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The cell phone as Romulan cloaking device

Don't want to talk to somebody? Pretend to be talking to someone else.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 5, 2010 10:29AM

Quick poll: Who here has pretended to be texting or checking e-mail so you could avoid some kind of personal interaction?

Liars. I bet a whole bunch of you have done this. Heck, I've done it myself, albeit in a low-tech way. (More on that later.)

Melissa Ford wrote about "fauxting," or fake text-messaging, on BlogHer. She copped to doing it herself. But Ford isn't particularly happy about the trend, citing the potential "decline of civility and community" that could result from such closed-off public behavior.

I agree. I think too many people spend way too much time plugged in. At least half the people I see in Seattle have a Bluetooth device, an MP3 or a texting-while-walking habit. (Some have two of those attributes. Spooky.) If I were a pickpocket, I'd target these people.

Is the next tweet really worth losing your credit cards and driver's license? Of course, while you waited in line at the DMV you could tweet about that.

I'm trying to use the phone!

That said, I admit that my cell phone sometimes doubles as a low-tech Romulan cloaking device. It's a flip phone, no bells, no whistles.

It does have video capability, as I discovered early on when I was randomly poking buttons. Suddenly I saw myself staring at myself, which scared the heck out of me.

(It's moments like these that make me glad I live alone. I didn't have to explain why I'd just shrieked like a Victorian maiden.)

Low-tech or not, Flipper gets me through the mall unmolested. Generally I avoid shopping centers because a real frugalist just hates to pay retail. However, I get my hair cut at a mall salon, and six times a year I cash in the "free underpants" coupons from Victoria's Secret.

Invariably, salespeople standing by kiosks want to engage you in conversation about their aromatherapy eye masks, or to sell you a flour-sack calendar with bad laser images of your grandchildren.

I don't want to talk to these people, but I'm lousy at conflict. So when I get near that end of the mall, I take out my cell phone and pretend to be having a conversation.

If that makes me a big ol' coward, so be it. Some of these salespeople are really pushy, and I neither need nor want a pen that writes under water.

On the plus side: When I'm having this mockversation I can sound as witty and charming, or as wise and understanding, as I want. In fact, I sometimes revisit conversations I've actually had, except this time I'm a lot smarter. I get to win all the arguments, too.

Readers: Have you ever used a BlackBerry or a Bluetooth to get out of interacting with a crashing bore or an insistent vendor of organic skin-care products? Are you ashamed of this, or do you recommend it? Could you get away with it at family reunions, do you think?


Donna Freedman is the MSN Money Living With Less columnist and also blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.


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