Cell Phones, Selfishness and Strangers


I resisted as long as I could. I fairly despise myself for giving in. It is excruciating to even express the words, but with contrite heart I herewith confess that I recently bought a cellular telephone.

Something about the whole “you have to get one; everyone has one” argument never sat well with me. The idea that you invite a communications company to extort an unconscionable amount of money from your family every single month for the rest of your earthly lives is nauseating. And to think I have actually joined forces with all those distracted drivers who have nearly killed me countless times since all this insanity began is almost more than I can bear.

I was once a proud man stemming the tide of mass capitulation to the siren call of the cell phone. But here I sit, a shadow of the man I once was, wallowing in normalcy, a glassy-eyed conformist who has dutifully turned course to join the masses in their mesmerized march to the beat of this now standard mode of communication. Please just beam me up, Scottie, and put me out of my misery.

Younger generations will never share my angst in this matter. My children made this quite clear the moment they discovered their parents had purchased a cell phone. They broke into spontaneous dance on the living room floor, holding hands and singing in triumphant chorus: “We got a cell phone, we got a cell phone!” I wanted to puke.

The next morning they were up at dawn’s early light (a Saturday, no less!) programming the phone, discovering games, investigating options and doing whatever else they know how to do with the crazy thing despite having never done anything with it before. I must admit to benefiting from their intuitive capacities with all things digital, notwithstanding the son who miraculously converted my phone from English to Spanish with no clue how to reverse direction. When my Spanish vocabulary proved insufficient to remedy the situation I almost killed the kid. What I actually did was worse: he was forever banned from changing any settings without first obtaining my express written permission.

Our first incoming call was received while my wife and I ate breakfast at a restaurant. As her phone exploded out of nowhere with strains of Beethoven, our adrenaline level shot through the roof. When she was unable to free the little music box from her belt clip, panic set in. We both fumbled around with it in near desperation. It looked like the only solution involved removing clothing. Thankfully we got it figured out just in time to tell our giddy children on the other end that they had made successful contact with their liberated parents.

My aversion to cell phones is deepened by the haunting suspicion that a council of demons convened some time ago to brainstorm a tool by which to enculturate self-centered rudeness—and that the cell phone emerged as their unanimous choice. We all bear daily witness to this sinister conspiracy.

Real-life experiences flash before my mind’s eye. An approaching vehicle straddles the center line of the two-lane road near my house. I nearly roll my car to avoid a collision yet there is no indication the cell-talking driver even notices. A man enthroned in a stall of a public restroom takes an incoming call and conducts business while he conducts his business. Am I the only one who finds this appalling? A shopper is talking loudly to himself as he browses a shelf in a store aisle. Is he talking to me? Is he drunk? Insane? No, on further review he is speaking into a headset. Does anyone else find this obnoxious?

We may laugh much of this away, but it gets more serious. Routine, daily business used to force strangers and casual acquaintances to talk to one another. Today such conversations are routinely derailed by the cell phone. That awkward lull in the conversation that forces us to learn the discipline of segueing to a deeper level of communication with someone we do not know very well can be conveniently avoided with a push of the panic button—a friend’s number programmed into our cell phone. And such conversations can be avoided altogether as people choose to chatter aimlessly with a friend on the line, eliminating any potential of conversation with the less known person right in front of them. Comfort and security are chosen over expanded horizons.

Evidences of the new technology’s undermining of communication abound. One party strategically orchestrates an important two-way conversation only to have the receptor turn it into a three-way discussion by accepting an incoming call. Ringing cell phones have become one of the chief banes of the public speaker. On the other side of the equation, I have sat under instructors who have taken calls in the middle of a lecture—calls so important they could not wait until after class, yet so innocuous as to permit the entire class to listen in. I once watched a mother eat an entire meal at a restaurant while on her cell phone. Seated across from her was a forlorn looking little boy who ate his meal in silence. I wanted to cry for him.

Such are but a few of the pitfalls presented to us in this brave new world. In my way of thinking there is only one means by which to navigate them successfully. It is this (to borrow from several biblical texts): whether you eat, or drink, or use a cell phone, do everything—yes everything—for the glory of God and with compassionate love for others, and especially for strangers.

[node:bio/pastor-dan-miller body]

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There are 4 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


I should probably point out that Dan wrote this a few years ago. I saw him some months ago and he seemed to be surviving the transition to life-with-cell pretty well.
But I know the feeling... and he's right that people have found a whole bunch of new ways to express self centered rudeness with the advent of the cell phone... and now the smart phone.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

J.A.Sanders's picture

As a member of the younger generation - I'm 21 - I must admit, I too hate cell phones. Except for the fact it's the only way to keep in touch with friends back home, I'd pitch it in a heartbeat. Just remember, we aren't as all keen on the latest and greatest and we are painted out to be sometimes. Great Article!

1 Corinthians 10:31 - all for His glory

Susan R's picture


Our family would be called 'early adopters'. I personally love gadgets of all kinds, and am completely attached to my Droid. But it has silent mode and an 'OFF' button, and I use them liberally. Our kids still at home have had cell phones at an early age, and so far they have not abused the privilege. We've taught them that they are tools, not toys, even if we do have a bit of fun with them sometimes.

Aaron Blumer's picture


J.A.Sanders… I agree w/your point but I suspect you’re in a very small percentile!

I’m a gadget lover myself, but I do think we underestimate how technologies change the way we think and interact. (Niel Postman’s End of Childhood was a real eye opener on that for me… either that or it was Amusing Ourselves to Death).

This seems relevant…

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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