The Push-To-Talk Power Play

David Kiley

As I sat down to blog about push-to-talk cellphones, I went looking for an image I could upload. The above shot is what I found. What I was looking for, though, was an image of a guy, or woman, beating to death some push-to-talk addicted lummox. No such luck.

Push-to-talk, the phone service started by Nextel, and adopted by Cingular, Verizon, Virgin, T-Mobile, etc. is the service that allows the cell-phone user to use his or her phone like a walkie-talkie. This way, you see, everyone in the vicinity of the call not only gets to hear one side of the conversation, but both sides. I was in a Kinkos not long ago, using a cubicle as a work-station, and the young woman was in the cubicle next to me doing the push-to-talk thing. I had a Broderick Crawford-to-Judy-Holiday moment (from "Born Yesterday" for those who haven't seen the classic movie)..."DO YA MIND?????????" I gave it to her.

Up to now, I just thought the push-to-talk thing was yet another symptom of callous public behavior, like: flicking a cigarette butt out a windoW; emptying a car ashtray on to the ground in a 7-11 parking lot; flossing your teeth in a movie theatre before the film starts. But a conversation I had with a wireless service company executive recently shed some new light on this. He says that many people who buy the service use it as a sense of power--at least that's what the company's research shows. He wouldn't let me use his name, as he doesn't want push-to-talk to take on the same public scorn as, say, driving Hummer H2s.

But this bloke says the dynamic of using push-to-talk is very much akin to wanting to drive a big SUV you don't need, or sending a perfectly good bottle of wine back to show someone how important you are.

The psychology of push-to-talk...interesting stuff. My favorite push-to-talk moment came on a NJ Transit train. It was crammed as usual. I was standing in between cars, reading a tightly folded newspaper, shoulder to shoulder with the other commuters. The guy standing to one side of me was carrying on a pre-meeting meeting on his push-to-talk. I said..."Hey bud...give us a break, will ya?" "Sorry," he said. "This is really important." Oh? I starting reading my newspaper aloud into his face and phonecall.

The whole thing reminds me of some unpleasant experiences I have had in movie theatres where a gaggle of people won't shut up.

You want to use push-to-talk in a car, by yourself, in your house, or even on the street where you have a buffer zone around you? That's your business. But this exertion of "power" by inflicting it on other people is a desperate cry for help. These are consumers who need therapy, not to mention, in the words of Larry David..."a f****ing copy of Emily Post!!!!!!!" Or in the words of Broderick Crawford...."DO YA MIND?"

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