Wednesday, November 15, 2006


by Tory Butterworth

I resisted it as long as I could.

I'm talking about cellphones. I actually bought my first one many years ago. As a single woman, I have a fear of my car dying in some God forsaken place without any means of communication. So I bought a cellphone and didn't give anyone the number. I've never been stranded (not since I bought it) but it did prove useful for checking my phone messages during traffic jams and calling in pizza orders on my way home from work.

Five weeks on my new job without a phone in the office made me decide I'd have to change my policy and use the cellphone for incoming calls. Well, only if I wanted to get any work done.

There are now seven ways to reach me electronically: my home phone, my work phone, my private practice office phone, my cellphone, my home email, and my work email. Checking all of them, I figure, takes about an hour (on a good day.)

It occurred to me when I was stranded in a phoneless office (my cellphone having just run out of juice) that, in typical American fashion, we have worked so hard at increasing the quantity of our communication, we haven't noticed how its quality has been reduced.

I have two psychotherapy clients who have moved out of town and continue to have phone sessions with me. I've been surprised how effective these are, and how few times I wish I was seeing them in person. But I do notice a big difference between sessions on a cellphone and on a landline. Cellphones tend to reduce subtle cues of tone and inflection that give us information about the emotional state of the caller. Sometimes we lose the essential word in a sentence.

So, you ask, what words of wisdom do I have about improving quality of communication now that its quantity has increased? Being willing to listen, developing empathy for another person, and having the patience to say things many different ways till our meaning gets through haven't changed with technology.

It's just that now, we're so busy checking our messages, we don't have time for any of that.


Annette said...

The cell phone has taken communication into some places that should, in my mind, remain private. It's just plain disturbing to be in a stall in a public restroom and have the person next to me chattering away on a cell phone. At least I HOPE they're on a cell phone...

Brenda Roger said...

Annette, you just made me laugh out loud.

Tory, a thought provoking post. I don't have a land line or a work number, only a cell phone. I find that I quite enjoy only having one phone. Also, I enjoy turning it off!

Tory said...

Yes, Annette, what could be so important that you can't wait till you are out of the bathroom to talk about it? Sometimes I wonder if it's about being afraid of silence.

I'm with you, Brenda. Turning off the phone can be the best part!

Gina said...

Good insight, Tory.
Annette - that disturbs me, too. Once upon a time, someone walking along the street screaming and cursing would be considered nuts. Now we assume s/he is just having an argument on a cell phone. It amazes me that, despite the lip-service paid to "privacy," people seem inclined to discuss the most personal details, air family crises, argue viciously with a significant other, etc. in public on a cell phone. [OK, I'm an inveterate eavesdropper. I can't help it. I'm a writer.] I carry two cell phones; one is mine and the other was issued to me by my employer. I tend to keep them both turned off unless I need to make a call.

kathie said...

I can identify with your cellphone resistance. I refused to buy one until deep into my first pregnancy, when visions of giving birth on the side of the road, with no one pulling over because they all assumed I had a cellphone (like, who the hell wouldn't have one?)...anyway, it didn't take long to start using the phone for everything under the sun, least of all phoning people from the side of the road!

Joyce said...

I hate phones. I have to answer one all day at work, so I rarely answer it at home. That's what voicemail is for!

I have a cell phone. I got it for emergencies, vacations, and the rare time I might need to call long distance. My son, Josh, usually has it though, so a lot of good that does me!

Nancy said...

You forgot one mode of communication, Tory: Checking blogs and keeping up on the daily conversations!

Kristine said...

I also don't have a landline or work phone. We made the switch to "cell phone only" a few months ago, and I have to say that I LOVE it. No telemarketing calls!

I'm not a phone person (and yes, I do screen). Maybe it's because I get impatient during chit-chat. Or maybe it's rebellion from years working in an office with endless phone calls.

E-mail and voicemail are wonderful things, IMO.

Cathy said...

Phones are a hot item. I recently had a massage client who left his cellphone on during a session. He talked to business associates for about a half hour of the session. I could even hear the man on the other end make a lurid comment about massage and sexual favors. But, it was his massage.

Do you require your clients to turn them off, Tory? I would love to contact you all seven ways when I'm having a slow day.

This was fun!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I hate phones. That said, I keep my cell with me for emergencies. We can't dump the landline, though, because we'd have to lose our DSL and the cable folk don't fit our needs.

So if you call, be prepared to talk to the Tour Manager 'cause I rarely answer.

Tory said...

Funny, Cathy, I haven't had a problem with cellphones during therapy sessions. Sometimes clients take calls from their kids, making sure it isn't an emergency, but those have always been short.

And yes, Nancy, blogs are another means of communication. But they're the one I enjoy most! (Except when they don't come up due to technical problems.)