Cellphones not allowed!

Savannah Morning News

Oct. 28, 2017

“Firearms not allowed.” I like that sign when I’m going into a restaurant, a grocery store, a library. To me, it’s comforting. You never know when someone might go postal. People are crazy. I’d like to see that warning in universities, too. Oops. Not this year. Not in Georgia.

“Quiet zone.” That’s a good one too. I’ve seen it in certain Amtrak cars – mostly in the Northeast – where it works pretty well. No one but your friends and family (and maybe not even them) wants to hear about your botched meeting, your rotten boyfriend, your aching bursitis.

“Buckle your seatbelts.” Always a good idea even though I gotta say: I never thought I could get used to it way back when the signs and the laws went into effect, even going so far as to feeling insulted when seeing a sign telling me to do it. But somehow it worked. I’ll give them that. It was a good campaign.

By now those are some of the warnings we’re used to seeing. But here’s another sign I’d like to see: “Cellphones not allowed.” Put them in a basket by the front door when you enter your home. Leave them in your backpack when you drive. Stash them in your office drawer when you leave work. Forget about them when you go into a party, a dinner, a restaurant, a fundraiser, a boat ride.

I can hear it now. What about my camera? Fine, use the old-fashioned 35 millimeter type; even the point-and-shoot. How about my calendar? Get one of those pocket size versions. A calculator? Review your arithmetic; it couldn’t hurt. But. But. But. The picture of my new baby (insert grandbaby, dog, beautiful bloom, flowchart)? Slip them into your wallet if you must – or your crossbody bag.

Do we have to wait for someone to tell us to do this before we wake up and do it ourselves? Smartphones? I’m very close to going back to a dumbphone.

“Put me out of my misery,” I moaned the other day in the car when I couldn’t remember the actor in season two of Ben Ketai’s “Startup” on Crackle. “Not a pretty face, older, big head, great voice. One syllable first name.”

“Ron Perlman,” someone in the backseat announced, 4.1 seconds later.

Right. Now I’m not in misery anymore. Wrong. Because I really wasn’t in misery. You want misery? A neck ache is misery. Besides, I probably could have thought of it anyway if I had taken a deep breath and stretched my brain and my neck just a little, just a little. And what did it matter in the long run? Ten to one, I wouldn’t have remembered it 20 minutes later. And who cares?

Too much information. Too many interruptions. Addiction. Instead of crack we have phones. We’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled. We’ve been taken for a ride. Thank you, Steve Jobs. And we thought all he wanted to do was streamline how we listen to music.  Can we just talk? I find I have to put my cellphone two rooms away when I’m reading a book or else I’ll be peeking at the score of the Cubs’ game (well, not anymore, not this year; let’s not talk about that), I’ll be checking to see how many orders have come in for any of my books (“Hope springs eternal in the human heart” – thank you, once again, Alexander Pope), I’ll be glancing at my messages. For what? I wonder. What in the world can’t wait? I have no answer for that except to say it’s classical conditioned response, classic B.F. Skinner, psychology 101, classic action and consequences.

We are rats in a box waiting for the food to drop. So what if only one email – one message – out of 50 results in the sale of a book, a painting, a compliment? That’s all it takes. It’s what I used to say about golf when I played. One good shot. That’s all it took to get me to play again.

We are compelled to look at the screen. Even in a dark room like a movie theater. Does the person in front of me know or care who she is disrupting – what magical moment she is intruding upon – when she lights up the space around her to “check” on something during a movie? What about when this happens during ordinary conversations with friends? There must be some guilt attached to the act – some idea that it isn’t the right thing to do – when we see someone’s head lowering as if they’re about to nod off. But, no, they’re not nodding off. They are sneaking a look at the screen. They felt a vibration. Maybe phantom, maybe not. Someone wants them! Someone tried to call and it can’t wait. Someone very clever thought to term this “notification,” as in urgent, immediate, must-deal-with now.

Stash the urgency. Push back. Don’t believe the hype. You are smart, not your phone.

Cellphones not allowed.