Why Cell Phones Suck

I've been wanting to rant on cell phones for a year or two, but I always stopped and thought "oh, how un-original".  You can find thousands of web pages criticizing cell phones and the ignoramuses that abuse them.  And there's also that whole "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument over whether cell phones suck or just the people who use them.  Then several weeks ago I came across a study about why people find cell-phone use annoying in their presence.  The conclusion of this study, and I use that term "study" with great reservation, was that witnesses to cell phone conversations found it irritating to hear only one side of the conversation.

I'm going to try to ignore the insinuation that we're all voyeurs because, well, inarguably we are!  The success of dozens of puerile television "reality" shows proves that conclusively.  But to claim that cell phones merely frustrate our curiosity, is desperately myopic.

It's time to set the record straight

Rather than diving right away into the dozens of undesirable abuses and side- effects of cell phones, I think it would be more beneficial to first try to boil it all down to one simple, basic aspect of cell phones.  And that is:

People just aren't paying attention!

That was pretty simple, wasn't it?  Now why didn't the fucking geniuses performing these so-called studies think of that?

This stunning conclusion came to me after I drove up to a neighborhood crosswalk and stopped for a pedestrian who was standing on the roadway six feet from the curb.  She was standing there, yakking away on her cell phone, and there she stayed, oblivious to absolutely everything around her.  I then drove through the intersection and pulled over, and watched in wonderment as this blithering idiot stood in the street, feet motionless, blabbing into her cell phone for over five minutes.  I ran out of patience and drove off before she ever budged.

Let me begin the detailed breakdown of my analysis by further ripping open the distended sphincters of these pathetic impersonators of researchers...

Turn back the clock fifteen years.  Picture someone walking, alone, carrying on an animated conversation.  Passers-by give a wide berth to the apparently insane person, tut-tutting under their breath about how our mental health care system is failing these people so miserably.  With any luck, one or two of those witnesses will go home and write checks to related charitable organizations.

Now advance back to the year 2004.  Someone is walking along, alone, carrying on an animated conversation.  Passers-by mostly ignore the person, not really sure if the subject is an asylum escapee or if there's a tell-tale headset wire somewhere, or both.  Nobody can afford to give a damn whether that person was a mentally ill or not, because one out of five folks are also carrying on conversations apparently by themselves.  Oh, shit; we've become numb.

The creepiest part of the prevalence of cell phone usage now, is that because people are squeezing in these conversations with distant associates in sometimes crowded or intimate surroundings, they could often be looking right at you.  Let's be clear about this...  It is downright disturbing - anxiety inducing in fact - to have someone looking straight towards you, talking, but not to you.  And that goes for whether you can hear the other side of the conversation or not.  It is NOT NATURAL.  Got that?  Good.

In our increasingly digital, technologically mired society where social skills are fast becoming a lost art and interpersonal contact is dwindling into a sea of cold text and grainy, stuttering images on a computer screen, we cannot afford this further distortion of the human interaction experience.


The essential problem with cell phones is that when people are talking through a telephone, they're not paying attention to anything else.  They become barely aware of their surroundings.  And that's a problem when you can be on the telephone pretty much anywhere, anytime, while doing anything.  Most people simply are not equipped to do two things at once effectively, so one of those tasks is bound to suffer.  Unfortunately that task tends not to be the conversation!

Much publicity has been given to the use of cell-phones while driving.  Honestly, it's just the straw that broke the camel's back.  Cell-phones are the whipping boy for all manners of distraction at the wheel, and many people's lives have been lost or horribly altered due to fishing for cassette tapes and radio stations, fiddling with food, exploring their sexuality or attending to the resulting rug-rats at 50MPH.

But driving is NOT the only activity that's dangerous while distracted!

I assure you, it takes just one drive across Manhattan to find this out, as you swerve again and again around the dozens of pedestrians who are so buried in their cell phone conversations that they are walking on "auto-pilot" and have absolutely no idea they just stepped into the street against a red light and into the path of a half dozen cars, two trucks, ten fare-crazed taxicabs and a horse-draw carriage.

OK, I know what you're going to say now.  "It's Manhattan - jay-walking capital of the United States - nobody gives a shit about the traffic lights."  And you're absolutely right!  But at least the ones who don't give a shit are cognizant of the oncoming traffic, and stand a chance of getting out of the way when they're in the path of a taxicab hell-bent on reaching a hailing fare before nine of his adjacent colleagues.  You can easily discern the ones who are oblivious, because the combined sound of a honking horn, racing engine and squealing tires makes them jump out of their skin.  The defiant ones simply alter their pace just enough to feel the breeze as you whiz by.  It's kind of entertaining to witness, I admit.  But I must not digress.

Cell phone oblivion is dangerous and adds to the annoyance factor, because that oblivion extends not just to secondary tasks but to everyone and everything within the cell phone user's physical and audible reach.

What's so fucking important?

Fifteen or twenty years ago, things like mobile phones and pagers were strictly the domain of doctors and the civil and technology professionals that keep our critical infrastructure working 24x7.  That was terrific.  It's great to be able to reach your family doc on the way to obstetrics.

Now that almost everyone is slinging a cell phone, their usage has become utterly banal and superfluous.  Conversations that could wait, and should wait, until people get home no longer have to wait, and so they don't wait.

Case in point:  (and my wife may murder me when she sees this - police take note)  My wife and I were in the middle of a 45-minute outing, driving from one errand to another.  Rather than sit for seven minutes in peaceful silence or initiate some small talk, she picks up her cell phone and notifies her [live-in] mother of our progress.  Now tell me, WAS THAT REALLY NECESSARY?!  Fact was, discussion of our accomplishments could have waited until we were home, and since the progress report yielded no unsuccessful tasks, there was no immediate need to discuss contingencies.  The call was absolutely and completely unnecessary.

This brings us right back to that lady standing in the crosswalk, talking on her cell phone.  I didn't listen in, but you can bet she wasn't talking an uninitiated midwife through a difficult childbirth.

Savor your private moments, and keep them private.

The not-so-hidden danger

As our society becomes more and more wired, and in fact more and more wire- LESS with various radio -dependent gadgets, we are becoming increasingly bombarded with high-frequency radio energy from more and more antennas.  If this doesn't bother you, just remember many of these gadgets operate at frequencies similar to microwave ovens.

Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact mechanics of how these radio transmissions affect human biology, but there's increasing agreement that human biology IS affected by microwave radio energy, the electromagnetic fields near high voltage distribution wires, etc.  And yet you can't escape the antennas.  They're everywhere!  One day someone will call Verizon to complain that their cell phone doesn't work in the alley behind the McDonalds on Tenth Avenue and a few weeks later, almost like magic, there will be three MORE antennas a block away, further scarring the landscape and architecture, and bombarding us all with yet more high-frequency radio energy.  Gee, thanks fellas, just what we fucking needed.

And let's not ignore...

...all the interruptions, disruptions and distractions that cell phones cause, during movies, concerts, Broadway shows, meetings, dates, temple, travel, recreation, etc., nor all the unnatural behavioral peculiarities incited by cell phone use.

Someone tell me please, what is it that compels people to speak so loudly into these devices that their voices could reach the entire distance without any phone at all?  Then every fourth sentence is "can you hear me now?" in an even LOUDER voice, the caller gyrating and gesticulating like a pantomime of an old television's wire-hanger rabbit ears, trying in futility to determine a body and limb configuration that will somehow enhance the signal.  You can almost see the snow and wavy lines in their eyes as they glance into the phone's tiny display, hoping to see another little dark bar on the antenna diagram to confirm their success.  Yet after all the contortions and yelling, it often turns out that the person they were talking to simply had nothing to say for a moment!

What is it about cell phones that make people think they are enveloped by the Cone of Silence (for those of you who are too young: a fictional and consistently unreliable device contrived by the authors of the old TV spy/comedy series "Get Smart", that was supposed to enshroud agents into perfect inaudible privacy), when they are speaking on a cell phone?   I have witnessed parts of conversations that casually exposed people's most intimate personal secrets and carelessly shared critical aspects of their supposedly confidential business dealings.  Anyone could easily exploit this information for mischief, revenge, money or for career gains.

Your life easily becomes wrapped around your cell phone.  Like a crying baby crying for a tit in the night, the cell phone wails impatiently for attention with all kinds of irritating tones that plea for acknowledgement and reaction.  It complains when it loses contact with a cell transmitter.  It complains when its battery is low.  It complains when its keys are errantly brushed.  It complains when you've missed a call, or after you've simply chosen to ignore it.  How dare you!!!  And unlike an ordinary phone which, invariably tethered by its copper wires to a nearby wall-jack is fairly easy to locate, finding the source of all those beeps, boops, ring tones and cheesily rendered musical interludes often requires the skills of a trained bloodhound.

Back in the mid- 1980's, those of us in the computer industry started referring to telephones as the Non-Maskable Interrupt.  This was a reference to the NMI signal as it was used on a computer motherboard, which told the computer to stop absolutely everything it was doing and pay some attention to an attached device that was sending this signal.  It's makes perfect sense - how many people have you ever seen actually ignore a ringing telephone?  It seems amazing that people would now voluntarily, eagerly carry such a ball and chain every waking minute.

Even buying and using a cell phone can be a heart attack waiting to happen.  You have to choose one of a dozen carriers, each of whom has at least a dozen plans and coverage options and literally hundreds of permutations thereof, and at least a dozen different phones.  Each phone is a compromise, hopefully executing at least one feature well but often with glaring shortcomings and outright engineering failures elsewhere.  Each plan is designed to fool you into thinking you're getting a great deal when in reality, they are all craftily designed to extract more money from you than you ever imagined possible.  Contracts consisting of six pages of six-point type dictate the myriad methods by which your phone provider may (and undoubtedly will) punish you for exceeding some obscure and mysterious parameter, and choosing a plan isn't a matter of finding the best service as much as it is a matter of finding the least potential avenues of punishment, deceitful trickery and downright fraud.

Once you have chosen your vendor, phone, plan and coverage areas, every call you place requires chess -like planning and consideration, taking care not to exceed one of a multitude of those mysterious, obscure parameters that will instantly inflate your bill by three hundred percent.  In the United States, you even have to be wary of calls you RECEIVE, since you get charged "air time" no matter who places the call.  And now as cell phones are evolving into tiny handheld supercomputers capable of guiding ICBMs, replete with organizers, cameras, Internet access, etc., you now have the additional worries of spam email, Internet worms and computer viruses crippling your telephone, not to mention CRASHES.  For God's sake, it's bad enough the term "reboot" has entered common parlance, the last thing we need in this world is buggy, spontaneously rebooting basic appliances like telephones.

I've seen divorces that were less stressful than cell phones.  Is this the "freedom" that cell phones are supposed to offer?  The price of this freedom is too high.

The dismal quality of cell phones has also caused a broad lowering of standards and expectations.  Just a few years after Sprint ran an ad campaign for long distance service focused on signal clarity and being able to "hear a pin drop", people now put up with universally tinny, scratchy, garbled, stuttering sound from cell phones, thinking "oh, that's OK; it's wireless".  I hate to burst your bubbles but the cell phone manufacturers and carriers can do better.  They choose not to offer better sound quality because it costs money and because they have determined through experience that their market consists overwhelmingly of unquestioning simpletons who will tolerate absolute crap as long as it's cleverly marketed.

You, the impressionable public, have been ingeniously and insidiously manipulated into thinking of a simple appliance - a telephone - as a fashion accessory, or a status symbol, or a must-have toy, or worse yet something that you could no less do without than your shoes or your underwear.  You are nothing but a biological blob with a credit card, from which the cell phone carriers will feed relentlessly whether you or not you actually have the liquid funds to support them.  You will be unceremoniously sucked dry and spit out, and even the buzzards won't see a snack in the decay of your shriveled, bony carcass.


Cell phone carriers have invested billions of dollars in the infrastructure necessary to support ubiquitous cell phone use.  This includes but is not limited to satellites and uplink stations, trunk lines, transmitters and receivers, radio repeaters, real estate, computer systems, billing, support, staff, sales, marketing and advertising, retail agreements, etc.  If you agree that they're not treating you well, the best way to hurt them back is to not renew your cell phone service.

Don't mis-read what I'm proposing.  Don't renew your cell phone with any carrier.  By and large, they ALL suck, and you're a sucker for falling into their traps and becoming another idiot who can't get their communications priorities straight.

When your wireless contract ends, smash your phone to bits.  Recycle it.  Set fire to it.  Donate it for 911 -only service or keep it in your own glove box just for that.  Use it in an art project.  Run deadly experiments on it.  Run over it in your car.  Throw it into a crucible of molten ore.  Shoot it.  Bury it in a time capsule.  Turn it into a roach motel.  Make it the focus of Satanic rituals.  Do anything but use it.  Don't give another penny to the wireless leeches.

With your help the wireless carriers, those blood-sucking self-absorbed lumps of steaming diarrhea, bandits of the air waves, robbed of regular income and no longer able to leverage their losses, will immediately drown in operating costs and the debts of their infrastructure investments.  Darwinism on a grand, corporate scale will send them the way of the dinosaurs.  Fuck 'em.  If they and all their scumbag scam-artist sales people turned into oil in a few million years they might actually be good for something after all.  Too bad we won't live to enjoy it.


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