Can You Hear Me Now?

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

March-April 2006

I am always amazed when technology that is supposed to make our lives easier actually makes them more complicated and more frustrating.  Cellphones have risen to number one on my list of stress inducers and I am not alone.  Mobile-phone service was the second-lowest-ranked industry, beating only cable providers, in the University of Michigan's newest customer satisfaction index. Similarly, cellphone companies were second in Better Business Bureau complaints.  Only car dealers did worse.  190,000,000 Americans use cellphones. This is 64% of the total population and 84% of those over 15!

People have a love-hate relationship with cellphones.  Sure, all providers have problems, but in a recent FCC report, Cingular/AT&T had, by far, the most customer service and billing complaints. Cingular has 50,000,000 customers and as far as I can tell, most of them are decidedly unhappy. 

So, what’s wrong with Cingular?  My major complaint may seem odd but the clock is not accurate.  I have my phone automatically update my clock and it is always running 2-3 minutes late. This is important to me since I have classes and meetings where I need to be on time.  When I called Cingular support, after a 20 minute wait, the “knowledeable support person” informed me that this was the first time she had heard about the problem (everyone Cingular user I know has the problem) and “many clocks tell different times in my house.”  When I stated that they use a standard satellite to download the time, she said, “Well, I guess that the satellite doesn’t have an accurate clock.”  When I asked to speak to someone else she “accidentally” hung up on me.  When I emailed Cingular support the automated return message promised a response within 24 hours. I am still waiting.  This makes no sense.  I have had an Oregon Scientific clock for years that updates itself every night. It is never wrong. Why can’t Cingular figure this out?

Dropped calls and lousy reception are the main pet peeves of cellphone users.  I always thought that Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” campaign was tongue-in-cheek since I use that phrase dozens of times a day when I am talking to someone and there is poor reception. What irony.  I can’t even talk on the cellphone in my house unless I walk around to find even the tiniest antenna.  And then I lose the person anyway.

My friend is a clinical psychologist.  She uses her cellphone for emergencies.  The other day she had a little envelope icon on her phone which tells her that there is a message.  When she checked her messages there were none.  Since she had several suicidal clients this precipitated some anxiety, a call to Cingular, a wait of 30 minutes and a talk with a service technician who informed her that she had no messages and he had removed the envelope image from their offices. He did mention that this happens often and told her to not worry about it.  Easier said than done.

I teach a course on the global impact of technology and I always hear such great stories about cellphones.  Where is the oddest place you ever saw someone using one?  My students’ top answers:  church, movie theaters, skateboard, and bathroom.  The latter is funny. I watched a man at the race track last summer walk into the restroom talking on the phone, one-handedly complete his business, flush, wash his hands and leave without missing a word.  I wonder if the other person knew.

Cingular just changed their voicemail system.  By traditional convention, message systems have always used “1” to play, “2” to save and “3” to erase and playing a message began by announcing the time it had arrived.  Not Cingular. The message does not start with the time received.  With other voicemail systems you can erase a message while you are listening to it. Not Cingular.  Their voicemail uses “7” to erase but you have to listen to the whole message or press “3” twice (?) to skip through to the end.  “9” saves the message and to get the time it arrived you press “0” and then, oh, I forget. Dumb system.

I am sure you have your own pet peeves but I have three major ones.  First, I can’t stand it when someone behind me is talking, I turn around and he is looking right at me but he is talking to someone using a hands-free phone.  It makes me crazy.  Second, I can’t understand why people feel the necessity to talk on their phone when they are grocery shopping.  “Honey, do you want chicken rice soup or chicken noodle?  Low fat? Low salt? Let me see. The low fat has 50 mg of sodium and the low salt has 10 but has more fat grams.”  What happened to grocery lists?  There are so many phones being used at Costco that it is hard to get an antenna!  Third, I pick up my daughter from high school.  The first day we agreed that I would park close to the school and I would call when school ended and let her know where to meet me.  I tried to call and got “call failed.”  I tried again and again and could not get an antenna.  When I looked up I realized that there was no way I was going to get an antenna since every one of the 3,500 students had a cellphone glued to their ear.  A single cell tower can only handle 3,000 calls.

Many states (
New York, Connecticut, New Jersey), cities (Chicago) and even a whole country (Japan) have banned using handheld cellphones when driving. Others have plans to do the same.  Indeed, research shows that when you are talking on a cellphone while driving, your reactions are slowed by 20%.  But, that is the same whether it is hands-free or handheld.  Cellphone-using drivers remember only about half as many objects on the road and have a reduced visual field.  This is called “inattention blindness” and results in over 1.5 million accidents per year.  But diehard cellphone users point to the fact that just listening to music or talking is distracting, too.  However, research shows that these activities do not increase inattention blindness.  It is easier cognitively to stop listening to the radio or stop a conversation with a passenger. But cellphone conversations require more cognitive processing and are more distracting.

One final thought:  Before cell phones did you see long lines for pay phones?  Why do we need to be in constant contact? Has something changed in our lives or is it the Can/Should Paradox.  Because we can, we feel we should.  That’s it for my rant.  Feel free to share yours by emailing me at

Website of the month

I commute 3-4 hours roundtrip to work.  I discovered a website ( that shows me the results of a zillion road sensors.  I get speeds about every mile, traffic alerts, even road cameras.  Given that my drive takes me through three counties and a dozen possible freeway routes, this is invaluable.  Before I leave I check sigalert to choose my best route.  To check if you have similar information in your area go to 


Copyright, 2006, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $35 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.