A Nurse with a Gun

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cellular Existentialism

In the early 1990s. I was new to nursing, and pagers were new to the marketplace. Many hospitals purchased pagers and gave them to emergency, and surgical staff of their facilities, allowing them to be summoned instantly if needed. I remember those times. If a nurse did not have a pager, well that nurse was just dried dog poop. A pager was a sign of one's status, a badge displaying proudly that someone, somewhere believed you were necessary at something. At least that was the general perception.

Back then, I saw pagers for what they were, a ball and chain. Today, nurses, including myself, still wear pagers when they are on call. It provides a bit more coverage, and a bit better privacy than a cell phone. To this day, when I go on call and clip an electronic pager to my belt, it makes me feel like I am wearing an ankle bracelet from the Sheriff's office. It is not an emblem of self importance to me, it is proof that someone, somewhere can send an electronic signal to their monkeys, and like Pavlov's dog, we will respond. I despise that little black box. It's a tangible sign that I am not in total control of my life, that I am a slave to my employer.

Cellphones soon followed pagers, and the general public traded in the boring beeper for the cellphone. The electronic communication device as status symbol did not die though. Clips were put on cellphones so they could be worn on the belt, just like a pager, to show one's sense of style and importance. While my cohorts carry the latest Razor, BlackBerry or iPhone, I carry a battered flip cellphone that I refuse to replace until it gives out. I do not understand why cellphone companies cannot design a durable phone for Neanderthal users like myself. I don't want text messaging. I don't need or even know what voice mail is........All I want is a way to answer the pager when I am at the range and it starts beeping.

Many cellphone users do not see the cellphone for what it is. It is an unnecessary device of convenience that many could easily do without. We have become convinced that it is a necessity, like a toaster, a dishwasher, a........Wait a minute, those are not necessities either. A cellphone has taken the place of the pager for many people, a symbol that they are worthwhile, a validation of their existence, that they are somehow important enough for someone to want to talk to them.

Last night I suffered through a play in which I was surrounded by cellphone users. No less than five were on either side of me and in front of me, yakking into the damn things, text messaging into the damned things, and ruining the experience of the theater for everyone around them. That theater held over 300 people. I have to wonder how may cellphone minutes were used during the time that these morons had paid to see a play. A play is supposed to be a means of escaping the drudgery of one's life. Why would anybody even consider going to the theater and talking on a cellphone the entire time? What was so damned important that those calls could not be avoided?
If the matters were that important, then why did the person stay at the play and yammer into their link to their pathetic little worlds? Why not leave and go take care of the problem?

No, in our hedonistic Paris Hilton wannabe wonderland of self indulgent egotistical bullshit existence, digital dialogue has become an emotional crutch, a reminder that a person exists, that a person matters, assurance that a person's life will not run away without them if they step away for a while. It's a pathetic ego stroke for the co-dependent ranger, who cannot exist for a couple of hours without contact with the mothership. Hell, today 10 year old children have cellphones! Who is paying the bills on this stuff? Who is making the money? Why do people think they need it?

Believe it or not, there was a time that people, even children, ventured forth without electronic umbilical cords. People took vacations to get away from their telephone. They got away from their house. They went places with people they loved, spent time with them talking face to face, and they built enduring relationships rather than cellphone debt. What have we become? We have been sold a false bill of goods, a surreptitious nihilistic bill of goods, and our society is lapping it up like blind puppies lapping up antifreeze. Cellphones do not bring us together, No. They drive us apart. They do not build society, they destroy the possibilities of functioning in a society without them. For one day, if you are a cellphone ranger, turn it off. You will live.

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Blogger Sterno said...

I've seen people walk out of their home, call someone on their cell phone, get in their car, and drive away. I always wonder why that person dislikes themself so much that they can't even be alone for the time it takes to drive to the gas station.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous zane said...

Very well said. I, too, despise cellular telephones, especially since I started at university 3 years ago. So many times I have turned around and asked a person to repeat themselves, only to find that they were yacking into one of the damnable contraptions. Even worse is when I see two people walking together, each speaking into a separate cellular phone, completely ignoring the real, live person right next to them!

That said, I do have one. But it is almost never powered on, which leads to many complaints from friends: "you never answer your phone." This is despite the fact that I have explicitly explained on several occasions that the cellular phone is the worst way to contact me, and that I would be more than happy to answer my land-line, should they call it. This phenomenon frightens me a bit, as it shows that these things are so ingrained on my generation that the concept of not using one seems absurd to many.

Sad times these are, for human interaction.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Cliff_1911A1 said...

I've lived with a pager clipped on my side previously... yeah, a "ball & chain" is an appropriate description.

It was in the early 1980's in Baton Rouge... most people associated these devices with doctors and nurses even then. Yes, if you had one on, there were times when well intentioned folks would ask if you were a doctor!

I was working for an oil field service company and these hideous devices tethered us on a tight leash.

I had a woman literally bless me out one night while I was shopping in a Krogers. My pager went off a couple of times and yes, I looked at it and clipped it back on my side. This lady starts following me... I could sense she wanted to say something... and within a matter of minutes she demanded to know why I didn't "do something" about that page! She "assumed" I was a doctor or so, and some poor patient was going to die due to my inaction.

No pager anymore... but yes, a cell phone. Mine is getting so on in age... it's not even a "flip phone"... it doesn't take photos... it doesn't play MP3 music... and I can't check my e-mail on it either.

I kinda like it that way!

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Dion said...

Tell us how you really feel.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

They have them that do that too Cliff? What's next? Watching DVDs on your cellphone? That's nuts! Now the "big screen" is the pixie screen!

5:15 AM  
Blogger Cliff_1911A1 said...

Yeah, I think they do, Xavier.

I find it hard to imagine the kids now who are sending text messages, photos and even video along with swapping MP3 files... all day long... at school... at home... anywhere they are. There's a whole culture there.

5:57 AM  
Anonymous zoom said...

Right there with ya, Xav.
I hate that people have become oblivious to rude cell use - have you seen the annoying new ATT commercial where hordes of people are using their phones in a theater or on a plane? Yikes. And these same morons who chatter on in high volume, in public, about every detail of their lives, complain that the government might be listening in on their calls.

I used to have to carry the "duty pager" as well and hated it. Now I'm leashed to a company issued Crackberry. It just gets worse.

5:58 AM  
Anonymous Blackwing1 said...


Our concealed-carry instructor made if very, very clear that if we were going to carry a firearm, carrying a cell phone was an absolute necessity, for legal purposes if nothing else.

I now carry the world's perfect cell phone: No one but my wife has the number. I leave it on at all times that I'm carrying, and it's clipped to my belt (along with my multi-tool and spare magazine carrier). What's really funny is how my wife and I use it.

The last time we were at a big gun show (at the state fairgrounds), we split up to cover the stuff better. When she wanted me to look at something, she'd give me a call from across the coliseum. I'd ask her where she was, she'd tell me, and when she saw me look in the right area, she'd give me a wave. Much more like a walkie-talkie than a pair of phones, sometimes. We'd comment about how funny it was that we'd be within 100 yards of each other, and bounce a cell-phone signal up to a tower, over to a switcher, back to a tower, down to the other cell...all to just find each other at a crowded show.

But you've left out the worst offenders...the cell-phonies who insist on talking on their phones while driving a car. We used to assume that somebody speeding-up/slowing-down, veering in and out of their lanes and generally acting like a complete idiot was drunk. Now we just assume they're on the phone.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous angus lincoln said...

I had to cut expenses after divorce 3 years ago, so the cell phone was one of the first things I gave the axe to. I never liked it all that much, however I was able to accomplish some time saving multi-tasking that required phone use.I also felt a little more comfortable out on the road with my kid knowing I could call for assistance in the event of an emergency. I could probably afford one now, but I would rather not;I find myself too annoyed with folks who can't put them down when they ought to.And maybe I'll live longer on account of not getting brain cancer from the micro waves;)

9:55 AM  
Blogger Digital Falcon said...

My cell phone is four years old an usually turned off as well. I hope I never understand the compulsive need to be on the stupid thing 24/7. I never thought of the vanity angle, but it certainly is real.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Jay G said...


They now have cell phones that can receive TV transmissions. I sh!t you not...

I just replaced my phone - I'm in sales, so they are a necessary evil - and the guy at Verizon was trying to sell me a phone with, I am not kidding, a GPS receiver...

12:44 PM  
Blogger JohnS said...

I have one, but except for family it's "originate only"; I seldom give out the number.

On 'tother hand, it's a Treo, and I like having Epocrates and Taber's, Ackley & Ludwig in my pocket.

2:01 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Hear! Hear!

What a pack of wieners, using electronic devices during a performance!!! It's rude to other audience members, and it's a horrific distraction to performers who have worked hours, weeks, sometimes months and years to prepare for that evening's performance. Unconscionable. I totally agree with your whole rant - it used to be that one of the good things about getting out of the house meant being away from the blasted phone. Now we can't get away from this crap if we want to. ANd now the news that unless your battery is unhooked from the unit, you can be spied on using your own phone? What absolute twaddle!

4:42 PM  
Anonymous triticale said...

Every one of you are blaming objects instead of people, much like the way the victim disarmament movement blames guns instead of criminals.

Sterno, those people you saw placing a call as they left their home just might be on their way to pick someone up, promised to notify them when on the way, and maybe have ppoor in-building coverage (aluminum siding by any chance?).

4:46 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I don't think anyone here is saying cellphones are bad, evil, or dangerous the way the victim disarmament movement blames guns instead of criminals.

Instead, it appears the responsibility of objectionable use of a cellpphone is being placed right at the user's feet, not on the phone itself.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

X, one of these days you’re going to have to learn how to speak your mind and not hold back your thoughts on the subject. Surely you’re not shy, don’t let your timidity get the best of you, just learn to expound with full authority and let it out! LOL!!!

PS ~ I believe many of us feel the same way as you. My gal and I gave up our phones only a short while after having them…no REAL need for them. If she traveled at night maybe it would be somewhat different but then it would only be one of those $30 every two months rentals that we’d get.


6:04 AM  
Anonymous Darrell said...

I used to have to carry a pager. I didn't get compensated for it, either. Damn, I hated those things. Remember the little toy cars you put together with rubber bands? You'd crash it and it'd fly apart. I wanted to make a kid's toy pager like that, call it Johnny Pager. Pager goes off, Johnny smashes it against the wall, then puts it back together again. And no, I don't own a cell phone. I hate those things. Put down the damn phone and drive. Shut up and eat. Turn it off in a public place. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

9:34 PM  
Blogger James R. Rummel said...

Bear with me for a few lines, please.

Movie film used to be nitro based. Heat it up too much and it would burn like Christmas tree in August that had been soaked in a gallon of gasoline. The places where they stored these movies were called "film vaults" because they were built like those armored rooms where the banks store money, so dangerous was the chance of a blaze.

People were well aware of the danger, and there would be a mad scramble for the exits if the cry of "fire" was raised in a theater. Teen aged kids would wait until the movie was about half way through and then yell out the word. They'd sit back and laugh themselves sick as the patrons trampled each other as the fled for their very lives.

The point is that there have always been people who were inconsiderate, even casually cruel, and that Triticale is right. You are blaming the instrument, and not basic human nature. Cell phones haven't eroded our good manners or sense of consideration for others because those things never existed in the first place. There were rude jerks before cell phones existed, and there would still be rude jerks if all cell phones suddenly stopped working.

I don't make it a secret that I run a charity self defense course, nor that I specialize in training the elderly and disabled. Even though I certainly understand your frustration with their misuse, I must say that they also provide an indispensable link to the police and emergency services when there is trouble. My students, many of whom are the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society, are much safer due to that link to the outside world.

blackwing1 was also correct in saying that everyone who carries concealed should also have their phone with them. It is an important weapon in our self defense arsenal.

Like I said, I understand the frustration with their misuse. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives.


2:46 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I do no argue that James. There have always been rude people, yes. There has not always been a marginally socially acceptable means of blinding people in a theater. Many cellphones have backlight adjustments, and volume adjustments. A user can use those and discretely use the cellphone without anyone knowing.

Yet they do not. These people know how to text message and check voice mail, but not know how to adjust backlighting and volume? I find that hard to believe. I believe rather, that they are so taken with their little digital world that displaying their over inflated sense of self worth in a darkened theater is more important to them than being respectful of others. This is the very definition of assholery.

At one time we were much more self sufficient than we are now. 911 is a panacea, yet people seem to believe they will be magically transported to a safe place when they dial it. They are not. A cellphone can summon help, but it cannot remove a threat.

Criminals are not deterred by 911 calls. They are deterred by force. At one time, it was not unusual for a person to carry a gun, the means of deadly force if needed, on their belt when they ventured forth. Now many carry a cellphone as though it were the magic talisman against all evil. The cellphone is not an instant policeman on your belt. It is a device to let a dispatcher know you are about to be killed, or that you have killed. A gun and the ability to use it is the means of protection that a cellphone is not.

I agree that a person should carry a cellphone if they carry a gun. However, they should not drive and use the cellphone. They should not use the cellphone in theaters. They should not use the cellphone around telemetry. They should not use the cellphone in the many other places that they violate the request to not use them. They should know and use volume controls, and backlighting controls, and be respectful of others.

If there had been one usher who took each and every offender to the door and asked them to leave when a cellphone lit up, or when a cellphone rang during the performance I attended, this blog article would not exist. That, however did not happen. Saying "We ask that you turn your cellphones off" at the start of the performance should have been enough. It was not. There are too damned many people in this world who think they are special. This blog article is not about the evils of a cellphone James. It is about the assholes who think they have more rights than their fellow citizen.

I went to another performance of the same show, on Thursday night. It was Senior Night instead of the Premier. Busloads of seniors from assisted living facilities deposited the white haired population at the entrance. Not a single cellphone rang during the performance. Not a single cellphone lit up during the performance. The show was enjoyable. Strange. Nobody died in the theater or the parking lot, and I know that there were at least two guns and cellphones there. My wife and myself were there.

Tolerance of bad behavior will not change it. Speaking out against bad behavior, calling it what it is, and condemning it is the first step towards change. To fix a problem, the problem must first be recognized as a problem. Using a cellphone in a theater, and allowing a cellphone to become such a link to your reality that you can not bear to not use it for a couple of hours is a problem. It is an addiction. I believe rehabilitation is possible, but first, the problem must be recognized.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Laughingdog said...

At a motorcycle rally recently, I met a guy who bragged about how many devices he had hooked into the sound in his helmet. Establishing voice comms between the rider and passenger on a motorcycle is pretty common. But this guy was so proud that he could hear his passenger, his gps, his XM radio, and even his cell phone. He couldn't understand why I got a look of horror on my face when he got to the cell phone part.

Half of why I love my motorcycle is that no one can reach me on it, and they can only get so pissy about me not answering their calls. I go kayaking for the same reason. Technology should be a tool, not a leash.

2:15 PM  

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