Cell Phones Breed Mental Illness--Just ask Sprint

Imagine getting a Dear John letter from your cell phone company telling you you're too high-maintenance to keep around. Sprint sent such a letter to about 1,000 subscribers on June 29 saying the relationship is over and there are no hard feelings and no outstanding balances; just go away.

These customers called Sprint's customer service 40 times a month on average. Often they asked the same questions over and over or asked for information about other account holders, according to Sprint, which has 53 million customers.

The seeking-information-about-other-account-holders piece of this puzzle intrigues me. Anything to do with the role of cell phone data as a source of evidence in divorce cases and the like?

We can all learn from this. Note to ourselves: if we ever feel driven to call customer service about someone else's cell phone information, we are a part of a deeply troubled relationship. Customer service can't provide the kind of professional help we need. (I know of a woman who used her phone camera to snap images of all the private investigators she was sure her husband had hired to follow her. The result: a photo gallery of dozens of random tailgaters. Customer service couldn't help her, either.)

It's ironic that this little device meant to help people connect plays such a key role in disconnection. To some extent, the phone itself is to blame. Since the earliest days of answering machines and caller ID, telephones have induced mental illness. As soon as people knew you had either or both of these contraptions, they began leaving messages as if you were standing right there listening and choosing not to talk to them. People began assuming they were unloved. To some extent, there's some point to this great leap. You got a machine to catch calls while you were out, but you also used it for the exact purpose for which caller ID was designed: to avoid talking to specific people.

As one unhappily married woman once said to me, with caller ID, "I have in-law-proofed my life."

Cell phones can make you sick. No one answers, so they don't want to talk to you. They answer and sound like they don't know who you are even though your number was right in front of them when they flipped open the phone. What's that about? If they don't respond to your message when you think they should, you can check in to see if they've played it and therefore chosen not to call back. Because of course they spend the entire day waiting for their phones to ring so they can ignore it.

My Cingular phone manual even provides instructions on how to disconnect a caller before he or she leaves a message: open the phone and press the red button. Gone. The effect: the caller wonders if this was a deliberate disconnect or a dropped call, if he or she should call back and leave a message or say to heck with it. Imagine receiving printed instructions on how to hang up on somebody.

Then there's the option of masking your number so you can send the passive-aggressive "I can call you but you can't call me" message to the person you phone.

In a healthy life, you call people and they answer or you leave a message. They call back when they can. You assume this is how it will go and move on with your day. In an unhealthy life, you stalk the people you call until you can prove they don't want to talk to you. We have a chicken-and-egg situation: are they avoiding you because you are frighteningly unwell, or are you unwell because you have caught the mental illness of the person who doesn't answer the phone?

Why do we defer dealing with the reality we keep in our pockets all day?

See this USA Today article for more on Sprint's action.
See this law.com article on the role of technology in legal proceedings.
See cyberlies.com for articles that make a virtue of paranoia.


  1. Cell phones... Ah the bane of cell phones... I am tempted to give up on mine.

  2. I love having a cell, but I find it amazing how equipped it is to allow me to not talk to somebody! A very unhappy person must be behind the invention of these features.


Post a Comment

Thanks for being here.