Quiet, please! The ultimate, phone-free luxury

Is nothing private anymore?

This week I learned about a new neighbor’s move to Maine, a fellow dog walker’s medical diagnosis (in gruesome detail) and from our local supermarket’s aisle 8, a suspected office affair.

Did I sit down for a good chinwag with any of the bearers of this news? No, but I did happen to be in proximity to them while they loudly regaled all comers on their cellphones.

Annoying people making phone calls in public don’t seem to mind who can listen in on their most personal conversations. When asked, they’ll probably tell you that they usually head outside to chat, but I’m afraid the great outdoors just isn’t big enough anymore for private discussion. There’s simply nowhere to go to escape.

If I want to commune with nature and just do some thinking on my morning constitutional, chances are that someone, somewhere in the park is going to be fighting with the electrician who put the outlet in the wrong place, forcing me into their narrative. A little downtime with a relaxing cup of tea in the local coffee shop? It never fails that someone is yakking away about their latest project, ironically talking preternaturally loud to be heard above the normal conversational din. I actually look forward to the quiet enforced on long plane rides.(Note to the FCC: Please reconsider the idea of allowing phone calls on planes!)

Why do movie theatres, restaurants, doctors’ offices, courts, schools and even some churches all have to have signs banning cell phone usage or at least requesting that these little devices be turned to vibrate if not off altogether? (Don’t even get me going about weddings and funerals interrupted by some particularly strident ring tone as the thoughtless owner fumbles through a handbag or jacket to turn it off.)

Common courtesy demands consideration for those around you, but an insistent cellphone and an ensuing conversation in which you are not a party means you have to stop your life while they yammer on about theirs. It is simply too hard to tune out.

And if people aren’t annoying those around them with their phone calls, they are ignoring their companions by texting or checking to make sure they aren’t missing anything. Remember what it was like to actually have sparkling dinner conversation, when we just ate the food instead of Instagramming it first? When someone pulls out the phone, they are clearly communicating that they have better things to attend to than you.

What it all boils down to is one of the worst manifestations of narcissism – self-absorption and a complete disregard for others.

Of course, the great irony is that in a hyper connected world, we are longing for personal connection. Because of, or perhaps in spite of, our high tech, low touch world some interesting developments are taking place.

At Guthries Tavern in Chicago’s Lakeside neighborhood, cocktails, conversation and connection rule as people actually stow the cellphones in order to play board games with each other – Scrabble, Balderdash, Battleship, Candy Land, you name it. When we visited, not a single phone was out – and the line to get in stretched to some length.

San Francisco’s Unplug SF party at the Broadway Theater finds people lining up around the block to turn in their cell phones at the door and get down to the serious of business of fun, weaving friendship bracelets, painting faces, gluing things onto rocks and also playing board games.

Organized by Digital Detox, Camp Grounded, a gadget-free camp for adults, posts its requirements on the door: No digital technology, no networking, no work talk, no watches, no ageism. Its “Device-Free Tips”? “Instead of tweeting, share with someone near you” and “If you have the urge to Instagram, DRAW IT!”

And Digital Journal reports on a game called “The Phone Stack,” played “to get people talking to one another instead of being focused on their phone’s content” when a group goes out together. After ordering, everyone places the phone on the table. The first person to check their phone picks up the tab for everyone else. Now that’s an incentive to keep your phone tucked away!

Even Jack White of the Black Stripes is on the bandwagon, asking concert goers to keep their cell phones in their pockets both to live in the moment and as a common courtesy for others in the audience. White promises to film his shows for his audiences so they can go back and re-experience his show, as long as they don’t bring out their cell phones.

Disconnecting and being present where you are is the ultimate luxury.

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Susan Dench

About Susan Dench

Susan Dench is the founder and president of the fast-growing non-profit, non-partisan Informed Women's Network. Recognizing that many women are tired of "politics as usual," Susan decided to take action and develop strategies that are innovating the way women and politics intersect, nurturing and encouraging women in fun, energetic gatherings where views can be expressed in a supportive environment and then translated into practical solutions that produce results.