Thursday, March 30, 2006

4.2 Miles

4.2 miles on the office dreadmill, 32 minutes or so, forgot my watch. Still trying to take it easy with the right adductors. Think they're getting better, Idunno, better rest now until Sunday, 10-13 miles.

I've been puzzling over what it is, precisely, that seems to annoy people about other people talking on cell phones in public spaces. All over the place, there are signs prohibiting cell phone usage, at health clubs, for example. Why, exactly. It doesn't really bother me, okay sometimes, but I know it does seem to really annoy a lot of folks. I heard something about airlines considering allowing cell phone usage during flights, so it's got me pondering.

So, obviously people don't mind, in general, people talking with each other in person in public. What is it about a person talking to another person through a cell phone? Some ideas I've come up with.

  • The public only gets to hear half the conversation of a cell phone conversation. It's fun eavesdropping on in-person conversations, but eavesdropping on cell phone conversations by comparison is just frustrating.

  • I'm not sure why, but phone conversations tend to often be of a more personal nature than in-person conversations. Maybe the phone acts as a proxy for the Catholic confessional. In any case this observation suggests a problem. Urinating in public is considered disgusting, for example. Why. Because it's an activity which should be done in private, no one wants to see or think about that. When you're listening to private conversation on a cell phone in public, it's a similar situation. You're witnessing and enduring what should be the private activity of another.

  • There is an implicit and probably mostly unconscious assumption in human society that, when in a public space, other humans are available for standard human interaction. For example, to query what time it is, or to inform that the plane is about to crash so they better buckle up. A person talking on a cell phone is explicitly making themselves unavailable for this kind of standard in-person interaction, and this is annoying to those wishing to interact. They're basically saying, screw you, I have better things to do than be available for any interaction with you.

  • One counter to the above. People with headphones on in public, listening to music, don't seem to elicit the irritation of others. But that could be because they are retreating into themselves, like sleep; we can all understand the desire to tune out. This is different from the cell phone where the user isn't tuning out, but interacting with an alternative.

  • Some people simply tend to talk louder on cell phones than they do in during in-person conversations. Not sure this is true, but it's my sense.

  • This point may be archaic since early cell phones usage was reserved for the more well-to-do, though there may be residual effects. People talking on cell phones in public often seem to have a sense of sounding, well, self-important. Whatever the reason.

What bothers me about cell phones is how there's a whole generation evolving who spend so much time submerged in random aimless cell phone chatter with friends, that I fear the it's a generation with little concept of what it's like to be alone with your thoughts. God, I sound like an old fart. Bingo!

Oh, so how about this idea. How about bringing back the phone booth. New ones, designed for cell phone use. Eventually it would be considered uncouth to use a cell phone without ducking into one. They could be cozy and filled with messages from paid sponsors. Brilliant.

This is the kind of evolutionary psychological puzzle someone like Steven Pinker might have some interesting opinions on.


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