By Karen Panetta, IEEE-HKN President Elect
Remember when cell phones first came out? Of course, you don’t. You probably were not even born yet. So, let me give you a history lesson. Phones were quite large and got so hot that you could fry a steak on them but had displays that you could actually see and keypads that were sized for human fingers. We would only use them sparingly, for emergencies for our loved ones because making calls was expensive. Cell phone numbers were protected like social security numbers and if someone gave you their phone number, you felt like you were in their inner circle of VIPs.
Ions ago, I handed down my first cell phone to my father and he immediately fell in love with it. However, whenever I would call him, the phone was either off or he would not answer. He never mastered voice mail so leaving a message was out of the question. I would ask him why he didn’t answer, and he would say, “I can’t carry the phone with me, I’d get a hernia.” He was right. The phone was so heavy and bulky that he would keep it in his trunk with his ever-present buckets of sand, that he claimed he needed for ballast in the wintertime.
When the phone finally died after 13 years, and no one would service it for him, he was forced to go search for a new phone. While we were in the phone store, other older customers noticed the dinosaur of a phone that my father held. One after another, they approached the salesman and pointed at my father, saying “I want to see that same phone with the large keys, like the one that man is holding.” The poor bewildered salesman was at a loss and begged me to put the phone away. I would have obliged, but the phone was so large that it wouldn’t fit my pocketbook.
We purchased a new phone, one with the biggest buttons we could find along with the loudest volume controls. To my dismay, my father still didn’t answer the cell phone when I called, or it would be turned off. When I questioned him about this, he came clean and gave me my first lesson in technology rules. He stated, “The phone is for me to make calls when I need too, not so people can bother me at their convenience. I rule the technology, it doesn’t rule me.”
My poor father made this statement in front of my mother who instantly chastised him for hurting my feelings. She also reminded him that I paid his cell phone bill. Needless to say, my father still complains about the microscopic keypad on his new phone and still uses it sparingly and only for emergencies, like when he needs me to pick up a sandwich and donuts for him.
Cell phone technology now makes us accessible 24 hours a day, but cell phone etiquette has not evolved as quickly. A few years ago, you wouldn’t dream of calling someone on their cell phone unless there was something critical at hand. Furthermore, you certainly wouldn’t call someone during dinner hours or on a weekend.
I went through a drive-thru and saw a sign, “No Cell Phones.” I had to ask what the sign meant. I thought maybe there was a construction project going on and they were using explosives and blasting in the area. I was wrong.
Apparently, people cause delays at drive-thru lines by keeping the servers on hold while they talk on their cell phones. I was amazed that there are few boundaries to where and when cell phones are used.
I was shocked the first time I heard people making and taking calls while in a public restroom. Imagine, taking a business call while conducting the most private of business!
A male colleague of mine told me he found it embarrassing that the fellow standing beside him was not only broadcasting bathroom sound effects to a stranger on the phone but considered this guy an invasion of his own privacy. Cell phone cameras can be activated and capture images of an innocent bystander’s “private moments.” He told me that women were lucky because at least there were stall partitions in the women’s restrooms to protect their identity, but no such privacy protection existed for men. We also both noticed that regardless of gender, these cell phone abusers were too busy talking to wash their hands before leaving the restroom. Gross and a great way to get sick.
Now, I know why all those signs reminding people to wash their hands are really posted on all the restroom doors. They really should say, “Get off the cell phone and wash your hands!”
Inevitably, the cell phone rings as soon as I sit down for dinner. I contemplate not answering, but deferring the call means that there is more work for me to follow up on later. Not answering and not having the time to respond immediately also has implications. People assume that having a cell phone as part of your anatomy means that you have no excuse for not being instantaneously available. Now that the restroom is no longer a “safe place” anymore, the only excuses we may have left to escape phone calls are in elevators, underground garages, tunnels and on airplanes. Unfortunately, since we are so technology savvy, now we are losing even these cell-phone free sanctuaries.
After years of suffering at the hands of intrusive cell phone calls, that have provided nothing more than indigestion, ruined good a mood and left a cloud over our free time with our loved ones, I have developed some simple technology rules that have helped.
1) Calls from family members should be answered. This may be painful to hear, but the infinite guilt of not answering is far worse than taking the call. If you are in a class, then leave or quickly text your family to say that you are in the middle of a class. My parents don’t have a phone that has texting capabilities, so I do the next best thing, I text my husband and make him call them back for me.
2) Do not answer cell phones during meals or during meetings/interviews. I almost fell on the floor when a visitor who wanted my advice, and help finding a job, kept interrupting our meeting to take phone calls. News Flash, doing this during an interview is a death sentence to receiving an offer!
3) Do not answer the cell phone if you are involved with a family, social outing or trying to sleep.
4) No cell phone calls in public restrooms. What you do in your own home is your own business, but remember, the person on the other side of your call would most likely be grossed out if they knew where you were and what you were doing.
5) Watch where you are walking! Too many people get hurt thinking drivers are looking at them while we are busy walking with our face in a phone. Wrong! The drivers are not looking because they are on the phone too! Furthermore, too many phone addicts are their way to earning a hunchback due to looking down at the phone. Humps and hunchbacks are not a good look on anyone.
Technology was meant to make our lives better, not to endanger us, stress us or negatively interfere with our health. Take a stand and do not allow technology to rule your life anymore!
Get off the phone and start looking at people in the face as you walk by and smile. You will be surprised how much you’ve been missing.