Pigeon of Discontent: “Cell Phones Make Me Crazy.”

Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by those small but pesky Pigeons of Discontent.

This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “Cell phones make me crazy.


I thought of a line from Montaigne that’s even more apt for this Pigeon of Discontent than the quotation included in the video: “There is really no greater or more persistent folly…than to be excited and annoyed by the fatuities of the world.”  I think people’s cell phone conversations fall into this category.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…

9 tips for dealing with difficult relatives over the holidays.

Find a way to unplug from technology, or, how to escape the cubicle in your pocket.

How about you? Are you very annoyed by people speaking on their cell phones (or something similar)? How do you convince yourself to accept the change?

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I’ll make a special call for suggestions.

You can check out the archives of videos here.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Hersheybarb

    I’m not sure where to post a new pigeon of discontent so here goes:  Incompetency in people who are supposed to provide a service.  The example would be in particular delivery companies who say one thing but do another – with no notice.  There are many other instances from other companies but since we’re dealing with this problem it’s forefront in my mind.

  • Whenever I encounter a particulary annoying person on a cell phone, I use it as an opportunity to practice meditation. I slow down my breathing, count my breaths, and imagine I am a strong, immovable mountain. The cell phone talker’s voice fades into the background, and I am left calm and centered. I might even repeat the word “calm” or another phrase in my mind.

  • Kirby

    I would be interested in discussion about how to figure out what you want to do with your life.  I have a degree that I’ve become disenchanted with since leaving university and am not in a position to go back to school and begin again.  Even if I could, I’m not sure what I would take.  It’s discouraging.  The feeling of needing to change is strong, but I find myself feeling like I’m not interested in or good at anything that would translate into a different field of work.  How do you discover a new career path, (or if nothing else an outside of work passion that makes up for a job you don’t love).

  • Anne

    For me, the cell phone issue breaks down to whether I’m forced to listen to the conversation. If someone’s on the phone while they’re walking down the sidewalk or sitting in the park, I’m not forced to hear it. I wouldn’t do it, except in an emergency, but for all I know, they have an emergency. If I’m not forced to hear them, it’s not my problem, or even my business.

    People shouting needless conversations in a train car (or similar place where I’m a captive audience) is something else. They can go on by the hour, saying virtually nothing, disturbing dozens of people around them. 

    And the new acquaintance of my husband’s who took a cell phone call (and stayed on the phone for several minutes) while a guest at my dinner table–was never invited back.

    • Victoria

      Good for you for you! That is when cell phones bother me. When you are with someone in mid conversation and they answer their phone. I find that so rude. To me a phone is a tool and in the same way I would not divert my attention to someone who walks up to me while I am chatting with someone and tries to interrupt I don’t let my phone do that. People always say what if it’s an emergency…it rarely is and then if it is they will call back right away and then you answer! Call waiting another pigeon of discontent…grrr.

      • Margaret

        Now this bothers me… why wouldn’t you acknowledge a person who walks up to you in mid-chat? Mind you this happens to me all the time. I walk up to people who are talking, and I have something urgent or at least time-sensitive to say. For example, we’re leaving a party because my child is tantrumming and I’d like to say good-bye to everyone. I can stand there INDEFINITELY and they will Never acknowledge me. Until I interrupt. 

        I guess I just don’t exist!  It’s very hurtful. I feel like a little child, vainly waiting for permission to speak….

  • Gina

    I saw a program on Discovery that explains a reason why these conversations are so annoying. Apparently our brains will pay much more attention to a one-side conversation, essentially trying to fill in the blanks, than if two people were chatting with each other nearby.

  • I wonder if there is somewhat of a blurred line between what’s rude because it’s on a cell phone and what’s just rude generally. For example, I was once on a bus in which a woman near me was telling her friend loudly in great detail about a medical procedure a family member had gone through. It didn’t really matter that the woman’s friend was sitting there rather than on a cell phone, since it was largely a one-sided conversation anyway. But that sort of thing could have happened long before there were cell phones. Also, it’s possible to use your cell phone in a very considerate way. Therefore I see the issue less about the cell phone itself and more about people’s lack of judgment about what types of conversations are appropriate in certain settings, and at what volume. I think the cell phone has exacerbated these issues, for sure, and that’s where some of the blurriness and frustration comes in.

    • Alissa Ripley

      I agree that they have exacerbated an existing problem. We need to all go to etiquette school, it should be mandatory, that way more generations won’t slip further into this problem. Yes, but it’s not a perfect world…I’m still happy!


  • It doesn’t bother me at all. I have done it myself (very rarely). I really don’t view it any differently than 2 people sitting near me having a conversation. I wouldn’t expect them not to speak for my sake. If the person on the phone is very loud or saying something offensive, I may have a problem with that, just as I would if there were 2 people near me having a loud offensive conversation. 

  • Liz Hsp

    Very fitting that you mentioned your construction noise at the beginning of this video! LOTS of things annoy me, including noises, fidgeting, people texting at a dinner party. But I just have to chalk that up to my being easily annoyed by stuff I can’t change.

    Loud cell phone talking is irritating, but for the most part, I think it’s the same people who talked too loudly before cell phones existed.  They’re just letting people around them know how important they are!

  • Hersheybarb

     Good for you, Apeztecorn!  My husband and I have one cell phone between us and we don’t EVER give out the number.  We got it strictly because we often travel a 7-hour trip with people expecting us on the other end.   We joke that we never get any messages but guess what?  We really do!  They’re from ATT and, we don’t know how Best Buy got the number but they send ads!  I don’t care what ANYONE says, cell phones are NOT a necessity.   Responsible people will be responsible people and will always find a way to contact someone.  I’m in the camp of cell phone haters!

  • Guest

    My greatest pet peeve – I even have a family member who, when I am in the middle of a sentence – will take out her cell phone and start texting folks…..it feels like a mixture of annoyance that she is impolite and embarrassment that I must be so dull that she has to start communicating with others!

  • Sherryh234

    I embrace all of this wonderful technology, it keeps me in contact with the world.  Lets me catch up on emails from work, lets me send a good night kiss to my daughter.   I have the option to turn it off but find I seldom do!  I feel like, if someone wants me to hear their private conversations–that’s their problem.  I actually told a coworker, I probably know more about his personal life than he would feel comfortable with.  He stopped for a while, but a few weeks later, he was back having the same conversations near my desk!  His problem, not mine!!

  • I am often tremendously annoyed by people who speak on their cell phones in public — like all things, there is a time and a place.  And even when you DO feel this is acceptable, you must acknowledge that there is a time and a context in which it’s polite.  What they choose to talk about, what they do when they’re talking (and how their cell phone-laden activity is affecting you), and how loudly they’re talking are all factors.

  •  I never got a cell phone at all.

  • Anne

    I have a cell phone, but it’s mostly off. It’s for emergencies on the road, or for little things like a postponement in when to expect me home, or a question about what my husband wants at the market. Very utilitarian. 

  • I admit I am sometimes guilty of this…but I usually try to be aware of those around me.  In my defense, I’m a full-time working mom of a one year old and the truth is, sometimes the only time I can talk is when I’m en route somewhere.  I do have a pigeon of discontent that I’d like to suggest here, and that is people smoking in public.  It’s almost impossible to sit outside on a nice day without someone blowing smoke in my face.  One lady even does it in line at the bus stop every day!  So if you want to get a seat, you have to stand down wind of her.  (A good method for being first in line I suppose!)  I feel crochety even typing this, but it really, really bothers me.  Anyway, I love your work Gretchen!  I continue to learn a lot from you.  Thanks! Sarah

  • Kate

    I agree with other comments here: the problem isn’t cell phones per se it’s just a tool, it’s how invasive people can be with their loudness, etc., while having a conversation in public.

    Just yesterday I was profoundly irritated and three young men on the public transit I take every day.  They were standing right next to each other and all three of them were talking in the LOUDEST voices, almost like the tone you would use to catch someone’s attention from several feet away.  In general, on my commute, people are either alone/silent, or if they are talking, they tend to speak in moderate, normal tones, so this was quite disruptive.

    And I wasn’t the only one who was irritated, I could tell. They were loud enough that I was unable to read my book and had to sit there for almost half an hour listening to their ENTIRE conversation.  I felt like some kind of hostage.

  • Jane

     Gretchen has proclaimed public cell phone conversations as not rude because it is “accepted.”  Rude means disrespectful. Good manners are about respecting other people. Just because a practice is prevalent (“accepted”) doesn’t mean it’s right, respectful, considerate or healthy. The vast majority of cell phone conversations I notice are extremely loud and could be considered excess, unnecessary noise, which studies have proven contributes to stress, accidents and sickness. This is why there are noise laws.

    Cigarette smoking in public used to be prevalent, “accepted,” and not considered rude.

    Here is a link to a fascinating video entitled “Cell Phones & Cigarettes: What do they have in Common?”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4uz2TUcwnI

    • Debora

      What is rude changes throughout time. It was once rude to show your ankles. Whether you like it or not, generally the public does not find talking on cellphones rude. So, yes, accepted does mean it is no longer rude.

  • Kham

    everywhere i go i see people yakking endlessly about unimportant things on their cell phones. they don’t know how to set the cell aside and enjoy the moment, their surroundings, even the people around them. texting is just as bad, if not worse. previous posters already got into that, but i hate  it when people text in the middle of a conversation or at a dinner table.  i am of the minority who doesn’t have and doesn’t even want a cell phone. i don’t have a need for one… maybe if i travelled a lot, or my occupation required that i be reachable at all times, i’d see the use. i find it intrusive when i am forced to listen to phone conversations on buses or in restaurants. and it ‘s bad when customers enter my store and talk loudly on their phones, even while at the cashier, not paying attention to the cashier’s greeting, questions, and farewell “have a nice day” (if the cashier even cares to offer that after being ignored so rudely). i agree that this is mostly about people just being rude. there’s a time and place for everything. 

  • Kat

    Once, I was sitting in my doctor’s office while another patient got on her cell phone to tell her friend she was at her ob/gyn appt. God forbid she pick up a book or magazine to entertain herself. (Young people seem to need stimulation at every moment.) The girl went on and on, subjecting the rest of us in the small, otherwise quiet waiting room to her entire conversation. I wanted to ask her to step out in the hall, but didn’t want to appear old and cranky. After all, there was no “no cell phones” sign in the waiting room.

    It bothered me so much, I mentioned it to the doctor. She laughed and said she has had many a patient not put down their cell phone when she walked in the room – and even answer their phone during a pelvic exam! That is not only RUDE but completely disrespectful! The doctor then said she would consider a sign. Ya think??

    The biggest problem I have with it is when people are on their phones in a setting where others can’t escape. (Doctor’s office versus grocery store, for instance.) Just the fact that there are people who responded here who admit they do this, but excuse their behavior because they are SO busy. To them I say: What did you do before cell phones existed? And please think about the subject matter. Is it really something that can’t wait? Most of the time, I don’t overhear business conversations. Most subjects are quite personal and/or definitely unimportant. 

    Just thinking about the ever-increasing lack of manners and consideration for others upsets me very much. Maybe it’s less about cell phones and more about narcissism. Whatever it is, it’s definitely a pigeon of discontent!

  • Debora

    I have never been able to understand why people get themselves so worked up about this. Okay, so you don’t like it. I don’t like to sit next to a person with a strong smell (i.e. too much perfume or consuming fragrant food), but that’s life. Sometimes you have to accept things you don’t like. The world will never be what you consider to be right or perfect.
    Getting annoyed by these things doesn’t affect anyone but yourself.