This occurred to me the other day as we were waiting for my cousin (who is notoriously late) to meet us for breakfast. She called with an update, letting us know that she was parking the car and would be with us, inside where we were already seated, in just a few minutes. She was only being courteous, which I appreciate, as more and more simple kindnesses seem to disappear every day.
But it got me thinking. Before cell phones, she would have run just as late, and we would have sat the same amount of minutes, holding our table. She just got to make her excuses before sitting down, in real time.
So what had changed? We could no longer debate about how late she was going to be. Now we knew, down to the minute. As the one doing the updating, my cousin was able to feel less late, because she was keeping us informed — maybe trying hard to get somewhere is the next best thing to already being there.
What about all of the other mindless little updates that having a cell phone compels a person to share? The "I'm on the bus, three stops away, I'll be home in five minutes" update that delights all the surrounding passengers on the bus (not), while alerting the person you are calling to — what — snap to attention? Put some clothes on? Go back to watching television?
I know that cell phones are indispensable. They are great to have in an emergency, like a car breaking down. They are also handy to have in a doctor's office waiting room, where you can fling as many angry birds as you want across the screen until your name is called. But they are also undoubtedly the core offender in our too much information age. So before I make that call, as I'm walking in the door, to tell someone I'm meeting, "I'm just walking in the door," maybe I'll stop, and put the phone back in my bag and sneak up on them, looking for that look of recognition, and even surprise.