Friday, January 29, 2010

OK. I won't rant. Or maybe I will...

Just deleted a big rant. About cell phones. In short, when you answer a cell phone, it is like beaming up. You are no longer present but somewhere else. If you are with someone when you answer, you are cutting them off for someone else. The message: just about anyone who calls me can interrupt whatever you might have been saying to me. Think about the situation you are in, and what is appropriate. Consider the option of turning the d--n thing off. Don't be a slave to a puny piece of technology.

8 comments:

rklllama said...

I have mine on vibrate all the time so it doesn't interrupt any conversation I may be having.

Reenie said...

I couldn't agree more! And, just because I have a cell phone, does NOT mean I have it on my person, or am willing to answer it at any time, just because you want to reach me!!! (Don't get me started...) :)

John Lynch said...

I'm sure I've done this, but I mostly concur. However, look at it this way:

Let's model interaction with people as a utility function with a time parameter, U(t), that describes the utility of have a particular interaction at time t. For any time range (eg: zero to five minutes from now) we can compute an average utility over that range from U(t).

Most interactions with people have a low average U(t) over any given range: it matters little if the interaction happens now, or a few minutes from now, and often a few days from now. However, some interactions have an inordinately high average U(t) over tight ranges: emergencies, urgent plans, etc. When you are engaged in conversation with a person, you can make a very accurate assessment of the average U(t) of that conversation. Both the probable duration of that conversation and its importance are well known. When you receive an incoming call, you have no idea what the U(t) function is for that potential conversation. You must consider the average U(t) for a whole range of possible utility functions. This will be greatly affected by outliers that have high average U(t) over small ranges. Thus, if most conversations have a very small average U(t) over short ranges (and I think they do), it will be not uncommon for an incoming call to have a higher average U(t) for the range that includes your conversation with the other person. Note that this has nothing to do with the overall importance of the conversation or the importance of the person with whom one is conversing. It still may make sense to prefer a trivial conversation that is time critical to a very important conversation that is not time critical. Thus, there is very much a general case to be made that taking the call is the right thing to do, and we all need to be less sensitive about being interrupted. All the person with the phone is saying by taking the call is that the cost of putting your interaction on hold for a minute is outweighed by the possibility that the incoming call is time critical. It is not a judgement on the person conversing or nature of the conversation, but a judgement on how time critical the conversation is.

Lisa said...

I understand you, John. However, I think it is possible to discern the likelihood of receiving an urgent call in a given situation and take the risk of missing it by turning it off. Example: you are with your entire family, so the call won't be from a family member. How likely are you to get an emergency call from a non-family member? Would a work call be so much of an emergency that it could not wait a minute for a conversation to end or pause, so that you can politely excuse yourself? Ask yourself right now how many phones calls you have gotten in your entire life that could not have waited a measly five minutes. I can't think of one, NOT ONE, and I've been alive much longer than you.

You suggest that we all be more tolerant of interruptions, but there has to be a balance, and callers need to realize they are making a request to talk and not a demand. They might have to wait. I think the general case is that people think what they have to talk about is really more urgent that it actually is. If the caller is honest, the case is more that they want to talk NOW because it is convenient for them NOW and are not really considering whether it is convenient for the person they are calling. Often, if pressed, they may admit that the call can really wait an hour or more, but they will be unhappy.

The point of my post was just to make people realize that we are developing a lifestyle that is cellphone-centric, and my humble opinion is that it is off-balance.

John Lynch said...

Don't get me wrong: most conversations can wait five minutes.

My two points are:

1. With the cell phone call, you don't know if the potential conversation is, in fact, one of those "most."

2. The time-criticalness of a conversation is not necessarily connected to its importance, so we shouldn't treat interruption as a signal that such is the case.

rklllama said...

And all of this is why, in my opinion, if your phone is in your pocket it should be in vibrate. As fun as ring tones often are, when it goes off everyone knows you got a phone call and then the circumstance decides if you take it. Most of the time people are going to expect you to take it, even if it is annoying to be interrupted. Of course if you're in class of course people are just going to glare at you for not silencing it while you frantically push the ignore button.

If it's on vibrate, though, then you can actually make a decision about taking the call or not. But perhaps most importantly, you can time when exactly the rest of the people in the conversation know you got a phone call. If it rings then bam conversation interrupted. Oftentimes, I can stick my hand in my pocket and grab my phone, wait for a pause in the conversation, excuse myself without exactly interrupting anyone, and then make the phone call as brief as possible and be back in a minute. If the conversation is a little more important I'll just wait till it is over and then check my phone.

rklllama said...

And of course if your phone isn't in your pocket it makes sense to have a ring tone on, in which case it is just like being at home when a phone call came in on not your cell phone. It just doesn't seem like a phone somewhere else is anywhere nearly as bothersome, especially considering that some can always say, "nevermind I'll get that in a second."

And honestly, I am fairly sympathetic to all angles of this one, and really it does just take a little understanding on everyone's part. I've tried calling people and been frustrated that they aren't answering, I've been talking with people and had the conversation put on hold for five minutes while they take a phone call. To me the most important things are (not in order) to make sure that if you do decline a phone call you call back fairly promptly, if you do interrupt a conversation to take a phone call you make it brief, and that you try to avoid the jarring halt that ring tones seem to put on a conversation when they go off in someone's pocket. I think calling people back promptly is very, very important because if I miss someone who I know is responsible with their phone then I can just relax and wait to be called back. If, however, it is someone who is fairly bad with their phone, then it gets frustrating because you feel like you have to keep calling them.

Lisa said...

Bob, you said it all.