Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is that a cell phone in your pocket or are you throbbing to see me?

Why are you standing there smiling and stroking your leg?--You are sitting at your desk, or at a movie or walking down the street and you feel it. Your cell phone, set on "vibrate," is beginning to throb. You pull it out, flip it open and--nothing. You have been the victim of phantom cell phone vibrations. Cell phone companies deny it can happen. A search of the scientific literature produces nothing, but we all know it happens. The only literature I've found on the subject is a piece done last year by Joe Orso, a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Orso's problem is writing a story without experts. He was too far ahead of the field. He interviewed several people on theorizing the phantom phenomenon, and the lay explanations ran from psychosomatic (you are consciously or subconsciously expecting a call) to hallucinations (you are in love or something). The closest he gets to an expert is Christine Rosen, who has written on cell phones for New Atlantis. “Cell phone users talk about the reassurance of being constantly connected,” Rosen said. “It signals to everyone around you that you’re part of another community. So you’re not just a stranger in a public space, but you’re a person who’s in demand and who can demand the attention of someone else.”

He does have one psychology grad student to suggest that the vibes are similar to phantom call tones: if the ring is similar to a common pitch, you may hear it when it isn't there. Then there is the coed who honestly admitted she wants people to call her continually and when they don't, well, the phone throbs.

When we are done researching that, we can get to the other phone call vibration question: why does it feel good when it goes off in your pants pocket?

[By the way, do you know why they vibrate? The have little fly wheels with weights on the end and a phone call gets the fly wheel spinning.]

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