I don’t think that Sherry Turkle would be very pleased with Joe Queenan‘s column in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “The Ringing Insult of a Turned Off Phone” (March 11-12, p. C11).
Turkle, whose book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, 2015), was the subject of one of my presentations at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, argued that the presence of a cell phone on a table disrupts conversation. This is not because anyone is talking on it. Rather, it is that someone may call or text, and the potential for that to happen negatively impacts interpersonal communication. If you missed my synopsis, you can purchase the recording and handout at 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com.
Queenan’s column questions why anyone carries around a turned-off cell phone. In a funny analogy, he asks, “do they turn off their belts in the morning and then act surprised that they can’t get their pants to stay up the rest of the day….do they miss their dinner because they forgot to charge their fork?”
Further, “I have no problem with people turning off their phones at funerals. But there is actually a thing on cellphones called the silent mode. And yes, you can also put your phone on vibrate. If you know that someone is coming to meet you for lunch and might get stuck in traffic or be forced to bail entirely, what would possess you turn off your phone? Why not turn off your brain while you’re at it?”
These are two different perspectives on the purpose and impact of cell phones. Queenan, however, seems to hold cell phones to a higher standard than the old-fashioned landline. There are plenty of times someone called a landline and got busy signals or voice-mails, instead of a live person ready to talk. The impact is the same. The caller did not get to talk to the receiver.
But, think about this. Why you want to hold cell phones to a higher standard, especially with the threat to the quality and quantity of conversation, as Turkle discusses? What’s wrong with focusing on the person you are with F2F, and having a pleasant or worthwhile conversation?