Christine Rosen is a fellow at Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center; I like to think of her as the premier techno-scold of our time. Her classic 2004 essay, "Our Cell Phones, Ourselves," is a penetrating view of what the mobile phone has wrought and is worth revisiting.
There are the quotidian problems of the cell phone: The ringing interruptions which intrude on every aspect of daily life — in movies, at church, during dinner. In the infamous Paris Hilton video of a few years back — which surely you did not see — there was a moment when, in the midst of amour, Miss Hilton's cell phone rings off-camera. Hilton vaults off the bed at light speed, leaving her partner clutching at the air. The viewer hears Hilton shriek with recognition as she examines the caller ID; her playmate looks down dejectedly.
Perhaps few of us have suffered this level of cellular abuse, but the tweeting, beeping tone is a constant artifact of life these days, and one I suspect most of us would just as well do without.
And phonus interruptus is just the most obvious problem the cell phone presents. There's also the way it breaks down the walls of privacy. When people yack on their phones about the most personal matters in public, they are forcing the rest of us to become privy to their confidences.
Rosen's analogy is that it's "a form of communications panhandling — forcing our conversations on others without first gaining their tacit approval."
Yet there is a deeper problem still, as Rosen explains: The cell phone "encourages us to connect individually but disconnect socially, ceding, in the process, much that was civil and civilized."