Cell phones: Freedom of speech or public nuisance?

It was great to read about the use of cell phone technology this week. This was an area where I feel like I was behind in adopting. My husband had a cell phone for about five years (granted it was a very basic Nokia with a 30-minute-a-month plan but a cell phone nonetheless) before I finally got one as well. I think I resisted because I saw people with cell phones who were so dependent on them, even addicted in a way. And it affected their social skills. I remember one time while I was in college at UW-L, I drove “home” for the weekend. I went out with some friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a long time. One friend in particular, while we sat having drinks, sat her phone on the bar and kept checking it and texting people. She was texting people who she saw on a regular basis – she hadn’t seen me in two months! I did not want to turn into that person.

Baron (2008) talks about this in her articles – cell phone etiquette (specifically in Japan but I think it can be applied to other cultures as well). Japan has created a culture where cell phone use is extremely high, yet manners and etiquette are still strongly in place. Cell phone use is strongly discouraged in public places. Are we, as Americans, just further behind in the evolution of cell phone technology use, or is our culture just “louder” and less concerned with offending others?

Although the Japanese have kept sacred the appropriate use of cell phones in public, they seem to be experiencing other negative effects from increased technology use. Caplan (2005) discusses this with respect to compulsive Internet use and decreased social skills.  This is what I felt like I was experiencing with my friend that I hadn’t seen in two months! From Caplan’s study, it seems like a vicious sequence of events:

Caplan 3

Photo source: Rott, L. (2013). Graph created in MS Word.

Despite my resistance, I ended up enjoying my cell phone – and, what joy I found with smartphones! I feel like I am much better connected and informed now. I also feel the sense of freedom Ishii (2006) describes in “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life” on pages 347 & 348. I am not tied to a landline phone, I can make calls or send emails from just about anywhere, and I am able to look up just about anything I need to, whenever I need to. For instance, if my husband and I go to dinner and we’re thinking about going to a movie afterwards, I can pull up my Flixster app and we can decide before dessert arrives whether or not to go. (And, yes, I almost always order dessert as I have the BIGGEST sweet tooth. Tiramisu is my favorite.) My phone is not so much a phone (combined, my husband and I use fewer than 200 minutes a month for voice calls), but a mini mobile computer.

I have also felt the loss of freedom Ishii describes. Shortly after I got my first smartphone (the Motorola Droid), I had to travel to Chicago for a conference for work. I had traveled for work before, but it was previously as more of a sales support person and I usually attended the conference with a sales manager or sales director who took care of corresponding with the home office and customers while we were away. However, I had recently been promoted to an account manager and was traveling with someone who was very new to the company so I had more responsibility – in my job function and as a mentor to the other employee. So, I needed to stay in the loop while out of town and set up my phone to access my work email.

This worked great during the conference. I was able to respond to client emails and take care of issues that otherwise may have had to wait until I returned in five days. I know this is very common practice now, but, at the time, this was revolutionary for me.

I kept the work email “hooked up” after the conference ended. That lasted about a month before I said enough was enough. I’d be sitting at home with my husband and I’d hear that tell-tale chime on my phone that differentiated a work email from my personal email. I felt compelled to check it. Finally, I decided I needed to leave work at work. Besides, my company wasn’t paying for my cell phone or data package. Was it really necessary to be THAT accessible?

Now that I’m using social media more lately and connecting with my clients in more online venues, I may be starting to change my mind about accessibility. Maybe.

* * *

P.S. An update for anyone who is wondering about my situation with my cable/Internet provider…so, I posted a complaint on their FB page and had a response in 24 hours. Upon the social media manager’s recommendation, I emailed a formal complaint. Communicating just via email over a period of about six days, I had all of my programming fixed (I was missing 20 channels) without having to upgrade for extra cost, my discounts are still in place and I also had an error on my bill corrected. I did not have to sit on the phone for an hour (which I’ve done before) or talk to a variety of customer service reps (they have different ones for different services and none of them talk to each other very well). Victory! I went back to the company’s FB page and made sure to put a very positive comment out there for them. The power of social media!

Posted on October 5, 2013, in Social Media, Society and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thanks, Lori, for sharing! I just wanted to leave a quick comment regarding your experience with the cable situation.

    When we read the chapter about companies responding quickly to customers who leave negative feedback on social media, I almost did not believe it, but actually hearing a real story convinced me that it works! I guess sometimes it does pay to speak your mind!

  2. evelynmartens13

    Hi Lori:

    I lost my cell phone more than I used it in the first couple of years I owned it (which really annoyed my husband). However, when my kids started to have phones of their own, I realized it was much easier to stay in touch with them if I texted them, so I became a rather early adopter of texting. All my kids were involved in theater and music after school, so it was easier for them to respond to a silent text than it was to answer the phone. Another rare time when I embraced technology way before my friends!

    But, just as with most everything we discuss, it has negative effects on my life, too. For one thing, I hate to talk on the phone now because I feel like I have way too much access and spend too much time on the phone. I don’t need to talk to my kids, my friends, and my mother everyday! Once again, too much of a good thing.

    And yes, our students on campus seem really to need some phone addiction counseling — answering their phones in class, in the middle of writing sessions, in the middle of conversations — it’s bizarre to watch. I”m thinking about posting some cell phone etiquette signs in our center, maybe borrow some ideas from the Japanese…

    I think turning off your work email was a very sensible thing to do! I’m pretty tied to mine, too,

  3. I think it is interesting comparing technology use to other cultures, and I think Japan is a good comparison because it is socioeconomically similar to the US. Unfortunately, I think the public immersion in technology is a downward spiral, and that increased etiquette is not a future stage in the evolution. Our culture would need to make a significant change to turn around the growing trend of public cell phone use.
    During my drive home from work, I see several people using cell phones. Some are walking, some are driving, and some are even biking. I’m very against texting while driving, because it does discract the driver. To me, it is very inconsiderate to all the other drivers that share the road with the texter. It is sad to me that other people don’t see it that way.
    I was also a late smartphone adopter. I think I’ve only been texting for about 2 years, and my texts are infrequent and pretty much only to my wife and a couple select friends. When I’m driving, I like to enjoy the peace and silence, or I talk to my wife and our 13 month old. My wife is quick to criticize my cell phone use, but she conveniently forgets all the time she spends looking at Facebook while I am driving us around. I’ve been tempted to point it out to her, but I’m not sure I need to go looking for a fight.

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