Stories Wanted for NPR's All Things Considered

Dear Car Talk Community Time Kill Specialists,

We thought we’d pass along this note from our pal at NPR, Producer Art Silverman. He’s looking for folks to lend a hand with a story, for All Things Considered. Share your stories right here, and Art will be in touch with some of you, as the story progresses.

Thanks. When NPR calls, and we have a chance to help out one of the good shows on the network, well, we try to lend a hand – hoping, of course, that they might continue to look the other way, for another year or two.

Yours in mobile manners,

Tom and Ray

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

P.S. Here’s what Art had to say:

I’m hoping to do a story about a special case of?Mobile?devices & Manners. (let’s exclude cell phone usage – that’s a sub category and not for this story since talking creates its own problems)

I’m interested in how the overuse of mobile devices affects relationships.

I want to get people to tell me about situations in which a mobile device – Blackberry or iPod – violated a social situation in some way. It could be about you catching yourself absent-mindedly reading email at the wrong time… or about someone you knew who was “present but absent” – and how you handled the situation.

Did use of a mobile device ever ruin a vacation? A wedding?? A funeral?

I want to hear about situations serious & absurd.

If you are game, post your story right here. If we pursue your story, will involve a face-to-face interview within the next month or so.


Art Silverman

P.S. The deadline for comments is October 15. Thanks!

Hmmmmmm…you’re putting together face to face interviews about mobile communication devices. There’s a paradox.

On a family trip several years ago, I was attending a performance of The Magic Flute at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. As is the case in most classical venues, the theater projected “turn off all electronic devices” in three languages (Catalan, Spanish, and English) on a screen before the performance. Everything went well for about an act when, during a particularly difficult and lengthy aria, the soprano was met with a faint “ring” from the balcony. The ringing continued four or five times, and then it got substantially louder. (The person took it out of their purse or pocket.) And then it stopped. I was sure they had turned off or muted the device, but I was wrong. About a minute later, during the same aria, the whole scenario repeated itself. They phoned again! Fortunately, the soprano kept her cool, the nearby members of the audience didn’t toss the malfeasant into the orchestra, and the opera was completed without further audio interruption.

Steven Wasserman

Mine is actually a counter example. I have a job. My wife has a job. Our 3 kids are all busy with school/band/church/friends/etc. We live very complicated lives. Our mobile devices keep us in contact and coordinated.

For example, on some day, I am tasked to pick up kid #3 from band practice and take him to his orthodontist appointment. I get called to an emergency late meeting. i can then text kid #2 (who can drive) and see if she can get kid #3 and take him to the orthodontist. I find out she can take him, but can’t take him home because she has a NHS meeting. So she texts my wife to see if my wife will get out of class in time to pick up kid #3. Everyone is happy.

Without these mobile devices, our lives would be almost impossible, and yes, when our kids were young and we DIDN’T have these devices, things were difficult and a kid would get left somewhere (or two would be there to pick them up) because of a missed note.


An example where connectivity saved a situation - We were on vacation in England in spring 2008, when Dearest Husband got a panicked email from his chief engineer that one of their radio towers had fallen over. Dearest Husband was able to call and email his chief engineer, thanks to our cheap pay-as-you-go cell phones - through what to do to get that station temporarily back on the air.

Same vacation - this was his second time in London together, and my fifth, so there were sights that we each wanted to see that the other didn’t want to see. We kept in touch via text, letting each other know where we were, what we were seeing, and when we’d be back to the hotel room. Texting also came in handy when one of us couldn’t find the other in a line for an attraction, and when we needed to let a friend of mine know that we’d landed in London and what our mobile numbers were.

Last spring I traveled for 20 hours to visit my daughter who was doing research in Vietnam. I had not seen her in several months and we were very glad to see each other. Though jet-lagged, I was anxious to see the sights and learn about Vietnam, as well as catch up with my daughter’s life.

Once we were in a cab, however, I noticed her attention was elsewhere, as she tapped away on her mobile device.

I knew she had a new boyfriend with whom she was (and is) very much in love. But at the moment they were separated by thousands of miles between North Carolina and Ho Chi Minh City.

I tried to make conversation with my daughter, only to have it repeatedly trail off as he and she tapped messages of love to one another.

Finally accepting the reality of being pre-empted by high tech communications, I simply turned away to look at the passing city as I said:
“I’ll just leave you two alone for awhile.”

PS - they’re getting married next summer.

Earlier this year, I was on a date with quite possibly the most boring man in all of New York City. Not only was he boring, but he was weird too, and I wanted nothing more than to escape from this guy, go home and spend some quality time with the cat. Now, I’m a generally well mannered girl and I have a hard time coming up with some sort of story or lie to get out of an uncomfortable situation. When he excused himself to use the restroom, I whipped out my mobile and sent a quick message to an ex-boyfriend (who is still a good friend) and he gave me a fool-proof excuse. It worked, I took the subway home, and enjoyed the rest of my evening. If it hadn’t been for that I would probably been stuck there all night listening to his mind-numbing stories.

I Ran Into That Guy By Chance. He Told Me Of A Time He Was Saved From A Horrific Date By A Cell Phone Call. He Had Overheard Your Conversation!

I retired from the US Military back in '06. I’d just returned from extensive deployed periods and finally had some time to spend with my kids. So we took a trip around the US, a 21 day trip across 21 states, from Coast to Coast. My teenage daughter had the opportunity of a life time to see things that many never get to see in person, the splendor of the land that God has given us… and I was fighting her cullular connection all the way. She’d be texting or talking when we were passing some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable… I can’t tell you how many times I had to get her head up and her attention outside of the window…

Dear NPR,
As a young professional working for an American cellular carrier, I used my phone almost all of the time. It was my Swiss Army Knife, my sidearm and my comm relay all rolled into one. I would check my email, text messages, facebook and CNN . . . occasionally all at the same time. Fortunately, given my line of work, I was in good company (quite literally). All of my colleagues nationwide were wired into our network of constant communication. I would get text messages at two or three AM and be expected to respond within a half hour. And that was fine, I thought, because communication is a worthy goal unto itself. While I am, of course, free to maintain whatever bizarre philosophies I wish in life, there was just one problem. You see, I was a young professional, but I was not, however, a SINGLE young professional. My girlfriend was raised by parents who grew up in a time of dignity and quiet sobriety. Like most civilized Americans, she believes that relationships should build communication, and not the other way around. So, as you can see, she was on to me. Every time we were at dinner, invariably, a text message would come and, like some Old West Gunslinger, I could have my phone out of my pocket or holster before it even stopped vibrating. While playing board games with her family, I would check facebook or eyeball some headline news. I mean, what else are you supposed to do when it isn’t your turn at Monopoly? Needless to say, this kind of thing didn’t strike her as “Ideal Boyfriend Behavior.” So, NPR, it is with pride I admit that I put love before addiction and have attempted to curb my severe mobile habits. Every now again, I’ll slip up and send some MHz (megahertz) while at a fancy restaurant, but I see that sideways glance and I know it’s time to shape up. Really, though, I can’t consider myself anything but lucky: I have a girl who tells me that she loves me, and that’s the greatest message I could ever hope to receive.

Addison Stuart

At my wedding reception, my new husband and I noticed another couple sitting next to each other both paying more attention to their blackberrys than anything else. We quickly realized they were texting each other. Although it wasn’t disruptive (as they weren’t speaking or making noise) it certainly was weird. It also made us question what they were texting to each other that they couldn’t say outloud?

I was out to dinner at a bar with a pair of old friends and a new friend. I started to tell a story. I thought it was a good story, but my new friend pulled out her iPhone and started texting two sentences in. This felt rude and embarrassing enough, but she announced she hat texted ~another~ friend to come join us. So, apparently, not only was my story dull, the company was also inadequate. But it gets better.

My old friends were excusing themselves to be about other business and the friend my new friend had texted arrived.  My new friend promptly announced the bar we were in was too smoky and she was leaving.  Her friend, who had come out on my new friend's request, had barely said hello.

I was so mortified I went and had a drink with the guy because I felt bad for him coming out to meet my new friend and being basically dismissed.

While the iPhone was not the sole cause of the multiple layers in this rudeness cake. The convenience of text messaging right there at the table, however, facilitated the situation. It alienated us at the table and allowed a thoughtless invitation to the new guy to be a throwaway for my new friend. She was able to think nothing of inviting the poor guy out and immediately leaving. She didn’t even have to speak to him on the phone to get him to come out, so it was as easy to think nothing of him as it was to think nothing of tuning out to text him in the middle of my story.

I have an iPhone. I love it. But I do not answer it when I am in the company of others unless I am expecting an important call. I want the people I am with to know that I enjoy their company. If I needed better people to talk to I’d go hang out with them.

There is a picture of my husband and I at our wedding. I think it was taken when everyone clinks their silverware on a glass to encourage the newly married couple to share a kiss. What really stands out in the picture is that in between my husband and I is his Blackberry sticking out of his shirt pocket.

Actually, my husband always has his Blackberry right at his fingertips. I often feel like an important conversation must be halted for him to check a message or answer the phone. Yet somehow he complains that I spend too much time surfing the internet and even gets angry during a conversation if my attention shifts away from him to the internet or TV. That’s simply the pot calling the kettle black, if you ask me.

I was raised in the old south where children didn’t play handheld games at the table and gentlemen didn’t answer phone calls when wooing a woman in a restaurant. The advent of technology has changed much about what we accept in the social world and beyond that, can cause situations to arise in ways that we would not confront, without them. One night my husband and I were having a typical evening at home, dinner, watch the news and then eventually settling in. All night I noticed that he kept checking his iphone regularly. Probably out of habit, he was looking at his e-mails there instead of going to the computer. But this became a distraction to me as I became uncomfortable that he must be anticipating something from someone and didn’t want to share it. After we had snuggled into bed, he got up and went upstairs. All very odd behavior for him. The following day, I asked why he was obsessed with checking his phone the night before. This lead to a very defensive response and we had quite a spat about it. Ultimately, I learned that he was fearing that his job was on the line and checking to see if there was any “bad news” coming through cyber space. He didn’t want to worry me.
The real problem is that anytime a message or text or e-mail comes through the iphone, there is a beep. So I always know when someone is trying to reach him and visa versa. This is not inherently bad, but when he ignores it in front of me or excuses himself to address it, I have an uneasy feeling. The truth is that he doesn’t have a secret life going on. If we lived in a nondigitized world, these things would never come up. When an old friend sends a text, it wouldn’t show up on the face of your iphone for the world to see. Constant reminders of things you need to do at work or being accused of not returning a call in a timely matter, just wouldn’t happen. The good news is I can snap a picture of something beautiful, download it to my computer and share it with world, with ease. I know what my children are doing because they tweet and I love getting regular updates on their lives. Like all things, there is a trade-off. And, it is important to remember, you can always turn the darn things off.

I’m a student at university, and I’ve noticed a slow progression over the last 5 years. It used to be, when cellphones were new, that if one went off during a lecture it was a big event. Everybody would stare in the direction of the offender as they hurredly searched for their phone and tried to turn it off as quickly as possible. As time went on, it became more and more common for this to happen and, after enough exposure, everyone stopped caring.

Now, I see sights like a person’s blackberry going off in the first row. The person quickly picked it up to stop the noise, then read the email. She then typed out a reply. Right in front of the professor. Nobody said a word about it. I guess the professor mightn’t have wanted to stop the entire class just to chide one person, but it’s as if they’ve stopped caring.

These days many students carry Blackberries and iPhones. They are constantly updating and communicating with them and lectures seem not to phase them. Professors have faced the options of becoming hard line assholes and telling off every student they see using one, or letting it go, letting the inevitable change continue.

I submit that overuse of mobile devices has ruined the peace of the lecture hall and irrevocably changed the teacher/student relationship.

This may or may not be true. It is, however, funny:
" I was in the pub yesterday when I suddenly realized I desperately need to fart. The music was really, really loud, so I timed my farts with the beat.
After a couple of songs, I started to feel better. I finished my pint and noticed that everybody was staring at me.
Then I suddenly remembered that I was listening to my iPod."

Observed at church:
As the preacher is giving his sermon, there is the sound of a cell phone ringing. After about the 5th ring, a young lady in the front pew answers her phone and then in a rather loud whisper, has the following conversation (well, okay, here’s her side of the conversation ;-):

“I can’t talk right now.”
“No, I 'm at church.”
“On the fornt row.”
“Yes, he’s preaching right NOW!”
“Uh . . . um . . . well, he’s looking right AT me.”
“Listen, I can’t TALK right now!”
“I’m haning up now . . . “
“She did WHAT!?!?!?!”
“She DIDN’T!”
” Uh . . . look . . . some guy just walked up and told me I have to hang up or leave.”
“No, I’m hanging up now . . . Call me in 15, okay?”

The whisper was loud enog to be picked up by the preacher’s wireless microphone. :wink:

Peter, Are You Aware That There Is Another Sensory Component To Your Relieving This Type Of Discomfort Besides The Sound Component?

Ok, my worst experience with a mobile device…one really comes to mind.
I work for a Fortune 500 company and sometimes we get in our own way. I was to roll out a new product and promotion for my sales force the next morning and I was preparing a Powerpoint presentation and rate sheets for the next morning’s meeting. Unfortunately the home office kept changing specs and rates throughout the day which required me to completely start over with my materials as well as making more copies. Well right as 5:00 rolls around here comes the sixth revision and I spend the next two hours changing and copying. I was supposed to give a presentation at my fishing club that evening and the meeting had already started before I exited the office. I jump in my car and peel out and promptly get in traffic that is going nowhere because of an accident a mile or so up the road. I am trapped, angry and frustrated. However I always subscribe to the method of writing a letter when angry and destroying it the next day to relieve these emotions and since I have no paper or pen I begin scribbling a very angry and quasi-nasty message to my boss on my Blackberry. My NEW boss for whom I had been reporting to for only a couple of weeks.
Now let me state he was not really to blame but he was the closest target. In fact he was a very decent fellow whom I had known for several years but as I said he was the designated target. After composing this tirade, traffic began to move and I returned the Blackberry to its holster and promptly forgot about it.
The next morning I am in the big meeting awaiting my turn and my Blackberry buzzes to tell me I have a new message. As I open it up I see last night’s message and go to delete it but my well trained fingers beat my untrained brain and instead hit SEND (you saw that coming, didn’t you?). I jump to my feet and screamed an expletive and rushed out of the room trying to remember if there is a way to cancel a sent message (there isn’t) and instead received a prompt “Got your message” reply as I am being called up to conduct my training. I totally muddled the training as my mind was torn between the puzzled looks from my team from my recent behavior and my thoughts on how to repair the relationship between the guy who writes my appraisals and myself. I apologized electronically, in writing and over the telephone repeatedly that day. The reception was rather cool to say the least. Luckily for me about three weeks later he mysteriously left the company and was replaced by someone I had not yet insulted.
I now carry paper and pen in my car.
Chip Kirkpatrick 904 868 9168

The most important principle regarding the use of electronic devices is that work trumps pleasure. Would you deny a doctor the ability to be reached by a patient if that patient’s life were at stake? I didn’t think so. Prohibiting the use of all electronic devices is an overkill reaction of technophobes. With some thoughtfulness and common sense, the principle of ?work trumps pleasure? can be applied with minimal offense to those who don’t want to be involved in a professional person’s business.
In a theater or auditorium setting, an audience member can set his cell phone to vibrate mode or low volume so that only he knows he is needed, and then discreetly exit to the lobby or a restroom to take the call.
In a restaurant, the use of cell phones should be at the discretion of the host/hostess, based on the din volume of the patrons. Speaking for myself, if tens of people are chatting away, I probably wouldn’t notice and wouldn’t care that another patron is having a conversation with a non-patron via an electronic device. However, if there were so few of us that his confabulation was obvious, I would consider that an intrusion.
In the case of a student, the protocol is the opposite, because a student’s studies are his work, and cell phones, Blackberries, etc. are merely social implements. I would recommend, especially during exams, that instructors designate an area in the classroom for students to ?park? their devices (silently, of course), so that those devices can later inform the students of the need to reply to a caller/texter.
In summary, the use of mobile communications devices should be governed by two principles:
1)Work is more important than pleasure.
2)Be considerate of others.