Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another reason to hate cell phones

I'm taking time off from my continuing criticism of the inept and criminally corrupt Bush administration to complain once again about one of my least favorite technological advances -- the cell phone. I continue to believe that cell phones will lead to the death of civilization as we know it, as you can tell from some of my previous rants on the subject (here, here, here, here, and here).

My latest beef with what the Europeans call "mobiles" comes after a day spent at a big industry trade show. Trade shows are not my favorite places to be, but you gotta go where you gotta go. What I encountered this go-round was that people like to talk on their cell phones while they cruise the show floor. The annoying thing, in addition to being forced to listen to their private conversations, is that most people have difficulty walking and talking at the same time. (Thank heaven they didn't try to chew gum, too.) So what you get is a guy walking down the crowded aisle talking on his cell phone, then abruptly stopping in the middle of everything so that he can make some conversational point with someone a couple of hundred miles away. It goes without saying that when you stop dead in your tracks in the middle of flowing pedestrian traffic, you cause incalculable bodily collisions. A guy walks, talks, stops, and causes chaos in his wake. Multiply this situation by dozens if not hundreds of similar walker/talkers, and you see why I'm particularly peeved.

One other annoyance I discovered at the trade show was the profusion of drag-along briefcases. You know what I'm talking about; the oversized briefcase on wheels with a extending handle, like a airline carry-on but used on the ground. The problem with this particular contraption is the floor space it occupies. One person takes up a certain square footage of floor space; dragging a rolling briefcase behind doubles if not triples the floor space used. The issue, then, is of increased density, as the available floor space is cut in half without the crowd itself expanding.

Then there's the related issue of floor space versus air space. That is, it looks as if you're the proper distance from the person in front of you, but the trailing luggage trips you up. I can't tell you how many times I stumbled over low-riding bags when traffic slowed. Combine the mobile briefcase problem with the mobile phone walk/talk/stop problem and you have a complete breakdown of normal traffic patterns -- and more than a few lawsuits waiting to happen.

My solution? Well, other than staying away from trade shows (which is an excellent suggestion), I keep coming back to a universal cell phone ban in public places. That won't solve the rolling luggage problem, of course, but my question there is just how much shit does a person really need to haul around? I mean, I've never carried such a load that I couldn't heft it with my arm or fling it over my shoulder. If you have to drag it, you need to dump it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.


John Allen said...

While I agree with most of your posts, I have to disagree with this one. At least, in part.

Cell phones may be annoying at times, but so can be cars, televisions, and radios - all of which make modern life more enjoyable (I admit this is an arguable poing).

Cell phones allow people to do more than one thing at a time. If you believe, as I do, that the group mind, and therefore society, is enriched by communication then anything that improves communication is a good thing.

So, if I can discuss my son's birthday party with my wife while I stroll through a tradeshow hundreds of miles away, this is a good thing.

If I can call my friend, the hardware store owner, to tell him about a great new retail product I just saw as I walk to the next booth, that is a good thing.

Only a curmudgeon would disagree. :)

The Curmudgeon said...


I'm all for increased communication, but I also believe in the compartmentalization of public and private lives, consideration and respect for others private space, and simple common sense. When you have to carry on a private conversation, do it in private -- and recognize that some places are simply not conducive to conversation.

John Allen said...

Your answer to my comment seems reasonable, but it isn't what you wrote in the original post.

"My solution? Well, other than staying away from trade shows (which is an excellent suggestion), I keep coming back to a universal cell phone ban in public places."

There is a huge difference between offering cell phone etiquette and calling for a ban in public places.

I maintain that cell phones have a valued place in modern life. Humans are, after all, social animals. The cell phone gives us one more tool to interact with our 'clan'.

In your original post your main complaint stemmed from the habit some cell phone users have of stopping suddenly to make a point in their conversation. This isn't really a valid complaint.

In the first place, I'm assuming you weren't talking on a cell phone when this happened. Therefore, you were not distracted by a conversation with someone in another location. You should have been more aware of your surroundings.

After all, if you already know that cell phone users are apt to stop suddenly, why wouldn't you give them more space?

After all, we aren't talking about rush hour on the freeway here. We are talking about foot traffic moving at less than 4 mph.

Did you experience an actual occurrence of this type? One where you bumped into someone because they stopped unexpectedly?

If you did I wonder if it was because the other person was on a cell phone or if it was because you were gawking at the booths instead of paying attention to where you were walking?

The Curmudgeon said...

Ah, but there is still the problem of keeping one's private life out of the public eye. And, more important to bystanders, the inability of many cell phone users to carry on normal activities when talking on the phone. It's a simple fact, when half your brain is involved in conversation with an absent someone, your attention is sufficiently distracted to the point that the ability to perform normal physical activities is impaired. That's why car-bound cell phone users have a higher accident rate; their attention is diverted. (Carrying on a conversation with someone next to you is less distracting because you're both involved in the same physical reality; when talking on the phone, you're sucked into the other person's reality.)

Or, put more simply, most people can't walk and call (or drive and call) at the same time without one of those two activities suffering. Only so much bandwidth.

And, yes, I bumped into several distracted cell phone users who stopped without warning. I wasn't gawking; I was just trying to get from point A to point B, which is what one assumes everyone walking in the traffic stream is also doing.

Maybe cell phone users should be equipped with warning lights?

John Allen said...

Don't really mean to keep this going, but have one more post in me.

Just because something diverts a person from walking is no reason to outlaw it. If it was, then they would have to outlaw pretty girls.

In the first place, not all cell calls are private calls. Many are work related or some other activity.

I don't think I can agree that talking on a cell phone is any more distracting than carrying on a conversation with someone directly. In either case you are going to have to give part of your attention to the conversation. Should we outlaw talking while you are walking?

So, the problem wasn't caused entirely by cell phone users. You made a mistaken assumption - that everyone is moving from point a to point b - and you also failed to learn from experience. When you had your first bump or near miss I would have thought that you would start to give someone more lead time if you happened to be following them and noticed that they were using a cell phone.

If you are following someone and bump into them because they stopped suddenly the fault does not lie with the person who stopped. The fault lies with the person who was following too close. After all, there are several reasons a person might stop suddenly while walking.

To conclude my posts on this thread, I agree with you that cell phones can be a nuisance and people are often inconsiderate while using them. My suggested solution is to educate people on proper etiquette rather than introducing a law.