Department of English

Spring 2008 Edition

Cell Phones and the American Culture

Danielle Josephson
Argumentative 2010 1st Place
Professor: Dr. Bryce Christensen

It was a beautiful summer night. The sun was setting, causing the golden hues of yellow and orange to cover the red rock cliffs that surrounded me. The air was warm, motionless, without even the slightest breeze. The lake water was so still that I felt like I was floating on a glass mirror reflecting the scenery around me. As I sat on the back of the houseboat soaking in the beauty of Lake Powell, I felt a small shadow cast itself upon me. I looked up to the highest cliff to the see the silhouette of a girl standing on a tall rock, her hand reaching toward the heavens. After taking a closer look, I noticed that it was my friend Darci, and she was holding something in her hand. Then I heard her excitedly yell, “I’ve got it.” I ran to the edge of the houseboat and looked up. “What is it Darci?” I yelled. As I moved closer, practically peering into the sun, I realized that she was holding her cell phone in her hand. “I finally found service,” she said, almost falling from her balanced position. It is moments like these that make certain the idea that cell phones have changed the American culture. Most cell phone owners will say that cell phones have made communication very easy and convenient, but the cell phone has taken away the quality of face-to face conversations. Because cell phones and texting have become the center of a young person’s world, it has put a sizeable dent in interpersonal communication.

In a world before cell phones and texting, the people of the American culture were not as entirely connected as we are today. But there was a type of interpersonal communication that took place that has almost gone extinct in today’s society. Attending high school in the late sixties, my mother has seen the way the culture has changed because of cell phones. She told stories of her experiences in high school that one would never even imagine hearing about happening today. She told about a time when she was throwing a party. She couldn’t just pull out her cell phone and send a mass text inviting everyone in the school to the party. She personally invited people to the party by talking to them in the halls at school or calling them on the landline phones. She feels like teenagers today are very impersonal when a party invitation is sent via text message. By doing this, the inviter is saying that he or she doesn’t care who comes to the party, that the invitee was just another number stored in his or her cell phone’s phonebook.

My mom also said that dating back then was so much more one-on-one than it is today. When she went on a date with a boy, she was on a date free from distraction. There were no cell phones ringing or text messages being sent in-between bits of small talk. She was able to have a nice conversation with the boy and get to know him. She was on the date with him and no one else. The dating scene in high school now has unquestionably changed.

There was a time in high school when I asked a boy to my high school’s Sadie Hawkins dance. While we were at dinner, I was excited to converse with him and be able to get to know him a little bit better. As I started the conversation, I noticed him looking down at the table and answering my questions with just one-word answers, not looking very interested in our conversation. As the night went on, I realized that it was not the table he was looking at—he had his cell phone on his lap, and he had been texting another girl all through dinner. His texting didn’t stop there. When we got to the dance, he put his left had on my waist and then he had his phone in the other hand texting while we danced. Not only was my night ruined, his texting got in the way of us personally communicating and getting to know each other.

Just like my date, and just like my friend Darci at Lake Powell, teens today can’t stand to put their phones down for just one day and enjoy the company of the people that surround them. They have to converse with others in cyberspace, and by doing so, they hurt the feelings of the ones they are with. By texting, instead of face-to-face communication, people can stay in their comfort zone without having to really reach out to communicate with one another, and by staying in their comfort zone, they become oblivious to the things that are happening around them.

There were so many times in high school when I would walk into a party and see a bunch of my friends sitting squished side by side on a couch, oblivious to the fact that no one was talking. They would all have their cell phones out texting. They would be communicating via text message to someone else rather then enjoying the company of the people around them. I can recall one specific instance when texting was used to try to solve a personal matter between girlfriend and boyfriend, and if anything, it just made the situation worse. My really good friend from high school had gotten into a fight with her boyfriend. He had lied to her about where he was; he had been participating in something that she felt was inappropriate, and this had made her really upset. One night, she and I went to a party, and her boyfriend just happened to show up. She had been texting him almost every day that week about the situation, and it seemed nothing was getting solved. While they were both at the party, instead of taking the time to sit down and personally talk to each other about it, they ended up sitting on the same couch, me stuck in the middle, and texting the whole night about their argument and how he was not the one to blame. The awkward silence that lingered between the sending of each text made the air so thick it felt like it could have been cut with a knife, and I was stuck in the middle. Once again, cell phones had ruined my night. As I talked to my friend about the conversation she had had with her boyfriend, she said that texting had just made the whole situation worse, and she was madder than before. By texting, they had taken a 15-minute conversation that would have helped their relationship and turned it into a 3-hour nightmare full of accusations and tears.

Because people have turned to cell phones to solve interpersonal problems, so they can avoid face-to-face confrontation, the communication department of a relationship is left with an empty hole that seems to just keep on growing. I have found that in the early stages of a relationship, boys use texting as a way to avoid rejection. There is no reason for a boy to pick up the phone and actually call a girl to ask her out on a date when he can text her and save himself from facing his fear, right? Wrong. This is the thinking of most teenage boys these days. It is tough to find a boy who will actually call a girl and ask her out on a date. A prime example of a boy not having the guts to call a girl happened to me just last week on Valentine’s Day. I was sitting with my roommates trying to make some plans for the evening. It was about six thirty when I got a text message from a boy. The message said, “Would you want to come to a movie with me at 7?” First of all I was very disappointed in the way he was asking me on what I thought was a date. But to top it all off, when I looked at the message status I saw that I was not the only girl he had sent that message to. He had sent that message to five other girls. By doing this, he in essence said that he didn’t care who he went on the date with as long as he had someone to take. Using his cell phone to ask multiple girls on a date at the same time allowed him to avoid actually having to pick up the phone and call me. This is why most young people nowadays are so attached to their cell phone. It brings them some sort of comfort, a type of security blanket.

As one walks through the halls of a high school, all that can be seen are teens texting or talking on their cell phones. Cell phones have become the center of young people’s social lives, and they cannot imagine life without them. They cringe at the thought of how their parents lived in a time before cell phones and texting. But as I look at my mom, she has developed an immense ability to communicate and is able to understand other people so well. She attributes that quality to the absence of cell phones in her high school years.  I do believe that cell phones can be used for good and are very convenient, but because students can’t seem to go one day without their cell phones, they have become a distraction in both the school and work places. They have disrupted the interpersonal communication that is healthy for starting any kind of relationship.

Now, I do have to admit that I do have a cell phone, and I do text occasionally. Cell phones are a very convenient way to communicate, but it is when that electronic device gets in the way or replaces genuine face-to-face communication that it becomes a problem. Instead of relying on words written on a small screen sent back and forth between one another, as a society we need to rely on one another and the satisfaction that personal communication brings to relationships. We need to take the cell phone that has become the center of our world and push it to the side, replacing it with family, education, and work. We need to fix the dent that cell phones have put in interpersonal communication and take the time to enjoy face-to-face conversations with the ones we love.