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Faking It

You know all those annoying people who talk into their cell phones as if you weren't standing right next to them? It turns out that many of them aren't really talking to anybody. The New York Times recently described research at Rutgers University as well as the Ethics and Public Policy Center that found that a great number of cell phone users are faking it.

A number of people make fake phone calls on their cell phones just for the benefit of those around them. Someone who's late for work may enter the office talking to "an important client" to cover her tardiness. Others pretend they get a call when they don't want to talk to someone who's standing right in front of them. Not surprisingly, some of those big deals you hear people negotiate on the phone are just done to impress those within earshot. Men will pretend to be on a call as they walk over to hit on a woman. Women will pretend to be on a call to avoid getting hit on by men.

Maybe this sounds like a creative use of technology to you, but I think it stinks. It was bad enough when I thought people were being rude, talking loudly about their personal lives to someone while looking right at me. Now I find out that they're being rude and not even talking to anybody!

Many of the cell phone tricksters say they pretend to be on a call just to be noticed. Until now, whenever I've seen crazy drivers on the phone swerve all over the road or come to an inexplicable stop, I've always felt they were just making a call that could probably wait until the drive was over. I'd pull up next to them and give them the traditional shake of the head and dirty look. Now, it turns out that my look may be exactly what the "caller" was hoping for. They're not putting our lives in danger because they're ordering a pizza delivered to their house. They're doing it because they want us to notice their new blouse or tie.

We're all probably pretty understanding when someone we're sharing an elevator with is talking baby talk into his cell phone, ending with, "Daddy will be home soon." But now that we know that "Daddy" might not even have a kid, and might be talking to the weather forecast, we may not be so forgiving next time.

And that's a problem, because next time, "Daddy" might be real, and I don't want to tell some guy to get off the phone because he's faking it only to learn that he's really talking to his sick kid. So, these fakers have the potential to make the rest of us the bad guys.

The only way to deal with this is to fight faking with faking. When you're waiting to get off a plane and the guy next to you makes that "We're just pulling into the gate, and I'll call you from the baggage" call, you can top it with "This is the last time I fly commercial. I'll meet you at the helicopter."

When that obnoxious businessman shouts into his phone, declaring he's about to make a fortune because he was clever enough to buy Amalgamated Apple Sauce at 12, you can always talk into yours and say, "What's that? Amalgamated Apple Sauce is down to 3½? Well, at least I sold in time."

And maybe we'll be tempted to resort to the ultimate defensive tactic. When we're surrounded by callers talking away on their electronic pals, we can always take out our cellular and say, "I understand, Mr. President. All personal, civilian cellular calls should be terminated ASAP. I will notify the people around me immediately, sir."

Maybe that will at least give us a few minutes of silence — until one of those phone fakers "needs to be noticed."

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver