Generation Text

by maxmosher

 I hate my cell phone.  Okay, maybe ‘hate’ is too strong a word, but my complaints are myriad. I hate how quiet the ring is. I hate how, when typing, sometimes I have to press the button once, sometimes twice, in order to create a space. I hate how the money-grubbing phone company charges extra for caller ID, which I declined to pay for, so now when people call and say “Hi, it’s me” I have to wait until I recognize their voice until I say something incriminating.

What it comes down to is that I’m not a cell person. I only use it when I have to and, if I’m not waiting for a specific call, or I’m at a movie theatre or at work or out with friends or on a date, I turn it off. I got into text messaging when I was in Ireland (when I had a much thinner, cooler phone) so I do do that, but I treat it like email: I will reply to a message, but it might take me a little while.

For years I’ve been irritated by people who are obsessed with their phones (we all have friends who will be sitting at the bar with you, texting, or who believe that cell phone technology justifies them arriving late: “I tried calling you. Why didn’t you have your phone on?”) but I didn’t see the full extent of the phenomenon until I began working as an usher escorting teenagers to their seats.

Despite being informed when they enter the theatre, and again by an actor before the play begins, as soon as the house lights dim you will see high schoolers texting in the darkness, their faces illuminated by a ghostly white glow. I am always surprised by their inability to understand how bright their phones glare, allowing me to spot them very easily in the audience, and then how they assume I’m the one who doesn’t understand cellular technology.  

“Please turn off your phone.”

“It is off.”

“Please turn it off.”

Eye roll, “I turned it off!”

“Show it to me.”

The white rectangle shines like a scarlet A.

“Please turn it off.”

Melodramatic sigh, “Fine!”

I try to keep on top of the cell use partly because I’m supposed to but also because of principle: kids should respect the theatre and the actors and be able to turn off their phones for two hours. What kind of crazy ‘Degrassi’ drama do they think they’ll miss which they can’t catch up on the school bus ride home?

Marshall McLuhan said that it is impossible to evaluate a new media if you are steeped in the old media because you can only judge the new media through the prism of the old media’s values.  I’ve come to realize that, despite having less than a decade difference in ages, the high school students and I have fundamentally different ideas about what cell phones are.

I treat my cell like a phone, useful for making and receiving calls but otherwise a kind of annoying intrusion on my day to day life.

For teenagers, cell phones are not simply phones; they are watches, agendas, emails, radios, cameras, the internet, even flashlights, as I discovered one day when a late class were seated in the pitch black and waved around their phones like glow-sticks at a rave, with me scrambling around trying to keep them quiet, get them seats and turn the damned things off.

Cell phones are mentally an extension of their brains and physically a part of their hands. And, as my cousin Breanna just pointed out to me, they don’t remember a time without them.

Who am I (sigh, eye roll) to ask them to turn them off?

And it’s not just teenagers. My friend Jeremy recently spotted a grown man in a movie theatre, texting the entire time. The fact that he spent thirteen dollars to see Ryan Reynolds get all sweaty in a wooden box couldn’t keep him from his text messages. “What’d you think?” his friends asked him afterwards. “Meh. Couldn’t really get into it.”

So maybe I’m an old fogey, a crotchety old crank who’s stubbornly clinging to customs as antiquated as calling cards and chaperones. Maybe the tide is relentlessly and inevitably gushing the other way, and I’m Rachel Weisz in ‘Agora’ as she futilely tries to halt the onslaught of torch-bearing hordes from destroying the classical library of Alexandria. I don’t care. No matter how wittily irreverent you believe your tweet idea is, the human beings around you (be they actors or audience members, friends or dates) deserve more respect than your phone.

Plz turn it off.