Pamela Harris

Efficient Enough January 18, 2014

When I moved to New York, if I wanted to make a phone call and I wasn't home I had to use a payphone. I come from a long, proud line of obsessive hand washers (luckily I was born after the generation that believed enemas cured everything) and having to touch a street phone meant what is that chunky stuff on the receiver try to touch around it there's something brown on the mouthpiece any time I made a call. There was almost always a phone across the street or next to it, so if I really thought the phone was going to get me pregnant or give me impetigo it was easy to find another. When cellphones became widely available I got one and was convinced that not using street phones was why my skin cleared up.

I love the immediacy of a cellphone. If I'm walking down the street and get an idea or if I have a sudden flash of how to resolve a writing issue, shputtt. I text myself. I keep basic ingredient lists on my phone to make food shopping easy and over the course of days or a week I add things I need to that list. When I'm going somewhere new I have a map; if I remember I need a new print cartridge or chew toy or art supplies I can find them regardless of where I am; I can see if Joe is close by when I'm out with the dog and we can have a family walk home if he's near. It's all good.

Lately, though, I have no downtime. As it is, living here means little privacy and the constant clatter of mine and everyone else's business ringing through the air is getting to be a little much. Everywhere I go people are on the phone, including elevators. Yesterday I was on a slow moving one and everyone on it was chattering, getting louder and louder to hear above each other. The guy to my left was arguing with his boyfriend because he didn't want to eat Malaysian for dinner. The guy to my right sounded officious scheduling a meeting, but he could've been on with the guy to my left since it sounded more like he wasn't happy with his lunch partner's restaurant choice. When I got off the elevator a woman was huddled against the wall, a big wide open wall with no place to hide. "Oh my god," she was saying, squishing deeper into the wall. "She's so two-faced. Oh my god." My phone isn't innocent during this, dinging away with texts from bored friends who want aural company.

Adding to this, with the advent of cellphones New Yorkers no longer hustle to get from A to B. Everyone's talking away, meandering like a marble rolling aimlessly over the sidewalk. Some people walk with their elbows out to claim space, talking loudly into their phones, and I'll frequently see a Soho old timer slam into those elbows, refusing to move out of the way. Phones fly, insults careen and the old timer almost always smiles smug, another goddamn interloper smacked down. I'm the one weaving into the street, out of the street, around that elbow, though I, too, hit the wall and the occasional elbow in the process. Constant contact is turning into body contact and it's made walking through my neighborhood unbearable.

Constant contact also feels like pressure and these past few weeks I've been turning my phone off for a few hours a day. Not returning every text takes practice and if a phone call isn't urgent I return it when I can. Or I text a quick reply. I just finished a draft of a project and between little sleep, wrangling this pup and fighting a cold my patience is looking for an elbow to body slam. I'm back to listening to music when I walk somewhere versus use the time to return calls, make calls, be efficient. Right now I'm efficient enough.


Pam, you can only hope it was from someone licking it.

Pamela | January 28, 2014 at 08:45 am

When cell phones started to be ubiquitous I thought that 90% of people using them--on the STREET, no less!--were total poseurs. Then one day I went to the Minetta Lane theater to buy tickets to something, and dashed across 6th Avenue to call Peter about available dates from a pay phone. With receiver pressed between cheek and shoulder, juggling date book (remember date books?) I got the job done. When I went to hang the phone up I realized that THE SIDE OF MY FACE WAS WET FROM THE RECEIVER. I got my first cell phone the next morning. But yes, have since turned into the Chinatown chicken, compulsively pecking away from before I get out of bed, to last check before the lights go out. Hate it but can't live without it.

Pam Sommers | January 26, 2014 at 11:57 am

I like to read your blog because I love the way you write, but I particularly like this entry because it's about a subject that I constantly observe, and bothers me to no end. It seems that most everyone I know spends most of their waking hours involved with some devise that addresses everyone except those next to you. I was raised with the tradition of having close friends and family having lengthy meals with scintillating conversations. Fun times. Those times are no longer possible as the majority of my intelligent, well educated friends can no longer sit an hour without looking at their phones. I too am limiting my time answering texts, emails, and phone calls. The time needs to be extended.

Paul Murphy | January 19, 2014 at 09:28 am

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