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Monday, February 07, 2011


Everyone seems to be doing it.

TWW. Texting while walking.

I don't get it.

Not so very long ago - when I had gotten my very first cell phone (do you remember a time without your cell phone?) - I found myself in an unusual (at the time) situation. I had gone to the lady's room in a local restaurant when another woman came in to use the stall next to mine.

"Hi," she said.

I was a bit startled, but my Momma taught me to always be polite, so even though it felt a bit embarrassing to greet someone I didn't know and couldn't see while sitting on the pot, I put on my cheeriest, most polite voice and said, "Hi".

"How are you?" she asked, with equal cheer.

"Ummm. . ." I said, as I looked around the very small walls of my cubicle, looking, I suppose, for a camera or web cam. Finding none, I said, "Fine. I'm fine. How about you?"

"Well," she said, "I was wondering if we could have dinner Friday night."

I immediately looked down to see if I had missed a "shoe signal". You know, what I understand some guys do in men's rooms when they are "cruising".

I bent myself over to look into the bottom of the next stall. Her shiny black pumps were precisely where they ought to have been.

"What?" I heard myself ask. "What did you just say?"

She sighed an "ugh" kind of sigh and said quite loudly, with a tone that was thoroughly disgusted and with an unmistakable tinge of anger, "I'm on the phone!"

And then she said to the person on the other end of the phone, "Sorry. Some idiot thought I was talking to her."

Wait. Wait. Wait. I thought. You're the one in the lady's room, talking on the phone whilst sitting on the pot, and I'm the idiot?

I did what any proper person would have done. I flushed the toilet. Twice. Just so her friend would know, without any doubt, that she was talking to her/him while in the bathroom.

That didn't phase her in the least. "What? Oh, yeah. I'm in the lady's room," she said to her friend, completely nonplussed.

I thought to myself, well, this is a new toy. We'll get better at this. We'll soon figure out the 'new etiquette' for cell phones and we'll all get back to being civilized again.


I often hear women in the next stall in the ladies room chatting away. I also understand that the number one reason for loss of cell phones is the now very common accident of dropping them down the toilet of public bathrooms.

And, is there anything more disconcerting than walking into a coffee shop and watching someone sitting alone in full, animated conversation?

"Blue tooth", it's called, for some unknown reason. When concealed under long hair or perched on the ear that is out of view, it can make an otherwise sane person look like someone forgot to take their meds.

A few months ago, I was in a local "Mom 'n Pop" store in Delaware. As I approached the cash register, I noticed a large note taped to the counter which said, "If you are talking on your cell phone, we will wait on the next customer in line until you finish talking."

I looked at the Indian man behind the counter, smiled and said, "Good for you!" He smiled kindly and said, "People can be so rude."

Is that what it is?


Or, is it something else?

Why am I feeling such anxiety?

Is it that, as the media and social networking have made the world seem a smaller and smaller "global village" we, paradoxically, are feeling more and more alone?

Are our daily lives so disconnected from our spiritual lives that we long to be connected in some way to somebody - anybody, anywhere else (including the loo) - that our cell phones have become our life-line?

Is the freedom of "multi-tasking" just another word for nothing left to lose?

Don't get me wrong. I love my iPhone. I love that I have portable, immediate access to my phone, internet and email. I love that I can text or talk to be in communication with my children and grandchildren.

My iPhone allows me access to my iPod so I can listen to "my" music. I also have lots of "apps" which allow me to carry around my Book of Common Prayer, the Lectionary, and all the books on my Kindle (which, miraculously, synchronizes itself to the place I left off in the last book I was reading).

I can also play Solitaire, 'Shark Attack' and 'Angry Birds', when I'm not checking out the status updates of my friends on FaceBook, checking in on the latest from NPR, or checking out the times and locations of a movie I want to see on Flixter or what's on TV tonight on iTV.

My compass app allows me to make sure I'm walking in the right direction in NYC or Boston or anywhere I happen to be, and helps me locate stars on Distant Suns (the BEST app. Evah.).

Okay, okay. I'm as "plugged in" as the next person. Guilty as charged, but I would like to point out to the court that I rarely use three or four of those technologies in any one given day.

And, never while walking, your Honor. There's too much to see.

Although, I must say that most people in my neighborhood - that would be Cambridge, presently - aren't involved in TWW.

Actually, what I find disconcerting is that most people don't look at you while walking on the street, much less say, "Hello" as so many of my neighbors in Delaware do. Probably too busy thinking about Very Important Things or figuring out a cure for Cancer.

As you walk closer to Harvard Square, where all the cool kids are, you increase your chances of bumping into someone - quite literally - who is TWW.

We've come a long, long way from our childhood fascinations with Dick Tracy's "phone watch" or Agent 86 Maxwell Smart's various electronic gadgets. What we could only once imagine in the far distant future is now part of our reality.

Are we that much better for all our progress?

As much as I appreciate what electronics and technology allow me to do, I'm not so sure the quality of my life is that much better for the effort.

Some days, as much as I love being "tuned in", I very much prefer being "unplugged," curled up with a good hard-cover book (meaning, not my Kindle) in front of a fireplace or a drizzly, rainy window with a hot cup of tea, warm socks and a big, overstuffed comforter.

That's probably an over-reaction to watching so many people "Text While Walking". Or, my other least favorite sight: Two people walking together, each engaged in a private conversation with someone else on their cell phones.

Some of them even hold hands while talking with someone else.

Then again, maybe it's just my way of dealing with my own anxieties.

Wait. Wait. Wait. I've just begun to realize that I've become anxious about what people do with their anxiety.

I think this is one of those times when I need to 'unplug'.

There's a hot cup of tea with my name on it, waiting for me in the kitchen.

My cell phone? It's in my purse.


SCG said...

Ha! Very enjoyable. I remember the first time I encountered a person with a "hands-free" device. I thought she had a mental illness because she was talking out loud while crossing the street to the state Capitol. Having spent much time in that building, I could see where someone might be driven to be mentally disturbed. Later, I realized she had an earbud and was on the phone and was not suffering from schizophrenia.

RENZ said...

Was going to share my personal fav, the hand holding couple, only to read further and chuckle when you listed it. It truly is a strange world we live in.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SCG - When it gets hard to distinguish the inmates from the wardens, it's time to get worried.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Renzmqt - Surely the phrase 'strange new world' was created for this time.

Geeklet said...


I have always been notorious for leaving my phone places. By which I mean, in my room.

When I was at college (aaah, why did I ever graduate, again?) it would live in my room. My friends would be be irritated, "Geeklet! Didn't you get my message? You were supposed to eat lunch with me!!!" or concerned, "Geeklet, I haven't seen you in HOURS! ARE YOU OKAY?"

Why, I'm sorry - my phone was in my dorm room. Didn't want it going off during class, you know?

One friend calls it my land-line. :)

Mich Magness said...

I remember well my disdain for the "electronic leash" I saw others getting involved with. And then my mom had cancer, and my priorities shifted. Suddenly, there was nothing more important than talking to her whenever she felt like talking, and I could always excuse myself from any situation when she called. Years later (and years after) I try to remember that year when the sound of mom's voice was more important than anything else I had going at the moment. I try to imagine that the person having the mostly inane-sounding conversation with the air might just be talking to the most fragile and limited relationship he or she has. For that moment, it all makes sense.

Anonymous said...

i read you regularly and have commented as well. i happen to work as a technician at a cell phone call center.....i can tell you stories like the Thanksgiving day cook who wanted a replacement for her phone....see it melted in the oven she had set the alarm to let her know when the turkey was done. No Joke. Anyway, i like what you had to say. Cell phones are a tool and there is rarely any tool we need to be attached to like some people are to cellphones, except maybe medical devices like an insulin pump. i like watching people in a resturant with both talking on their phones. Thanks for the blog.

Paul said...

Back to an early question in your post: Rudeness?

Unequivocally, yes.

And if you need to raise your voice to be heard on your mobile phone, take it outside so others in confined spaces do not need to listen to you shouting. It is equivalent to shouting at the person next to you. Do it elsewhere. Alternatively, your sins are retained.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Geeklet - Something strikes me as funny and ironic that someone with a nickname of Geeklet should be so unplugged.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mich - thanks for that thought. It's helpful in being more compassionate

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Great story about the Thanksgiving cook. I'll bet you have lots more. I'd love to hear them. You should start your own blog! "Tales from an IT" - "Calls from the Cell" or something.

It would be wonderful, if you can next time, to leave your name.

Anonymous said...

As a not entirely unlelated thread, apparently LOTS of folks are unaware that cellphones, unlike their corded counterparts, are simplex devices, i.e., one can talk OR listen but not both simultaneously. As a point of etiquette it behooves everyone to speak in short paragraphs and then stop so the other party can get a word in. Guess we're collectively not there yet. Blessings.

Francis sirfrATearthlinkETC

Mich Magness said...

Thought you might find this post from Ethan Nichtern interesting and helpful.

I really enjoy your blog and have shared items from it many time with my FB friends.

--Mich Magness

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Mich. I enjoyed the HufPo article about being mindful while social networking. I've sent it onto Pui Lan, one of my instructors.