Cellphone etiquette: absence makes the heart grow much fonder

I spend a lot of time here in my Starbucks office, a busy location near the centre of the universe (Yorkville). starbucks, bloor, office

I’ve been coming here since the day this location opened, over a decade ago, when there was still a Chapters.

The clientele includes people from the neighboring boutiques, like Gucci, so it’s handy for shopping… along with undergrads from U of T, street people, academics, seniors, tradesmen ripping up the street, not quite a cross-section but getting there.

I’m mesmerized by the cellphone culture. I wish Roland Barthes were still here to tell us why 80% of women under 30 carry their phone in their hand, at all times, thrust out at the world, some in a feisty overhand grip, some in a reveal-all come-on, even as they balance hot drinks and purses the size of duffle bags. Are they saying, I’m here, I’m equipped? Or, I’m cyberlinked to somewhere much cooler?

starbucks, bloorBut for now, what I really want to know is why almost everyone – demographically speaking – finds it acceptable to sit with a colleague or loved one or BFF while their smartphone sits conspicuously on the table between them, just begging to be called or texted. Apparently nothing is sacred any more and whatever you might have to say to close the sale, or console the GF about the BF, will never be as important as the hoped-for message that could arrive at any moment.


A shocker from Pew

So imagine my amazement when I looked up Pew today and found the latest instalment of their cellphone tracking survey. Turns out now people are being asked just how intimate they are with their phone. Are you… you know, sleeping with it?

Teens are also more likely than older adults to have slept with their cell phone on or right next to their bed – fully 84% of teens do this, while 65% of adults 18 and older with a cell phone have done so.

Respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with a number of attitudinal statements, including this one: “I think it’s rude when someone repeatedly interrupts a conversation or meeting to check their cell phone.” The numbers:

  • Agree = 86%
  • Disagree = 12%
  • (Vol.) Both/Neither = 1%
  • DK and Refused = 0

Yikes, how do we explain this? Maybe the old have-it-both-ways method. People say they find it rude – when someone else is doing it.

No wonder this is giving me a headache. The other day, The New York Times ran a story about what the relentless presence of cellphones and the like are doing to our brains: Your Brain on Computers – Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime.

[Cellphone] technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

Be that as it may, and I’m sure it is, I’ve got a new graphic ready to go up on the screen when the fall crop of students arrives, in case they aren’t aware just how old-fashioned my cellphone attitudes are…