Mind if I text you?

My trainee sat quietly as I explained what her temp job with my company would involve.

“You’ll want to make sure the changes have been made to the document,” I instructed.

“Hmmm,” came the response.

“We’re not responsible for typos the client has created,” I added.

“Mmm-hmm.”

“And be sure that you make your marks legibly,” I said.

“Mmmm,” she seemed to say. “Mmmmm. Hmmmm. Mmmm.”

Finally, it occurred to me that this rather stout woman wasn’t voicing acknowledgement that she understood my instructions. Instead, the low vibrating noise was coming from the vicinity of her lap. Perhaps she was pregnant instead of chubby, and the baby, ready to be delivered, was clearing its throat to get her attention. Or maybe she had swallowed an electric razor and it was getting ready to pass.

No, wait — that’s right, this is the twenty-first century. It must be her cell phone set to vibrate.

“Do you need to get that?” I asked, gesturing toward her crotch, and immediately regretting the move.

“Oh, it’s just my cell getting a text,” she said. “It can wait till later.”

Text messaging is one part of the wireless revolution that I can vigorously endorse. Like most people my age, I feel I should be annoyed by others talking on their cell phones. For one thing, they’re almost inevitably younger than I am, which I resent. They also seem to have friends, friends who want to talk to them with such urgency that they can’t wait to get near a land line. The conversation must be had now, regardless of whether they’re in the middle of outpatient surgery, being sentenced to prison, or sitting on the can.

I prefer texting to phoning for a number of reasons. I like to type. I like to get to a little thing I like to call “the point.” I like to know that I’m not interrupting something important on the other end of the line.

When I do have to call someone’s cell phone, I’ll typically text them first and ask if it’s a good time to talk. The portability of cells means they’re being carried everywhere, and not all of these places are places that civilized people want to talk. My sister finds this habit highly amusing, but I think she genuinely appreciates the opportunity to avoid talking to me.

Then there’s the issue of concern for who might overhear the other end of the conversation. I’m really more amused than bothered when I listen in on strangers’ discussions. It’s a little peek into lives almost always more interesting than mine, and I enjoy the voyeurism of it all. I wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of allowing this to happen on airline flights, as is now being considered. The babble of several hundred businesspeople confined in a space where they have nothing better to do than talk is an even more frightening prospect to me than catastrophic decompression at 30,000 feet. Allow wireless on jets and too many of us will be thinking about which type of explosives cause the least amount of chafe in our shorts.

It is a little irksome hearing about all the things going on in my coworkers’ lives while I’m trying to earn a living. I was minding my own business at my terminal the other day when a woman walked up behind me and cooed, “I love you so much.” Needless to say, she wasn’t talking to me but instead to a distant boyfriend. Another employee gets calls from her daughter asking what time it is. Several have idiot husbands who think their wives can mystically triangulate where their favorite shirt is from 20 miles away.

Worse than the chatter are the ring tones. For security reasons, we’re really not supposed to be taking calls on our cells at our desks, so one dutiful data entry lady always jumps up and heads for a small alcove near the door whenever Michael Jackson starts crooning “got to be there … in the morning.” Even if I need her to be here instead of there, to enter my sales order, she sprints off to learn the latest developments in Bob’s half-hearted search for employment.

Of course, the worst scenario is in the bathroom, where a surprising number of people have no problem at all mixing the sound of their voice with less musical tones being emitted from elsewhere on their persons. There’s little that’s more disconcerting than to hear a conversational opening in the stall next to you, and wondering if it’s you who’s being addressed or some distant acquaintance tuning in via satellite. Even once you’re relieved to learn it’s Frank, not you, who’s being told “yeah, I thought that was a great game [gurgling noise] but I felt sorry for Favre,” I still feel compelled to muffle my own sounds. Nobody wants to see, smell, taste or feel what’s going on in a presumably private setting; why would they want to hear it?

Cell phones have become so common that it now strikes me as unusual not to see them. When I stop by the local college to visit my son, I feel sorry for the two or three people in the crowd of pedestrians who have to be content listening to their iPods rather than phoning a friend. They seem lost, and frequently fall down from sheer loneliness. I even imagine there will be cell phone conversations in the afterlife, though the angels will obviously be having fewer dropped calls (because of the antenna-like haloes) than will their counterparts suffering eternal damnation downstairs. You’ve got to think all that hellfire will play havoc with decent reception.

I’ll take texting over talking any day, even though I realize there are safety concerns when you try to do it in a moving vehicle. I saw in the news yesterday where the Department of Transportation has banned texting by truck and bus drivers, probably a good idea considering the size of their rides compared to my Honda Civic. But I think, at the same time, we’re missing a great opportunity to open up the conversation on America’s roadways as a way to stifle road rage and other aggressive driving habits. Think about how much better we’d all get along if every car had its driver’s cell number posted in the rear window, and we could openly discuss constructive suggestions for improved motor vehicle operation.

I could preload “you goddam moron :(” into my Quick Notes and be ready to meet the world head-on.

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30 Responses to “Mind if I text you?”

  1. tom1950 Says:

    I remember a while back that some brilliant person thought every car should be equipped with one of those suction-dart shooting spring guns. When some idiot did something in front of you a push of a button would cause a well aimed dart to shoot out and adhere to the idiot’s car. The moral was “stay away from cars with lots of darts stuck to it”.

    I like your idea better now that we can communicate directly with the idiot in question.

    T.O.M.

  2. tom1950 Says:

    I remember a while back that some brilliant person thought every car should be equipped with one of those suction-dart shooting spring guns. When some idiot did something in front of you a push of a button would cause a well aimed dart to shoot out and adhere to the idiots car. The moral was stay away from cars with lots of darts stuck to it.I like your idea better now that we can communicate directly with the idiot in question.T.O.M.

  3. Flashizal.web.id Says:

    I remember a while back that some brilliant person thought every car should be equipped with one of those suction-dart shooting spring guns.

  4. “Hello. This is the car behind you. Please stop driving like a dumbass.” « Because No One Asked Says:

    […] DavisW has an excellent idea! Think about how much better we’d all get along if every car had its driver’s cell number posted in the rear window, and we could openly discuss constructive suggestions for improved motor vehicle operation.I could preload “you goddam moron ” into my Quick Notes and be ready to meet the world head-on. […]

  5. L Says:

    Really enjoyed this!

    On a personal note, however, I prefer calling than texting. When I get a text regarding something important like a deadline or requirement, it’s so easy to overlook with (insert other significant messages from other people here).

    Plus, there’s a whole “non-confrontational” culture being encouraged with texting, isn’t there? People would purposely not pick up calls because they prefer messages saying everything at once without the awkwardness of actual conversation.

  6. Comedy Mike Says:

    It is annoying when a person 3 feet away from you starts talking like they’re talking to you, but they are just on a cell phone. Hey, nobody else is around, why are you in my personal space? Talking, and not to me? Rude!

  7. mackaroto Says:

    Texting>Talking by a mile.

  8. Jeannie Says:

    Loved your post and I wholeheartedly agree with you except on the texting part. I hate texting but I also hate talking on the phone, any phone, so I’ll take the lesser of two evils if it’s going to get me off the phone with you faster. I recently had some trouble with my cell phone and I found myself pondering leaving it broken just so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. “Aww, sorry my phone is broken. Write me a letter!”

    In regards to your last paragraph, I’ve often thought about getting one of those light up scrolling marguee signs and hanging it in the back window of my car. That way as you pass some jerk who’s pissed you off you can flash him a message. Yours works quite well.

  9. Dangrabat Says:

    There is never any communication with idiots.

  10. Thomas Stazyk Says:

    Great post. We need a guide to cell phone etiquette and you’re off to a good start.

    My favourite is people with those things in their ears talking away animatedly in airports. At first I thought they were crazy. Now I recognize them as self important.

  11. tammy Says:

    Awesome blog! Thanks!

  12. JJ Says:

    I started reading thinking there would be something I could add to what you might have left out, but you were so thorough and well written I will treasure your words. You must be a professional writer as in news columnist….I am sure it is much easier to express oneself verbally for most rather than text as in be able to write. Writing is a lost art. I enjoy savoring a William F Buckley but of course Buckley was as much known for the way he said things as well as what he said. So the joy of speaking is lost in this age where many get on the cell to say nothing of importance. I find the cell a distraction to enjoying what is right in front of you.

  13. shutterboo Says:

    I hate it when people are on the phone in the bathroom! It’s rude not only to the person on the other end but to everyone in the room trying to do their business. Just today I felt bad using the bathroom while the janitor took a call in public restroom. So I did what any other annoyed person would do: got over myself and flushed the toilet a few more times than necessary.

  14. lifedujour Says:

    great post…very insightful, funny, and honest. we’ve all been there.

  15. duffboy Says:

    “They seem lost, and frequently fall down from sheer loneliness”. That’s quite sensitive, man. Great to see you got featured on the WP home page… and me, randomly appearing at the end of your post 😉

  16. Lakia Says:

    I absolutely LOVE texting… I probably text like 12,000 per month! I don’t even use my minutes hardly.

  17. softballgirl78 Says:

    This is a good post. In certain situations yes I think texting is the appropriate move. I dislike talking on the phone so I probably do it more than I should, but even though it is more convenient texting makes conversations void of emotion which sometimes is annoying. It is harder to be sarcastic or make a joke because it isn’t communicated the way it would be talking with inflection.

  18. clarkrealestate Says:

    In Australia, we’re not allowed to use mobile (or cell for you guys) phones in cars unless they’re being used with a hands free device like a bluetooth headset or something similar. And that’s for any kind of vehicle.

  19. Tara Aarness Says:

    This was a great blog and I can easily relate to a few things.

    First, I, too, hate talking on the phone and avoid it at all costs (I’ll actually bribe – or blackmail – others in calling someone for me or answering the bloody phone. Yes, I know, I probably need therapy), so texting/emailing, even one on one conversation, are my choices of communication.

    Second, my sister and I only communicate in writing, just so we can nitpick one another easier (only kidding; I think…).

    Third, you’re quite right – Why not have the drivers cell listed on their vehicles? Think of the various advantages to this. You can polietly inform the driver ahead that the light did, in fact, turn green, and that yes, they can consider the text message an engraved invitation to go. If you’re single and like what you see in another car, you can simply text that person and maybe get a date out of it. Not to mention simply end loneliness while stuck in rush hour traffic. Brilliant idea you have there!

  20. Bry Says:

    Nice post… I actually would mind if you text me… thanks for asking first!

    I agree with your comments about situations in which a text is more appropriate then a phone, however I don’t find texting cost effective. People without text plans pay a dime or more a text? Doesn’t seem like an appropriate cost model given that it uses only a fraction of the bandwidth required for a phone call. Now, what I still need to do is make some estimates and calculate how many texts someone needs to do to make the money spent for a text plan cost effective…

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of textual communication… I try to get most phone calls redirected to instant messanging clients.

  21. blackwatertown Says:

    No please no – don’t allow mobile phone conversations on airliners. Though if you did, and factored in the ever-lengthier security checks, body scanning and shrinking hand baggage allowances – it could just be enough to stop me from flying. (Oh yeah, all that and concern about climate change, of course.)

  22. Nancy W Says:

    I definitely prefer to text over talking on the phone. But sometimes texting is a cope out. For example asking a girl out via a text obviously is acceptable now, but i think at one point you should call the girl, if not just because you want to hear her voice, but to make sure that the wit you think she has is not just delayed responses.

    And another thing, i am a student in college, and walking time is usually my time to talk on the phone. Catch my parents up on the way to class, or call the boyfriend but only when im walking. When i get to a point where i am standing in a crowd i usually find an excuse to get out of the call and text or email whoever i was talking to.

    • Thomas Stazyk Says:

      With all due respect, I spend a lot of time at a university too and one of the most irritating things is people who are walking along at half speed and blocking traffic when talking on the phone or texting. Please find a bench to sit on and stay out of the way.

  23. rajat Says:

    nice post. some times people just forget where they are, and other’s privacy, they just start voicing their opinion not only to the person on the other hand but towards the whole world. just horrible..

  24. S Fox Says:

    While texting is preferrable to talking on a phone, it is still a form of communication and therefore reprehensible, since it distracts us from the silent solipsism of questioning our own existence.
    Would a modern-day Descartes haver queried, “Texto ergo sum”… and would he have got a reply?

  25. Mars Says:

    haha… I agree about the bit about talking on the phone while in the bathroom. Poor judgment! Your post really hit home with the kind of world we inhabit today–add in affordable mobile world wide web access, and most of us are inseparable from our cellphones!

  26. Natalie Says:

    Let me say as an exchange student in Japan I’ve seen tons of differences between mobile phone use here vs the States. The main thing is that people almost never, ever make phone calls – it’s all texting! The main reason is prob because it costs money to make calls (no minute plans here).

    Also about the plane thing. It should totally not be OK to talk on the phone on a plane. You wouldn’t do it in the metro, an airplane is no different!! Texting is of course a different matter…

  27. slamdunk Says:

    Through I don’t text frequently you are right in the advantages that you list. Well done.

  28. sravan953 Says:

    Nice article…

    http://www.fotolusion.com

  29. Rachel Says:

    I was thinking I might have something witty or clever to add to this, but you’ve hit all the nails on their heads! I do prefer texting to talking, but the only real reason I even have a cell phone is for traveling purposes. And so I can give that number out to salespeople, etc. when they request a phone number. No one needs to know that I rarely turn the thing on!

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