For some time now I have wanted to write a post on people who talk so loudly in public places on their cell phones that I have to fight to block out their inane conversations. But I have hesitated because I know that my complaints will not change a thing. Still something in our society has changed so that what was once a relatively private activity is out there for everyone to share whether they want to or not. Not so long ago when people were in public places they would talk on the phone inside a 'phone booth' where they could put some space between them and the people around them. But now, cell phones with the most annoying rings go off one after another and people delight in talking on them wherever they are -- on the train, in a store, walking down a crowded street and even in public washrooms! What does this say about our society and culture? Am I making too much of it? Is it just a fad that will pass? Or will it become so common that one day no one (including me) will give it a second thought?
At one level, if people want to talk on the phone, so be it. But on another level, must everyone around them have to listen? Is there nothing to be said for relative peace and quiet? Often the only way to escape their noise is to talk on the phone yourself or to put earphones in your ear and turn up your iPod or some other electronic device. Again, many might say, "So what!" But stop and think about it. All of this noise, all of these distractions, make it very difficult and very unlikely that people will just sit and think or be able to read anything beyond the most simplistic political, sports, entertainment or financial news reporting in the paper. Instead we are bullied and pushed around by others, usually those who want to sell us something we do not need, so much so that we have little time to think about what is really important.
Furthermore, I wonder if behind the blurring of what is public and private space is not a narcissism combined with a desperate need to be noticed. So the phone rings and it must be answered in public because the owner of the phone is 'important.' Or it rings and they make sure that everyone around them knows how 'kewl' they are because they own of the latest piece of communications technology! Have these communications devices become the new status symbols? Depending on the kind of device, is it a way of subtly broadcasting how successful you are, of showing that you have arrived and you are in such demand that all of us must yield our attention to your conversation?
Rather than being annoyed or distracted, more and more I try to smile to myself as the phones ring out one after another. I smile because I remember that we humans are like sheep without a shepherd. We are so prone to fall for the latest hype, so susceptible to the insinuations of the clever advertiser, and so envious of the people around us that we are compelled against all common sense to 'keep up with them' no matter what the cost. I smile because in the new heavens and earth there will be none of this rather we will be able to concentrate on what is most important to the glory of God. Ah... what a day that will be!