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We're Too Hung Up on Our Cellphones

August 21, 2004|Kathy Pezdek | Kathy Pezdek is a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont.

This year we had a crisis in our local high school. A number of my son's freshman classmates showed up drunk at a school dance. One passed out and was taken to a hospital. This may happen frequently in this country, but it was a crisis for the moms because it was our first experience with high school drinking.

We arranged an afternoon meeting with about a dozen mothers to talk about the situation. We talked about important issues and made real progress. What could be more important than forming a united front among parents to establish some common rules and a supportive environment for our kids?

Apparently something could be. The meeting was constantly punctuated by incoming and outgoing cellphone calls. At most times, at least one of the dozen moms was on her cellphone. What were these women talking about on their phones that was more important than what we were talking about in our meeting?

As I listened in, the callers were monitoring things at home: making sure that everyone had arrived home safely, that homework was getting done, that everyone had a snack. I was baffled. These are good things for parents to do, but was it really necessary to interrupt our discussion with these phone calls? After all, our meeting had been scheduled for several days, and in each of these homes at least one child was of high school age.

Cellphones started out as a way to make our lives simpler. My sons can phone us when baseball practice is over rather than having us wait in the parking lot. I can phone home from the market to see how much milk is in the refrigerator. I can talk to colleagues while they commute.

Certainly, cellphones are a convenience. The problem is that they have taken on a life of their own. They have created the habit of constantly "checking in," a habit that can easily outlive its usefulness.

A friend recently asked me: "Why are we moms always so busy? Was your mom this busy all of the time?" I suspect that we are imposing much of this busyness on ourselves, and our cellphones provide another vehicle for multi-tasking, creating an unnecessary urgency about tracking where our family members are and ensuring that even away from home and office we can still be working on our to-do lists.

Just because the technology to "reach out and touch somebody" is in my purse does not mean that I have to do so. Maybe the face-to-face discussion that I was having with the other moms at our meeting was the only thing that I needed to be doing for those 90 minutes.

I don't know if my own mother's life was more or less busy than mine is, but she had the good sense to prioritize, and the important things always got done. Even with five children, she didn't need a cellphone to do them.

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