Disliking Other People's Cell Phone Conversations

It's probably an age thing.

But I dislike being around people using cell phones. It isn't just the voices - loud and oblivious; it's the generally distracted air that envelops such people. The sense that they are somewhere else. To me, cell phone users look vaguely foolish - sort of the way people look when having sex. (Somebody - Chris Rock, Richard Pryor did a piece on that.)

I'm sure part of it is simply resentment. (I refuse to text. I will not tweet. And sex... well.) However, based on something I read, my bias, although still mostly an old person's nattering, might have some scientific justification.

My active interest (more than just vague annoyance) began with recent stories on TV citing studies about how dangerous it is to drive while using cell phones (to text or talk). Apparently driving while using cell phones ranks right up there with DWI and DUI (although I suppose the latter could technically include any sort of influence).

What surprised me was that it is not just the mechanical difficulty of simultaneously handling a cell phone and driving a car. Even using a hands-free device is dangerous. It is something about the cell phone conversation itself.

This led me to wonder if talking on a cell phone is more dangerous than talking with someone who is physically present in the car? Which led me to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology .

The study shows that talking on a cell phone is more distracting (and dangerous) than talking with someone who is physically present in the car. The difference is context. People in face-to-face conversation share a physical context. When in a car, both people are aware of their surroundings, of the traffic. The surroundings can become a part of the conversation.

People in cell-phone conversations do not share a physical context. They don't even exist in the current physical reality. Each speaker, withdrawn from the here and now, exists in a third reality of the conversation itself. There is only the other person's voice. It is another world. No wonder technology that enables such escape sells so well.

It easy to see why being oblivious to physical surroundings would make cell phone users so dangerous behind the wheel.

It might also help explain why cell phone users are so annoying. Being oblivious and indifferent to one's physical context means being oblivious and indifferent to the people who share that context. It seems rude. Maybe when we withdraw into cell phone conversations we violate basic protocols that define how strangers share space. Perhaps a minimal awareness is required (not eye contact at least not in urban environments - maybe just a sense of others presence).

Then again we the offended might simply have personal boundaries issues, be paranoid, - be old.

(And yes, I do have a cell phone and I use it.)

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