June 2, 2005
A Cellular Moment
The following conversation took place between a cellular telephone subscriber and her daughter:
"Hi dear, what do you need?'
"What has more calories, Italian or Ranch?"
"Where are you?"
"I'm at the salad bar. I can't decide which dressing."
"Honey, I told you last week when you called about Charmin versus Angel Soft, you're in college now. You need to make your own decisions."
"What about blue cheese?"
"You have to do this on your own. Bye-bye."
My friend Monica dropped her head onto the table with a thump.
"Can you believe that?" she cried. "I thought it was a wise decision for her to have a cell phone, in case her car broke down or if she got lost or if she was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. Then I'd want her to call. Not to ask me what to dip sushi in because she forgot to buy soy sauce."
I agreed supportively. Up until a few weeks prior, my husband and I had resisted our son Mickey's cajoling, whining and begging for a cell phone. According to him, he was the only ninth-grader in existence without one.
"No you're not," I said. "I just talked to Cheryl, and Adam doesn't have one either."
"Then Adam and I are the only two left."
But reluctantly, I considered his request. To be honest part of me wanted him to have one. Short of implanting a microchip in his thigh, a cell phone might be the best way to keep track of him. Jewish mothers are happier when they know where their babies are. Would his having a cell phone grant me some virtual control over his whereabouts? Would it be a positive step in his quest for independence? Would he use it wisely and make outgoing calls only after 7 p.m. when the "all calls are free after 7" program kicks in?
Of even greater concern, would I, in some subversive, unintentional attempt to control my universe, use the cell phone to manage or even manipulate my child?
After all, I was completely conflicted about my boy neededing to begin the breaking-away process, because we all know that decision-making capability bears no correlation to shoe size. But as we also learned from the interchange between Monica and her daughter, the ability of children to reach us anytime, anywhere can actually backfire and inhibit their progress toward adulthood. Quite possibly, today's teens are becoming a generation unable to make simple choices or solve problems. They develop no tolerance for delayed gratification and no patience for waiting.
Could it be that the cell phones are not good for our kids?
We ended up with an extra cell phone due to a major shuffling; my husband "just had to have" the kind with e-mail, and my cell phone flip fell off; and an old aunt gave up trying to figure hers out, so she gave it to us. We put it on our family plan, and, as you may have predicted, it not so gradually went from being the extra, for-emergencies-only phone to belonging completely to Mickey.
"Here's the deal," I explained, clutching the phone to my chest. "As far as I am concerned, you may have this in your possession as long as you understand that the primary purpose of this cellular phone is for me to reach you. If at anytime I determine that the cell phone has not made my life easier, I reserve the right to remove it from your custody."
Of course he agreed. He would have agreed to anything just to have the chance to say to some girl: "Sure, you can call me on my cell."
The following conversation then took place between a cellular telephone subscriber and her son:
"Where are you?"
"I'm on my way to pick you up."
"When will you be here?"
"In about 30 seconds. Where are you?"
"I'm walking to the corner."
"You're not even there yet?"
"I'm almost there."
"Why did you call?"
"Just to make sure I wouldn't have to wait."
(You see? No ability to deal with uncertainty and no patience for waiting. The cell phone thing was not working. But we'll give it another try.)
"Um, which do you like better, tangerine or grapefruit?"
"No, to, uh, I don't know, to wear or to smell."
"What are you doing?"
"The movie got out early, so I decided to go shopping for your birthday present. The lady suggested this scrubby stuff that you use in the bath and some lotion for, let me read it, for like your, well, wherever you have dry, uh, hands or something. Yeah, dry skin or whatever. So, now you have to pretend you're surprised, OK?"
"Oh, OK! That's so sweet. Um, grapefruit I guess. Yes, grapefruit's good. I'm sure I'll like it." I paused, then added, "And thanks for calling!"
I definitely meant it.