For just one moment, I’d like you to imagine something for me.
Picture, if you can, an old land-line telephone. It doesn’t have to be rotary-dial (I’ll explain what that is later, kids), but just any ol’ pre-1990 curly-corded phone will do.
Now imagine that you carry that phone with you wherever you go. It sits on the table at restaurants. It rests in the console of your car. It’s bulging in your purse when you’re at the movies.
And then it rings. Loudly. Of course you answer, because if you need to carry that thing around all the time, surely you’re expecting some important call.
Sounds kind of obtrusive, doesn’t it? And maybe just a little bit impolite.
Okay, you caught me. I’m an old crank. Or at least, this is the thing that makes me feel like one: Now that we have phones that are small enough to be ignored, they are never, ever ignored.
When I was growing up (oh, those halcyon days of the ‘80s), we had a rule against answering the phone during a meal. The implication was that the time as a family was important and whoever might be interrupting from the outside could wait. And that was even before answering machines.
But now, despite having voicemail and email and text all accessible from our fingertips, a ringing (or buzzing; oh lord, the buzzing) phone demands immediate attention. Because it’s there. Right there. All the time. There.
And even if it’s not buzzing, it has all the information. Facebook, Twitter, Google – the knowledge of the collective all in one pixelated package. Look, I understand why it’s tempting to check it out while you’re waiting for the bathroom, but can it maybe wait until after the band stops playing?
Or, let’s say, after the secretary of state stops testifying. There was something so depressing about looking out at the gallery behind Secretary Clinton’s chair during her farewell party/interrogation and seeing a roomful of people who appeared to be asleep. It was all eyelids out there. I know it was a long day, but come on. It was also history. Look up or step out.
I won’t pretend not to have a cell phone. It’s a fairly decent smart phone, even. But I don’t subscribe to the theory that having a mobile phone means I’m connected by phone whenever I’m mobile. I was phone-free in the car before Oprah even commanded it. It’s for my convenience, not everyone else’s. Except for when I’m at work, my phone is either in my purse or on the kitchen counter. One of my favorite features of my phone is that it’s too big to keep on my person, even if I wanted to.
Speaking of, y’all know those things are radioactive, right? At the risk of sounding like a hippie old crank, I can’t help pointing out that keeping a radioactive device in one’s pocket all day is perhaps not a great idea. But hey, it’s your ass.
What chaps my own ass, however, is feeling constantly on the brink of losing out to whatever call or text or feed update might be more interesting than my company. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I was raised to believe that faces come first. Even if I’m not actually more fascinating than what George Takei has to say, I’d at least like my companions to pretend. I do the same for them.
Many of my friends will read this and feel personally attacked, but let me assure them: I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about all of you. It’s a phenomenon that seems to have no lower age limit and may only peter out somewhere among the over-70s (where, clearly, I would fit right in). My grandparents, the most emergency-prone members of my family, seem to get by just fine with their old, giant, landlocked phone.
And they only occasionally take it to the movies.