April 14, 2005

Faking It

Do you "fake it" on your cell phone?

Yes, frequently.

No, never.

I've done it a few times but I don't make a habit of it.

I don't have a cell phone.

It's 7:50 and Rob just called me from the airport in San Francisco. He
usually calls at 8 every night so that he can say goodnight to the kids
as I'm putting them to sleep. But his call was ten minutes early so I
knew something was up. (Yes, we tend to be that precise.) I was
beginning to worry that his plane was delayed but all he said was, "I'm
just letting you know that I'll call at 8."

so Rob can be a bit odd at times, but this was just stupid-odd. Then he
explained, "I'm walking past the information guy and I hate talking to

There you have it. Rob was faking it. Though technically,
to be a true faker, there shouldn't have been a live person on the
other line. (Rob confessed later that he used to speak (his very bad
version of) French when he'd walk by these guys. But then he started
feeling bad about that. So he tried the cell phone approach instead. I
don't know why he can't just do what I do -- ignore those guys.

The New York Times had an article today about faking it. (I'll post the article below.)

curious. How many of you fake it? How often? Do you call a weather
service or some other non-human so that it seems like there's really
someone on the other end of the line? (I'd ask this as a poll but that
ability either seems to have been taken away, or I it's not an option
while I'm using this old clunker computer of mine, seeing as the newer
one is in the shop.)

Reach Out and Touch No One

Published: April 14, 2005

cashier had already rung up Keri Wooster's items when Ms. Wooster
realized she didn't have her wallet. She dashed to her car and returned
empty-handed to face the line of fidgeting customers she had kept
waiting, a cellphone pressed to her ear. "Jordan, did you take my
wallet out of my purse?" she asked in parental exasperation, as she
made her way back to the checkout counter. "I'm holding up this line!
You need to put things back where you find them."

Ms. Wooster,
who has no children, was not actually talking to a Jordan, or indeed to
anyone at all. But her monologue served its purpose, eliciting
sympathetic looks from the frustrated crowd at her local Wal-Mart.

"My instincts just took over," Ms Wooster, 28, who lives in Houston, said later. "Everyone was like, 'Oh, kids.' "

Wooster is by no means alone in the practice of cellphone subterfuge.
As cellular phone conversations have permeated public space, so, it
seems, have fake cellular phone conversations.

How many? It is
hard to say. But James E. Katz, a professor of communication at Rutgers
University, says his classroom research suggests that plenty of the
people talking on the phone around you are really faking it. In one
survey Dr. Katz conducted, more than a quarter of his students said
they made fake calls. He found the number hard to believe. Then in
another class 27 of 29 students said they did it.

"People are
turning the technology on its head," Dr. Katz said. "They are taking a
device that was designed to talk to people who are far away and using
it to communicate with people who are directly around them."

Call them cellphonies.

stage calls to avoid contact, whether with neighbors or panhandlers,
co-workers or supervisors, Greenpeace canvassers or Girl Scouts. Some
do it to impress those within earshot, others so they don't look
lonely. Men talk to their handsets while they're checking out women.
Women converse with the air to avert unwanted approaches by men.

phone shutterbugs fake being on the phone so they can get a good angle
without looking suspicious. And certain cellular vigilantes fake for
the benefit of real callers who are oblivious to the rules of common

"I fake phone talk to get a point across," said Ty
Hammond, of Pullman, Wash., who once forced an apology from a woman
spewing excessively personal details into her cellphone in an elevator
by shouting (made-up) escapades of his own into his (powered-off)
phone. "People need to know phone etiquette and fake phone calling is a
great tool for showing them."

The fake phone call has an
etiquette, or at least a technique, all its own. Inexperienced
cellphonies risk exposure with their limited repertoire of "uh-huhs."
Sophisticated simulators achieve authenticity by re-enacting their side
of an actual dialogue. Or they call voice-activated phone trees, so it
sounds like someone is talking on the other end.

"I'll take a
previous experience and pretend like I'm talking to somebody about it
so I'm not just making up something off the top of my head," said John
Wilcox, a phone salesman in Albany who often appears to be on his
cellphone when a problem customer walks in. "Maybe it's a snowboarding
move: 'Remember that back flip with the twist and the somersault?' "

Wilcox used the technique as he waited for the right moment to approach
a woman he saw in a store at the mall recently. "I couldn't just stand
there looking like an idiot," he said.

For Micheal K. Meyer, the key is the look on your face when you "answer."

grimace a little bit, act really interested in what you're not really
hearing on the other end," said Mr. Meyer, an aircraft mechanic in Lake
City, Fla., who has feigned hundreds of calls. "You've got to sell it."

lawyer in San Francisco said she frequently pretends to be finishing up
a conference call that she took on the road so her colleagues don't
give her a hard time about walking in late.

"Pretending is very
flexible," noted the lawyer, 37, who insisted on anonymity to protect
her ability to continue using the ruse. "You can end the conversation
whenever you want."

On many handsets, pressing the speakerphone
button makes a ringing sound that fakers can pretend is a call coming
in. But pros counsel to turn the phone off to prevent your cover from
being blown. Or at least set it to vibrate.

That is a lesson
Scott Spector, 15, learned the hard way, when his phone started
blasting his "American Idol Theme" ringtone as he was pretending to
talk into it in the hall at school last month.

"I felt like such a dork," said Scott, of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Katz of Rutgers said the practice first drew his attention when
students in focus groups he had organized to study a wide range of
cellphone use began mentioning it, unprompted.

The habit, Dr.
Katz said, is the latest technological twist in a culture that has long
embraced various forms of dissembling in the name of image, from
designer knockoff handbags to plastic surgery. Some fakers admit to
programming their phones to call them at a certain time to show off
their ring tones; others wrap up make-believe Hollywood deals in front
of people they want to impress.

And phantom callers are often
simply trying to cope with social anxiety by showing that they have
someone to call, even if they don't. One of Dr. Katz's students said
she pretended to use her cellphone when she was out with a group of
other college-age women who were all on theirs. Another did it to
escape from a fancy boutique where the prices were beyond her means
without speaking to a salesperson.

In that sense fake callers
are may not be so different from a lot of real callers, who are always
partly performing for others even as they as they appear to withdraw
into their own private space in public.

"The cellphone allows
people to show strangers that they belong, that they are part of a
community somewhere," said Christine Rosen, who studies the social
impact of technology at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in
Washington. "Whether or not it's a fictional call, on some level that's
why we're doing it."

But the surfeit of counterfeit calls
underscores the lengths to which people feel compelled to go to project
an image for others. Sometimes the impulse is almost subconscious.

Konchar, a network administrator in Canton, Ohio, had just hung up
after sitting in his parked car behind a strip mall talking to a friend
one afternoon, when he saw people emerging from the employee's entrance
to one of the stores. Quickly, he put the phone back up to his ear and
pretended to talk.

"I guess I thought people might wonder why
you're sitting out there in your car; it might look strange," said Mr.
Konchar, 33. "It's one of those things where after the situation
happens you're wondering, 'Why did I do that?' "

Many women rely
on fake cell phone calls when they fear for their physical safety.
Yessenia Morales, 21, said she recently called a non-existent friend
while being followed by a group of men on a train platform.

"I'll see you in a few minutes," she promised the ether.

fake calls are often made by people trying to preserve a more
psychological remove. Mike Lupiani uses his impersonation of someone on
the phone to ignore his chatty next-door neighbors. "They ask how your
day is going and stuff," said Mr. Lupiani, of Rochester. "I don't
really have time for it."

Christina Rohall, 29, said she
pretends to use the phone to avoid getting hit on. "I feel awkward just
rejecting people," said Ms. Rohall, of San Francisco.

How well
the fake call works is one of its most appealing qualities , and a
testament to how much respect people automatically grant to a cellphone
force field. Bartosz Sitarski, 24, said he once pretended to be on a
cellphone call for a full 15 minutes when someone he didn't want to
speak to was waiting to talk to him at a Milwaukee coffee shop. The
other person finally left rather than interrupt the "call."

security guards seem to respect the cellphone buffer, said Michael
McEachern, 16, of San Diego, who has found the fake call a useful way
to get to the club level at a Padres game when he doesn't have a pass.
Some frequent fakers worry that the wireless charade will be harder to
pull off once more people begin to suspect it.

But that will not
deter Adam Hecht, a radiologist in Berkeley Heights, N.J., whose wife
said she is often mortified by his cellphone humor. Mr. Hecht, 40,
reserves his fake phoning for places with no reception, like the
Tiffany's at the Short Hills, N.J., mall, where cellphones have
apparently been rendered unusable to preserve the ambiance: "I usually
go through a long medical scenario," he said, "that doesn't exist."
Attachment: favicon.ico


  1. I hate cell phones, so mine is perpetually broken/empty. Even if I wanted to fake it, I couldn't.

    Instead, I just look through people I want to ignore, as if they're not there. Freaks most of them out enough to eventually stop trying to reach me.

  2. I've done the cell phone fake a few times, usually in large social situations when I get someplace early and don't want to be the first one in, or if I'm surreptitiously checking out the environment if my suspicions are aroused late at night. I usually just ignore people if they're trying to get my attention or panhandle, or if they are particularly insistent, I look right at them and say "Sorry, not interested" in a matter-of-fact manner. I'm maintaining a brisk pace at that point, so the momentum sort of carries me past. Plus, I have a pretty good, "don't talk to me" glower when I need to turn it on :-)

    OH, I have done some quick re-prioritization of projects at times to get out of certain social chores, so they're technically not FAKED. Gotta clean that house! Gotta feed the cat! Gotta do my taxes! All conveniently true. With friends, it's just a matter of saying "don't feel like it" so subterfuge isn't necessary.

  3. I hate cell phones; I don't have one at all. :-)

    If I'm out, either I'm honestly in a hurry to get stuff done and go home, or I have my boyfriend with me, so I can engage in a real conversation with him to avoid people. I wouldn't have any opportunities to fake it anyways.

  4. I hate cells phones, too, but my brother got me one for my birthday so I'll give it another whirl and be EXTREMELY selective to who I give my number to. Cell phones are are annoying to me. Life wasnt meant to be attached to a freaking phone. However, I can see the upsides of using it selectively.

    Ive never done what you describe Meg. I have told people different stories (super annoying store clerks, salemen, institutions) to tell me what theyre either hiding or to get their memorized script over with.

  5. I don't mind my cell phone so much... but I do mind the monthly bill for it and my wife's. Ouch. I think we'll get prepaid phones once our contract is up in a few weeks.

  6. Do you still use a land line? My sister does everything by mobile; she doesn't own a land line at all.

    I don't like my phone either, but it's a necessary evil. I like the out-function (calling when I need to), but usually dislike the in-function (being called at the most inconventient times).

    I only use my cell phone when I go to court or have an external visit. My work pays for it, and more or less obliges me to have one.

  7. i have a cell phone but i often forget to turn it on or take it anywhere. i generally only use it when on vacation and people have no better way to contact me. i only have to pay $20 every three months to keep the phone active. (and the $20 keeps accumulating so that i have more than enough whenever that vacation time comes.)

    rob has faked it many a time on our land line. if he's being silly with the kids and they're whining about something, he'll call the "police" to report a grumpy kid. or if they're having an argument, he'll call "information" who will, of course, agree that he's right.

    he used to try it on me, but now he stops after the, 'hello, is this the dictionary hotline?" when he sees that i have my "you're such an idiot" face on.

  8. I don't hate cell phones; I hate people who insist on wearing the very obvious headgear when they're not talking. When I was flying to NJ last week, there was a guy who had insisted he keep his headset on during the flight after the attendant asked him if his mobile was turned off. Now, why would you need to keep the earbud in if the phone's off? Or the people who walk through the food store or the library with them on. Ugh...

  9. Aww, haha. How cute lol. I'd die laughing :P

  10. While wearing the headgear on a plane seems downright silly, those things do look too unwieldy to put them on in time to answer a call. If I had to carry a phone that I actually had to answer in real time on a regular basis, I'd probably keep the headset on while shopping and such, just from an efficiency point of view. Certainly, if my doctor were on call, I'd want him to keep the headset on instead of fumbling around for it and possibly missing a call.

  11. But, if you're walking around, it's just as easy to just put the phone to your ear when you answer it. It just strikes me as, like with all the people around here who have H2s, it's a status thing: "Look at what I have! I'm so important, I have to have my earpiece in at all times..."

    Maybe it's that I'm a lowkey person with my phone that I find those other people to be so pretentious...?

  12. But it looks very uncomfortable, and I hope it becomes illegal to do that in the car because I think it's dangerous. If people should put on their headsets for safety reasons while they're in car anyways, it seems like it'd be a hassle for them to take it off afterwards.

    I find those other people to be so pretentious
    I suppose. I'm rather insensitive to image, and thus I don't notice pretension in the mere existence or non-existence of accessories, and it does seem like a practical accessory to be wearing if one must carry a cell phone anyways. I imagine that wearing a watch was probably considered pretentious once upon a time ("Oh, look, I'm so important and busy that I have to watch the time"), but people got over that because the watch can actually be useful. Or, maybe their phone is also an mp3 player. I generally don't care what people wear or what car they drive as long as they don't expect me to gush over it, so unless they're trying to maneuver me into complimenting them on their headset, I don't see why such things should bother me.

    Besides, simply wearing a headset strikes me as less inconsiderate than avoiding people by pretending to be on the phone. And, it strikes me as far less pretentious than assuming that one is so important that one's faked cell phone conversation would be listened to by random third party strangers.

  13. Oh, for cars it's a different story. I think earphones are the way to go. But, walking around a store? C'mon, it's pretentious... :)

  14. I was thinking annoying for the store bit...and rude. Maybe a quick hi and bye that I see a small percentage do but it is usually a flow blown conversation at high volume which I think is highly inconsiderate in an indoor area.

    One of my online friends has a sister in Seattle. Apparently a year ago she was searching for her cell phone while and smashed into a parked car. She totalled both cars (........). Smooth, just smoooooth.

  15. yup, definitely pretentious and rude.

    it freaks me out to have someone standing there talking to the milk and i can't tell if they're directing their words to me or they really think the milk is listening. then i notice the ear bud and i'm sure they're smirking to themselves thinking, 'hah! i fooled her. isn't she an idiot!" when the person talking to the milk about the fact that they're at the grocery store is the real idiot.

  16. It is illegal to use mobile (cell) phones here in Australia whilst you are driving unless you use hands free.

    As for walking around the supermarket or any other store for that matter talking into your phone, I have to disagree. On a couple of occasions when I have not been able to leave the house because of health reasons (heart attack for one) my husband has had to do the shopping and he couldn't find something and phoned me. Or if I have gone to town to get something for our farm (sheep drench etc) and couldn't remember the name then I just have to phone my hubby and find out what it was he wanted.

    I couldn't give a whatever if I see someone using one anywhere. I think though that using them in theaters or doctors waiting rooms (and a few other public places) is a big no no.

  17. Then in those cases, put the earphone in, talk, then take the earphone out when the conversation's over. I'm talking about people who have them on when they're not talking on the phone. To me, it's like walking around with a toothbrush in your mouth while not brushing, or a book in your hand when you're not reading...

  18. I'm still at a loss as to why it should worry you or anyone else if someone wants to walk around with earphones dangling from their head? It is a free world so why the fuss?

  19. helping a man find the milk on the shelf right directly in front of him is a reasonable use for a cell phone. in fact, sometimes i wish we could just plug in directly and help the male brain learn to use the eyes it's attached to (and the hand, which might then learn to move the milk container in the fridge to reveal the mayonaise behind it that he SWEARS is not in there.)

    but when someone is basically saying the following...

    'hi. what are you doing?" "i'm at the grocery store." (talk 3 more minutes. hang up. call someone else. repeat the previous conversation with new victim.)

    (which is the most common conversation i hear when someone is talking on a cell phone)

    then i think people are being complete idiots and are either far too dependant on having a noise shot directly into their ear, or, like darryl said, they're doing it to show off.

  20. People can't show off without an audience. What's wrong with people showing off if they're not doing something dangerous in the process? Everybody does it to some certain extent. At least, I should hope we like to show off enough to at least shower and wear clean and reasonable-looking clothes. If someone has nice legs and wants to wear a mini-skirt to the store, or if they have nice muscles and want to wear a tight T-shirt, or if they have nice hair and wear it down, there's really no harm done to anyone else. If you don't like them showing off, then just don't notice. If people stop noticing, then it's no longer showing off.

    If they constantly have to have pointless nonsensical chatter going on, then yes, I do agree that it'd be pointless and inefficient, but I personally have no complaints about it because I don't waste my time listening in on their conversations long enough to figure out if they're nonsensical or not. It's really none of my business. And, that didn't seem to be what mcpierce was complaining about. He was complaining about the headsets being on the ear when people are not in the middle of a conversation. I don't see how that's any different from wearing an earring.

  21. I said I find it pretentious. It's a free world, so I'm free to both have an opinion and to express that opinion, right? :)

  22. Not exactly. A show-off doesn't require an audience, they only need to perceive that they have an audience. And they don't seem to require audience participation, just audience presence.

    But, I think the point that's getting lost here is that we're commenting on the human condition of some people who feel a need to attract that attention to themselves for something that's really not exceptional, or even impressive, at all. Today, everybody has a mobile and can call people. But, there is apparently a type of person who needs to take themselves up another notch and basically say, "I'm soooo important I can detach myself from my mobile".

    We're making social commentary, not trying to make social change...

  23. If it's not exceptional or impressive at all, then why is it noticeable when they're not using it, anymore than say a large Bajoran earring might be? The very fact that you're commenting on it means that a) it _is_ impressive or exceptional (it certainly made an impression on *you*), and b) they do indeed have an audience in you.

    Betty's point is very valid--she doesn't notice the earpieces, they don't make an impression on her (and are therefore not impressive), and in not noticing them, she also deprives them of an audience. It seems a much more practical approach to the situation, rather like not paying attention to pierced ears/eyebrows/tongues/nipples/etc. on people, or not paying attention to tattoos.

    Non-intrusive items like that have no power, save what we grant them.

    (Now, if this were in the INTJ forum, I'd start to speculate as to whether it's an E/I split between those who ignore non-intrusive external factors, and those who feel compelled to notice them...but I'll save that line of thought for the more appropriate forum. :D)

  24. forum-schmorum. i don't mind when conversations roam, as long as people are allowed to get back to the topic at hand when they want to. (which wasn't ear pieces at all, but faking it on the cell phone.)

    one external factor that i'm horrible about noticing is clothing. if someone is wearing something remarkable, i'll notice it. but i never notice their clothes if they're wearing basic, every day stuff. whereas i know there are people who could tell me every outfit i've worn this week.

    so, needless to say, i don't notice ear pieces. what i do notice is when people are jabbering away on a cell phone in a public (or shopping) space and they're much too loud (which is more often than not). i really don't care to hear every intimate detail of a stranger's life.

  25. Not necessarily. Do you think that everything that annoys you is exceptional, or just annoying? Perhaps they're just exactly as I described it: pretentious.

  26. But, there is apparently a type of person who needs to take themselves up another notch and basically say, "I'm soooo important I can't detach myself from my mobile".
    I know a few guys that wear their work badges around just because they forget to take them off. (While I have picked up from others that it's considered tacky, much like wearing pocket protectors, I see absolutely no reason to remove the badges unless they're getting in the way, like ripping up one's shirt or dangling in one's food.) I also know lots of people who have asked where their glasses are even when they're wearing them. Having a headset on can mean many other things, like "Oh, I didn't realize that I forgot to take it off" or "Meh, it's too much of a hassle to take on and off, and it doesn't affect anything to leave it there" or "I lost my last one because I took it off and put it down somewhere and forgot to pick it back up again; if I just wear it, it's a lot harder to lose it". I suppose some people might be wearing it for effect, but it seems awfully pre-judgmental to think everyone who's doing it is doing it for such a lame reason. I don't care about making any sort of impression, but if I had to have a cell phone and headset, I'd probably wear it while I'm out because I'd probably find it convenient and practical to do so. Certainly, if work forced a cell phone on me, I'd probably insist on them buying me a headset and I'd probably wear it most of the time because I'd be disinclined to answer the cell phone at all if I had to drop everything in my hands and scramble to get it when it rang.

    (Hm. I wrote this much earlier, but I guess I managed to not hit "Submit".)

    (EDIT: The quote didn't seem to show up properly, so I replaced it since Multiply doesn't have a mechanism to fix it.)

  27. No I have never faked it on the phone :-) I usually use my mobile phone for text messages only because it costs too much to phone anyone on it, and I have it on vibrate so no one but I know if I've got a message. I turn it off when driving because I feel that you need to concentrate 100% when driving. If I have passengers then I will leave it on and they can answer it if need be.

    I have no quarrel with anyone else using their mobiles as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else like at the theatre. If people want to fake it great, let em they are the ones paying the bill. Same goes for people who want to "showoff" let em, they will be happy and you haven't had to do anything but look at them to make them happy. If we could make just one person happy each day what a wonderful world this would be.

    Now if it worries you so much that people are walking around with earphones in their ears and not using them, why don't you just walk up to that person and ask them why they are doing it???????

  28. Am I the only one picturing Meg Ryan faking it at a restraunt? I keep thinking that everytime I see this post...

  29. No I think of that too but just haven't been game enough to admit it :-)

  30. no, i picture meg ryan faking it while holding a cell phone out in front of her. ;-)

    on second thought, i think "elaine" (from seinfeld) comes to mind about as often as "sally" does.

  31. Yes: annoying, isn't it? Happens quite often, too.


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