The Prison Cell….Phone

I used to hate the cell phones in my classroom, to the point that one day I was so frustrated with one student who compulsively could not control himself I had to politely tell him to, and I quote, “Put your FUCKING cell away!!!” Wait, it was worse than that, “!!!!!”

The class sat scared and silent. I scared me; though did not remain silent.

In the UK, it is called a mobile, in Latin America “cellular,” in Japan “keitai” (portable), in China “shou-ji” (hand machine), in Bangladesh “muthophone” (phone in the palm of SONY DSCyour hand), in Sweden “nalle” (teddy bear), in Israel “Pelephone” (wonder phone) and in Germany a “handy.”

I just call it the “self-phone.”  What was originally a device designed to connect us instantaneously and globally has, in many ways, alienated us personally as it turns us inward.

Is the self-phone creating one of the most anti-social generations in history?

What began as an Alexander Graham Bell invention to instill convenience into the communication of our daily lives, has, essentially, BECOME our daily lives. It is now like an additional human appendage that we cannot leave home without. Like so many other areas in our lives, it is just another example of the proverbial tail wagging the dog.tail wags dog

Sort of reminds me of those that hastily pursue money for a living; after a while money is no longer money –you know, the green stuff you need to buy things to live- life becomes a game of acquisition. If life is the dog and money is the tail we wag, for many money has become the dog as it wags its tail and we flail uncontrollably and in deference to it.

mechanical_clock_3d_11Philosopher Lewis Mumford made an analytical observation of another technology, the clock.  Yes, that ticking thing on the wall. What was originally invented in order to better serve humanity, now has humanity serving it. The clock made us into time keepers and then time savers and, now, time servers. The tails keeps on a waggin that dog of ours.

Take sports. What was introduced to better accommodate the game, television, has only evolved in better accommodating itself.  Professional basketball now has television timeouts and interviews with coaches DURING THE GAME. It is hardly now a game; it is a talk show with big athletic people moving around between commercials.

The game of football was invented so people could either participate in an athletic event or observe. When the first professional football game was televised October 22, 1939 it was to benefit the sport Walz_Skip_250-175and get it publicized, yet it was still all about the game.  According to the Pro Football hall of Fame there were none of the visual aids -monitors, screens or spotters – used today, and there were just two iconoscope cameras. One was located in the box seats on the 40-yard line and the other was in the stadium’s mezzanine section.  The game was unimpeded as the camera captured the event.

Now the tail wags the dog. Having recently attended a professional football game I felt like I was at a soundstage in the backlot of Universal Studios as it was all about the TV viewers. I cannot tell you how many minutes the players had to just stand on the field and wait until the commercials were over.  I was now watching not a sport, but a television show. The head referee is now primarily the director. I could have sworn I heard him yell, “CUT!” at one point.

To put it bluntly, in many ways, technological advances cause us to turn things ass backwards.  The tail wags the dog and the medium has become the message.


Back to the self-phone.  It is as if we now disregard those who are in our immediate proximity and prefer to dialogue with those outside of our immediate proximity, in cyber space. We are choosing the virtual conversations over the real and present ones. What then is our reality -our physical being or our virtual being?

mobile phone booth

If I hear another self-phone conversation between the person immediately next to me and their virtual preference I will have heard another one too many.  The formal term for this occurrence is a “halfalogue” and research has shown this is the most disruptive and annoying of all potential communication disturbances -as we can only hear half a conversation and, as a result, our brains go crazy trying to instinctively create the other half.

Though, hey, I guess we evolve and adapt. I suppose one day the social norm will be a crowded people on cell phonesroom with no individuals speaking to each other physically as we engage in our individual cyber universes. Our brains will adapt to hearing a continual barrage of one way conversations.

Though until that point, in public, could you all please put your FUCKING self-phones away? Thanks.






  1. LOVE IT! Agree, great argument! I will e-mail this to Rachael’s phone… think that’s the best way to communicate with her these days 😉

  2. A rare time when NO means YES. My best vacation was NO phone, NO TV, NO internet, NO newspapers and NO clothing (optional). How freeing to be out of the prison…cell and so much more. Thanks for reminding me of that great memory!

  3. This Christmas, when my girls were home for college, everything was going swimmingly until I slipped and called their cell phones, “Binkies”. Big mistake for a mother looking for family harmony. I would have gotten a better reaction if I told them they dated homely men.

  4. Hmmm…what do the binkie (or known as “boato” in my house) and cell phone have in common? Both keep kids mouths shut, you have to suck to use them, and sometimes their use is better than the alternative. AS far as homely men, at least your daughters date men.

  5. I remember one class day you had a few students come in to practice their speeches. You encouraged us to use our cell phones or any other distractions. I understand that it is slightly different circumstances but like you pointed out when giving a speech to an audience there will be massive amounts of distractions. Isn’t life full of distractions? I don’t necessarily believe that it’s the cell phones fault that we can’t communicate face to face with people anymore. We want instant gratification. It just so happens that technology has provided that for us. My sister pointed out that when her friends fall she laughs but when she drops her phone she freak out. We are the digital natives it’s what we are are used to for everyday communication. Anyone who can’t distinguish physical being from virtual being is on their own.

  6. I definitely like this argument Jimmy! It is annoying to have to listen to other people’s conversation while they are on their phone. I think it’s a total disregard for the people around you. A few years ago, I would see the “direct connect” feature being used as well with some phones. Which actually allowed you to hear the other person on the other side. Essentially the cell phone was being used as a “walkie talkie.” Which also included some chirps along with it. So a conversation would have went like this: “Hey, where are you?” chirp, chirp. “I’m at the parking lot,” chirp, chirp. “OK, I’ll meet you there” chirp, chirp. It used to drive me crazy to hear the chirp, chirp. I would just think… Dude why don’t you just use it like a regular cell phone and avoid everybody listening to your conversation. It almost seemed that they like the attention they got for using the cell phone in that manner.

  7. I am one of those who is glued to my phone. Never leave home without it. But I rarely ever use it to speak with someone. Even with my business transactions I specify “TEXT ONLY” when I am contacted. I love what my phone allows me to do, and I feel that by keeping my communications to typed messages only it allows me to keep the virtual existence aside until I have time to deal with it. So it gives me the ability to pay attention to the life going on in front of me and keep a second dialogue going on in between those interactions with present company. I think it is an excellent tool to get a lot done, as long as you don’t let it become your entire world. Its not as bad as you make it sound.

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