Thursday, May 24, 2007


I have a story that makes people's cell phones ring.

It isn't even a very important story. Just one of those stories that begins, "so, something interesting happened to me today on the way to your house..."

Except that I can't get any farther than that line without my listener's cell phone interrupting the conversation. I am in mid-sentence; her cell phone rings, and I wait patiently for her to finish talking to the random caller. "Sorry, what were you saying?" So I begin again; but I don't get any farther than I did the first time, when her phone rings again. It's the original caller, who thought of something she forgot to say before she hung up. I wait again, but it's no use. The second call does not even finish before a third call comes in.

This has become so commonplace that it wasn't until the second time I tried to tell the same short story, to a different friend, at another house, when I once again could not tell the story because of phone interruptions, that it even occurred to me to be upset over this treatment! If everyone does it, is it still rude?

My fiancee is infamous among our friends for never answering her cell phone. But I never get mad at her when I can't get through. "I'm not a slave to my phone," she says. Damn straight.

I'd still rather people tried to reach me by phone than email. Oh, how I hate email. I check my email twice a week; inevitably I find my inbox stuffed with frantic messages because one professor or another has some urgent business and has to reach me right away, and they've gotten themselves all in a tizzy because they can't understand why I haven't replied to their emails in two days. I want to say to them, "Hello? It's called the telephone? Ever heard of it?"

I met an old-timer at NASA who shares my astonishment that people put so much stock in email. He illustrates his point with a hypothetical question:

"Suppose I told you that you've won $10,000. All you have to do to claim your prize is get in touch with me by the end of the day. What would you do?"

"I'd call you."

"You wouldn't email me?"


He then poses the same scenario over again, but lowers the amount in question each time. Most people draw the line at $50. When $50 is at stake, an email will suffice. But for larger amounts, people want that assurance that they got through. The difference between a phone call and an email is that if you physically talk to someone on the phone, you know they got your message. "So why," he asks, "Do people conduct important business deals, over a medium they don't trust further than $50? It's insanity."

You expect this sort of thing from the older generation; but I am a young person, and I agree with him!
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