — not only had she taken the call, but she had done so at the table.

Taking a call when you're with others is only one example of cellular rudeness. Here are a few more:

  • Why do cell phones
    turn otherwise courteous
    people into oafs?
    Forgetting to turn off the ringer in a theater, at a concert, in a restaurant or lecture or workshop or meeting.
  • Interrupting a conversation to look at your caller id to decide whether to interrupt your conversation.
  • Talking on the phone in what would otherwise be a quiet place, disturbing the people around you.
  • Talking while driving, dividing your attention so severely that you can concentrate on neither the conversation nor your driving.

When we notice these things, many of us become irate, even though we might not express our displeasure directly. Why do cell phones turn otherwise courteous people into oafs?

For some, it's about self-esteem.

For cell phone offenders
The cell phone can become a badge of importance. By letting the phone interrupt us (and the people around us) no matter what we're doing, we convince ourselves that the people who call us cannot manage without us.
Most people can manage without us for a while. With rare exceptions, such as literal life-and-death situations, most calls can wait until we pick up our messages.
For cell phone offendees
When someone commits an act of cell phone rudeness, we can feel hurt or anger, and sometimes we express that anger in ways we regret.
When you notice an attack of cell phone anger, remember that the rudeness you're experiencing is — most likely — beyond the awareness of the offender. If you can, tell the offender how you feel. Leave it to her or him to decide what to do about it.

When call waiting first appeared, we often used it inappropriately. We would interrupt a conversation no matter what, to find out what call was coming in. After a while, we learned better ways, and now many people don't check when their phone beeps that a call is waiting. We're just now learning about cell phones. In time, we'll learn how to handle them, too.

Hang in there. Go to top Top  Next issue: Plenty of Blame to Go Around  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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