Cell phones on the beach

Issue July 2003 By Joseph P.J. Vrabel

Ok, I'm entitled to at least one rant, and although it has nothing to with the law, it has a lot to do with common courtesy and manners.

Have you ever seen those guys on the beach wearing socks and shoes? I've always wondered what that was all about, more out of curiosity than anything else, but it never bothered me very much. Not nearly as much as overweight, aging guys in Speedos. I mean really, you just have to ask yourself, "Why?"

But all of this pales in comparison to a phenomenon that has increased dramatically in the last several years at the beach. Cell phones. Cell phones have become an increasingly dominant appendage to everyone, no matter where you go. People walking on the street (and not looking where they're going); people driving cars with a phone pressed to one ear (and not looking where they're going); people eating dinner in restaurants (both of them on their phones while they're eating, honest!); people at sporting events waving wildly when someone they're talking to at home tells them they're on TV; people behind you in line at the supermarket, who obviously don't mind sharing their most intimate personal details; and, most of all, people "relaxing" on the beach doing business on their cell phone, very loudly, and keeping most of the other people on the beach clued in to just how big the deal is and just how indispensably important they are to it.

What's going on anyway? Is it that our own sense of self-importance has gotten the better of us, and that we really can't be out of touch from our devoted constituencies for even a minute? I see people on the phone in their cars at 6:30 in the morning. You would think that it must be some sort of personal emergency, but it happens so often that I'm hard pressed to believe it.

Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone when their cell phone rings and they simply walk away answering the call, because it's obviously more important than whatever you were talking to them about? Have you ever been in a seminar, meeting, party, dinner at a friend's house, a funeral (yes, a funeral!) when someone's cell phone rings and they get up and leave in a rushed, hushed manner that is certain to call attention to how important they are and, by implication, just how unimportant everyone else is they're with at the time. Did you ever notice that more often than not, these people rushing out of the room almost always look back to see how many people are watching them leave?

It's gotten to the point now that cell phone use borders on rampant discourtesy and rudeness.

But the beach? Come on. This used to be a place where you went to read, swim, relax, play ball, play with the kids, go for a walk, talk with your beach neighbors and, generally, kick back a little. Not anymore. Now it's a place that too often reminds you of what you were trying to get away from at the office in the first place. It's sad, really.

A question for all those addicted cell phone users everywhere. Can the world (or work) get along without you for a few hours or, heaven help us, for a few days on vacation?

For your own sake, and for ours, the easy answer is "Yes, more than you'll ever know."