Cellphones - socially more harmful than beneficial

To start off, I do not intend to suggest that cellphones have no beneficial uses. One clear example would be to call for assistance while traveling. Nor is the technology itself inherently good or bad. But I do see detrimental effects of the manner in which I see cellphones being used the majority of the time, and I do not perceive the outweighing benefits.

To start off, I’ll suggest what I consider two significant detrimental effects of how cellphones are used.

First, they create an unneccessary sense of urgency. Why do people feel they need to be accessible 24/7? Seems to me that families and businesses existed just fine prior to the cellular age.

Second, they devalue in-person interpersonal interaction. People are less willing to explore and enjoy the possibilities of their immediate surroundings. Instead, they prefer a vicarious relationship over the ether.

Anyone know where the Chicago-area Luddites meet? :wink:

Well, like any technology or facility, surely it is really all about the way it is used? Some people just will be dickheads, no matter what. After all, it is perfectly possible to be rude to people even with the use of a nice old-fashioned book - reading at breakfast etc.

I do have one, and I seldom use it - although it is useful to let people get to me when I am online. It is also useful in giving me a sense of security if out and about, as I am a pretty anxious and panicky person (and yes, I do make use of doctor about this, as well as cellphone!)

One does not need to be available 24/7 - they can be switched off, and mine often is, as I do NOT want it ringing in shops and so on.

The can be used or abused, and I don’t think they are unique in that.

I could mention the ways in which I dislike seeing them used, but it really would be a pretty predictable list, honestly.

And I am pleased that it looks as though using a cellphone while driving will shortly become a specifically chargeable offence in the U.K.

If you are going to list harms and benefits, you cannot neglect to count people’s choice to use cellphones as a benefit. That turns out to be a pretty big benefit.

The Brookings Institute, for instance, did a cost/benefit analysis of the use of car phones, and found that the use of them came out ahead.


(Steven Landberg summarizes the study in this column: http://slate.msn.com//?id=2061330 )

Now, you may not like the theory behind the C/B analysis, but if so I’d like to hear what you mean by “more” harmful than beneficial.

You know, cellular phones do have an ‘off’ switch. I use mine frequently. :wink:

The point is that you can choose to be accessible anytime, anywhere (as my sister does, though the ringer is off during movies and other times when it would be rude). You can choose not to be (as I do - I usually just keep the phone in the car in case of emergencies, and as a portable answering machine). I don’t see anything wrong with having the choice to be accessible if you want.


I find it ironic that you would post something like this on an Internet message board. If such a thing were true then it would apply equally - if not more so - to Dopers!

I disagree, however. Technology doesn’t dictate society’s rules or expectations. Would you consider someone a friend if they would only speak to you on their cell phone? Obviously not. I don’t know anyone who sees other people in person less because of a cell phone. Rather, I think the opposite is true! It is a lot easier to coordinate plans with a person or a group of people with a cell phone. I travel to see friends back in Madison, WI, where I went to college. I give out my cell phone number so that I’m reachable and to coordinate plans. The end result is very satisfactory – I don’t have to head to a base and check the answering machine, and wait, wait, wait until someone gets home from work (or whatever). I can go out, turn off the ringer if I want to, and check messages from anywhere, and call back at my leisure. It’s a freedom that I enjoy.

The reason I got the phone was because I had an hour-each-way commute, and after breaking down and being stranded with only a pay phone that couldn’t receive calls. Fortunately, my sister had a cell phone and happened to be relatively close by (compared to where the house is), and came to help me get a tow and drove me home, but the whole process needlessly took several hours.

I think as cell phones become more prevalent, etiquette and expectations will become more refined. It isn’t acceptable to jump up and have an extended, social phone conversation when you have guests over. I expect that, in the future, we will have similar social rules for cell phone use. Yes, there will probably always be jerks who abuse cell phones (and regular phones, the Internet, and other technology), but I can’t see how that supports cell phones or any particular technology being harmful more than beneficial.

Thanks for your quick responses. Limited time now - will get back tomorrow.

Glanced at the BI c/b report Apos. An initial observation is that the type of concerns I express are not simply stated in “economic” terms. Therefore, if the basis for comparison is efficiency and profit, cellphones clearly will come out ahead.

My concern is less focussed. It seems to me that efficiency is increasingly valued as a goal in itself. What do we intend to do with all of this time we are “saving?” Situations such as you describe, fluiddruid certainly make sense. When you are trapped in a car for prolonged periods of time, either for a commute or travel. Of course alternatives would be to change your home or workplace to reduce your commute. And you suggest the benefit of coordination. Spontaneity and unpredictability can be quite rewarding. Moreover, the folk I see on the commuter train, or walking down the sidewalk, do not seem to be satisfying a need for accessibility as you describe.

And I’m not really talking about manners - idiots who talk too loudly on their phones, or fail to turn them off in movies. To me, there is something [imperfect word]sad[/imperfect word] about two people walking down the street where one or both are yakking away on their cellphones. Personally, I prefer a society where people appreciate the people and places where they ARE, instead of constantly trying to keep in touch with people and places where they AREN’T. I’m suggesting that the manner in which cellphones are far too frequently used devalues in-person communications and the full experience and appreciation of one’s current surroundings.

I submit that in some respect the “ignoring” of people in your immediate presence, is somewhat rude. It devalues even strangers’ existence, and removes even the remote possibility of chance interaction among strangers.

My cellphone relieves my sense of urgency. I don’t have to hurry to get to work early (my normal start time is later, but sometimes I need to come in early), or hurry back from lunch, because I know that if something really important comes up, my coworkers can call me.

What’s so important about my physical location anyway? Why is that the only thing I’m supposed to be thinking about? Why are the people who are near my physical location - who are probably strangers to me - more important than my friends?

— An initial observation is that the type of concerns I express are not simply stated in “economic” terms.—

If so, then it becomes very hard to speak sensibly about anything being “more” or less harmful. “Economic” terms are simply our best guesses at trying to quantify value so that we can compare it: we might have to come up with some neat tricks to value in your concerns, but it’s not impossible, and if we don’t do so, then we are stuck basically venting at a wall, with no way to compare harm to benefit in any meaningful fashion.

For instance, that report spends most of its time trying to value human life, as one of the major costs of cellphone driving is the cost to human life. We might claim that human life is of infinate value: but this is ridiculous: no one lives their life like that, and plenty of people take risks to their life for certain benefits. Neither is life cheap. The above study uses the metric of about 6.6million per life.

—It seems to me that efficiency is increasingly valued as a goal in itself.—

People say this a lot, but I think it’s mostly wrong. If people are increasingly concerned about efficiency, I still doubt that it’s because it’s a “goal in itself.” The whole point of efficiency is that it allows you to do more with less: meaning that you have the chance to do more overall.

—What do we intend to do with all of this time we are “saving?”—

That’s sort of irrelevant. People will do what they value the most: it’s their choice. But it seems safe to assume that the choice to have more free time is a choice that it’s worthwhile to offer people.

—Of course alternatives would be to change your home or workplace to reduce your commute. And you suggest the benefit of coordination. Spontaneity and unpredictability can be quite rewarding. Moreover, the folk I see on the commuter train, or walking down the sidewalk, do not seem to be satisfying a need for accessibility as you describe.—

But these options are STILL open, even with the existence of cellphones. That’s sort of the point. If people choose to use cellphones the way they like, the general assumption is that they want to, above all the other options. Perhaps you’d enjoy other things: but only this person is the most likely best judge to figure out what choices best fit their preferences.

—I’m suggesting that the manner in which cellphones are far too frequently used devalues in-person communications and the full experience and appreciation of one’s current surroundings.—

Maybe: but again, there’s a good preliminary reason to think that even if this harm exists, it’s outweighed by the benefits. What’s that reason? Simple: that people choose to do it at all.

I know a dozen or so people who have cell phones, and I’ve never heard any of them say they want a cell phone so they can be accessible all the time, Instead, they get one so they can be contacted if necessary.

Families and businesses existed just fine before computers, cars, and FedEx, but that doesn’t mean that those things added nothing of importance.

I’ve no particular problem with that. Over the past few months, I developed a raving flirtation with young lady in Houston, where I occasionally work but do not live. She in turn is on the move most of the day and works on a completely different schedule. I feel I’m a much better person for knowing her, and if we didn’t talk via cellphone regularly, it would be very difficult to maintain any sort of relationship at all.

Actually, I find that there are certain people in my life that I interact with more often now that I have a cell phone (only the last few weeks, BTW). My grandparents, for example: they live a time zone ahead of me, and they go to sleep early, frequently before I can get home from work and any after-work commitments. If I have a cell phone, I can call and talk to them when I’m in transit. Plus, with free evenings and especially free weekends, I can talk to them for long stretches without it breaking the bank.

Mine is turned off most of the time. I only turn it on if I’m expecting a call or about to make a call. It’s an especially great convenience if you’re trying to coordinate a bunch of people who are all coming frm different places; I never would have been able to meet up with at least half of the people who went to BluesFest with me in Grant Park, because they all came at different points throughout the evening, and we never would have been able to find each other. For busy people, I think that it actually promotes in-person social interactions for that reason.

At college I always find it funny to see that as soon as we get out of class or go on a break, 95% of the people instantly have their cell phones glued to their ears. Not that I have anything important to say to these people, it’s just funny how quickly they seem to feel they must check their messages.

Another quick story: A year or so ago there was a girl I saw on campus whom I found to be really attractive, and to whom I really wanted to talk. Unfortunately, everytime I got up the nerve to say something to her, she was talking on her cell phone. Every time! How do you try to put your mack down when the lady is gossiping on the phone every time you see her?

BTW, I do own a cell phone, which I’ve only had for a couple weeks. Having your car break down on you in the middle of the road in rush hour in the Washington DC area will make you seriously rethink your personal policy on cell phones very quickly.

I have a cell phone, have for two years now, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

-When I’m meeting a friend and I’m not quite in the right spot, he’ll call my cell from a pay phone and I’ll be able to track him down.

-When I’m on break from work and have 10 minutes to get in touch with somebody, I don’t have to race for the pay phone

-People don’t mind calling me last-minute to come out downtown. They never used to, because I’d always be too far away and I’m never sure what I’m doing the night before… I don’t spend much time at home anyway, and apart from trekking across the city to find me there’s not much anyone could do to locate me.

-At least three times, one of my friends has used my cell to reach me at a time of personal crisis for them, all three times I counted myself lucky to be available

-I sleep next to my cell with my home phone ringer turned off. If the home phone rings, it could be for my roommate. If my cell rings at 3Am, I know I’d bloody well better get up and answer it.

Thanks again for all of your answers. Looks like my views are clearly in the minority. Nothing new there! :wink:

The first paragraph on Lord Ashtar’s post was the kind of thing that set me on this train of thinking. I recently took a flight from Cincinnati to Chicago. Maybe 45 minutes in the air. And as the plane pulled up to the gate and folks stood up in the aisle, I was impressed by the number of folk who had their cells out before they got off the plane. Made me wonder what the heck they thought might have happened over the last 45 minutes, or what efficiencies they were creating by phoning right away.

I guess I’m odd, but I value the fact that I am “unreachable” much of the time. We bought our cell when my kids got to an age where they did not need a babysitter. On the rare occasions that wife and I go out, it is easier than to track down the number of wherever we are going. I’ve spoken on cell phones maybe 10 times in my life. Of course, I pretty much dislike talking on the phone anytime.

And I think that anyone who uses a cell phone on a golf course should be throttled!

I value being unreachable. That’s why I switch my mobile off when I don’t want to be contacted. I also value being reachable in case of emergencies, and to be able to reach people myself. I travel a lot; being able to report delays, changes of plan, communicate with my colleagues in the office from any location and arrange and update social events easily are of great benefit to me. I could live happily without a phone, but it reduces the stress in my working and social life in that I can contact others when the need arises and they can contact me. If the stress of being contactable becomes irritating, I switch the mobile off or leave it at home.

I disagree with both of your initial criticism, to be honest. Unnecessary urgency is only a problem if you choose to allow it; while I’m sure some people do, I generally avoid using my mobile to be permanently contactable.

On the subject of relationship damage, again I’m not sure why this is an inevitable offshoot of the existence of mobile phones rather than something inherent about the person who uses the mobile in that way. I keep my mobile calls short and to the point – or even use text messages – because I’m generally trying to do something else while using the mobile (walking, working, on public transport) and don’t see it as a ‘fun’ device. An SMS message will never replace a decent conversation down the pub for me!

Families and businesses also existed just fine before the automobile. That’s hardly the point.

There isn’t any more of a sense of urgency with a cell phone than with a regular phone. Maybe there was in the past when cell phones and cell phone airtime were more expensive. “What is so important that you have to waste my free minutes?!”

I’m not sure what you mean. Maybe you prefer skipping through nature smelling trees and such. Generally, most people talk on their cell phone because they are conducting business, they are trying to set up plans for later or they don’t feel like talking to the randoms who happen to be close by.
Cell phones are a tool that allows you to stay connected to the people you want to connect with. You have not presented a compelling argument that this is a bad thing or infridges in any way on normal human interaction.

And what’s wrong with that? :smiley:

msrobyn - I had no delusions of presenting a compelling argument. Perhaps my OP would have fit better under IMHO.

The urgency of which I speak is not a desire to conserve costly minutes. Instead, it is a sense that every urge, no matter how minor, must be satisfied NOW.

Moreover, I sense that on one level, cellphones are encouraging a subtle change in the fact that it is increasingly easy for people to exist in 2 or more places at once. No longer are you simply walking down the street in XYZ-ville. At the same time, you can be speaking with someone on the other side of the world. This strikes me as a significant change in our perception or place and relationships. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but I consider it a change.

Well, if pressed, I’d probably put it down as a slight negative. Of course, I hate being put on call waiting as well. I favor concentrating on what and who is presently physically around me. If someone chooses to take a cell call while we are speaking, unless it is pretty damn important (and in my experience, it has never been to date) I’ll take it personally. Almost get the sense that people are always looking out for “something better” happening “someplace else.”

Well, yes, people can use mobiles very rudely, and I wouldn’t argue that that’s a negative. Certainly for me, though, the positives of being able to choose when I can be contacted outweight the irritation I feel when others use mobile phones inconsiderately.

Mind you, I think all mobiles should legally be required to have a vibrating tone and no ringtone. And anyone who can’t keep their voice down should get one with a built-in helmet.

I think this is silly. Cell phones are nothing but tools. This is like arguing hammers and screwdrivers are more harm than good. Its all how you use them.

May the mediocrity of several greeting-card salesman inhabit your soul like unmatched buttons in a empty mayonaise jar.