Telephonic Necessity

Twenty people sit together in a single room in complete silence. An occasional outburst of typing cuts through the sterile audioscape, but the collective concentration has not been broken.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, it happens. No one invited the phone to ring, but it did, deafeningly. The ring sends my pulse through the roof every time it occurs simply due to my proximity to the excited metal encased within the telephonic communications device. In the antiquated analogue fashion that first-generation touch-tone phones ring, some faceless, unknown caller decreed that this phone should ring, and that I should pick up the receiver and declare cheerfully,

“Union Computer Lab, this is Trey, how may I help you?”

What follows is basically a prolongation of the broken silence that cannot end until the dialing party has decided that they have finished speaking with me.

That was just a departmental matter. It should go without saying that there is a reason cell phones are not allowed in these labs. No one wants to listen to you blabbing to some other jerk about useless crap while you pace around in your own little world. Not while they're trying to type a paper or dig up important archived information on the internet.

And from my observation, these people have very little regard for the people around them. Phone conversations are for the two people on either end of the connection. Having that two-person conversation bleed into the ears of innocent bystanders is an invasion of privacy that most people would gladly never take part in.

Now, for practical applications, I understand that cellphones are useful devices. They can facilitate decision-making processes when the transaction has already begun. They can arrange a meeting place for two parties in close proximity to each other.

But then there's how the majority of people use them.

Take college students, for example. As soon as they leave the dorm room, they speed-dial whomever they fancy gabbing to, and, as they mosey on over to their first class of the day (ten minutes late, of course), terminating the call as they enter the classroom. Obviously, it's too much hassle to turn the phone off, or even put it in a silent mode, so when that person decides that they had one more thing to tell that person who is now dozing to a particularly stimulating discussion on political theory, they're three simple button-presses away from distracting a 47-person classroom's quest for academic excellence.

And what's the ring on our protagonist's phone? It's obviously some important tune converted to the most ear-splitting combination of sine waves available. Mozart? Beethoven? Blink 182? Sting? No, this young phone user is the school-spirited type. He's got the limited-edition OU cell phone with the customized Boomer-Sooner ring tone that sends a cringe down anyone's spine who's had to play the song 131 times in a 4-hour period.

Why was this distraction created? For sheer pleasure; the conversation had entirely no substance, no reason for taking place at that time, and could have been postponed until the next face-to-face encounter these two individuals were sure to have.

What's even worse is that these kids don't understand the responsibility that comes with having a cellular telephone. While it may be a status symbol, it is so because the bill that accompanies it is not a cheap one to stay abreast of. Plans with many thousands of minutes per month easily cost more than a cable TV subscription or reasonably-priced internet access.

Because of the relative unimportance of these calls placed thousands of times every day whose subject matter would more appropriately fit in an internet chatroom, these people should stop carrying cell phones and just chat on an instant messaging program. It's cheaper, it's faster, and it's much less annoying.

But then there's that underground culture of former internet junkies that have been forced out of their always-on internet caves into a productive job. These people couldn't live without instant messaging just a few months ago, and now that the newest phones come enabled with AOL's instant messaging service, they've migrated to the streets, cumbersomely pecking out abbreviated messages on their digital communications device.

One such conversation took place a short while ago:

shellibgh: whatcha doin?
dj rabbi: ranting about celphones
shellibgh: yeah? make sure you mention jerks like me who chat on their cell phones
dj rabbi: will do

I'm astronomically thankful that this short, practically meaningless conversation didn't take place telephonically, but at the same time, it saddens me that the person on the other end of this conversation was using a numeric keypad and a proprietary navigational system just to hack out a coherent thought.

It's only a matter of time before they start marketing fold-out keyboards to accessorize the smaller-than-credit-card cell phones.

Or even worse... speech-to-text capability.

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