When Cell Phones Come First
Wednesday - February 01, 2006
I saw an interesting little dance on the freeway the other day. A guy with a cell phone pressed to his ear tried to move into the next lane over. Trouble was, that space was occupied - by a car driven by a guy talking on his cell! The two swerved and jousted for a second or two before the first guy gave up and sped ahead, cell phone still pressed to ear.
Later that same day I witnessed something even more disturbing. I was having coffee in a bookstore when a young mother and her cute button of a boy sat down at the table next to mine. The mom immediately took out her cell and began to talk. The boy had a new book and he was clearly excited about it.
“Mommy, what’s this? Mommy, what does this dinosaur eat? Mommy what eats this dinosaur?”
The child had questions - lots and lots of questions. But Mom didn’t answer any of them. She kept talking on that cell phone while her child tried to get her attention. (Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear, these tables were pressed pretty close together.)
This phone conversation lasted a good 20 minutes. At one point, the boy even grabbed the phone out of her hand. She simply took it back and carried on.
What these incidents tell me is that cell phones, ubiquitous as they are, are causing us to lose sight of priorities. That man in the car wasn’t simply talking while driving, his conversation was his reality and the vehicle he was navigating was incidental. So was the car he almost sideswiped. That young mother wasn’t really spending time with her child, he just happened to be there while she had a chat session with her friend. Both mother and child appeared used to the routine. He, peppering her with questions; she, blithely ignoring him. Now that’s quality time with your kid.
I’ve had it happen to me. Out having dinner with a friend when her cell phone rings. Instead of saying, “I’ll call you back later,” she talks. And I sit. At first you think it’s OK, then you wonder how she can ignore the fact that she has turned you into a potted plant.
The danger of cell phones isn’t that they distract us, even though they do. It isn’t even that they make us overly available, although they do. I’m beginning to think the real danger is that they make us forget what’s really important. They take us from the here and now. If you’re driving, that should be your focus. You should drive as if your life depends on it. If you can’t do that, at least realize that others’ lives depend on it. If you’re with your child or your friend, then really be with them - mentally as well as physically. They should feel that they are the most important thing to you at that moment.
That little boy trying and failing to get his mom’s attention is receiving a definite message about where he stands on her list of priorities. She may not realize it, because she probably loves him more than anything in the world. But in his young eyes, actions speak louder than words.
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