I think we hate cellphones because they impose a pecking order.
First a disclaimer: Cellphones very nearly never bother me. When I'm on the highway next to someone using one, I pay a little closer attention, but that's about it. When I'm in the grocery line, and someone is chattering away, it doesn't even register. When I'm talking to someone and they, "have to take this call," nary a blip.
And yet, I see a lot of people who just despise the little doohickeys, and anyone who raises one to their ear.
Now, I did say, "very nearly." So, yes, I have been bothered by them on occasion. And so, I asked myself what it was that bugged me about the experience.
Most people don't mind someone walking up and interrupting a conversation. And a cellphone call is nearly the same thing.
So what's the difference?
We cannot interact with the person on the other end of the cellphone.
When a stranger walks into our conversation and interrupts us, they give us a nod and more or less ask permission to interrupt. When a stranger calls and interrupts us, the receiver of the call may never even admit that we are there. They just duck their head, and start talking. Suddenly, we are excluded even though we are standing right there.
The receiver of the phone call is making a second social connection, while we are actually being "cut" (socially ignored as an insult) during the connection we already had. The person on the other end of the phone just became more important than we are, and we may never even learn whom it was.
Of course, restaurant cellphone use is offensive for another reason entirely. Or is it? Everyone in the restaurant is talking, so it's not the talking that makes it bothersome. And nobody cares that the guy is cutting his girlfriend, or whatever the story might be. Instead, it is the inappropriate volume that gets to us. The phone conversation has to be as loud as it has to be, and it is not influenced by the environment. If he has to yell to be heard, we are going to hear his side of the conversation all over our own. The dude on his phone is cutting all of us by saying the person on the phone is important enough to interrupt every last one of us, and that without apology.
I bet it will not be too much longer before a form of etiquette will be found that makes it all cool again. Granted, us codgers won't cotton to it, but what else is new. Teens already explicitly recognize taking a call as a social cut, and aggressively punish each other for overmuch cutting. It cannot be too long before they come up with a way of taking a call and not offending their peers. It will probably involve the call receiver physically walking away, because that way he releases the ignored person from responsibility to hang around. Or the ignored person will be allowed to walk away without remorse.
Just thinking again.
PS#1: I thought about this as I was taking BlackBerry email at a restaurant. I was wondering if anyone hated cellphones enough to hate that a person alone at a table might use one.
PS#2: I wonder if the reason the phone use does not bother me is that I already consider myself to be at the bottom of the pecking order? I'm simply not high enough on the pecking order to be offended when one of my superiors takes a call. You see, one of the times that I do get miffed by the phone is when my daughter takes a call while we are talking. Maybe I'm just not ready to take that cut yet?
PS#3: Here is some cowboy cutting, if that kind of thing interests you. I happened upon it while searching for social cutting.