Confessions of a 'Cell-Phone Jerk'

Commentator Kevin R. Free is a self-described "cell-phone jerk." Although his cell phone etiquette is below par, he's trying really hard to get better.

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ED GORDON, host:

Have you ever thought a friend was talking to you only to find they were actually talking to someone else on their cell phone? If so, you may be friends with our commentator, Kevin R. Free, or someone like him.

Kevin admits he's a multi-tasking phone guy and one who's often too busy to regularly return phone calls. But he's getting better, and he has some tips for those of you who have gotten lazy on your cell phone etiquette.

Mr. KEVIN R. FREE (Actor; Career Coach): In the past couple of years, I have become really bad at returning telephone calls. Friends have left concerned messages for me like, Kevin, where are you? I'm really worried about you. Please just call me and tell me that you're alive. Invariably, I send a text message rather than call them back, telling them I'm alive but barely, or alive but too busy to call, or alive but saving my voice.

That last one is my favorite excuse.

It is the end of Cell Phone Courtesy Month, and though it's pretty low on the list of reasons why black folk ain't free today, my own discourteousness has been weighing heavily on my mind. So today, I am pledging to be more prompt about returning calls to my friends.

Normally, I just look at the caller ID, feel a moment of affection for whatever friend is calling, and then I send the call to voicemail. I hate answering my phone.

I think I need an assistant to make excuses for me, because when I tell my friends how busy I am as an excuse for not returning a call, it's as if I'm saying to them, you know, I'm auditioning for Broadway shows and recording commentaries and sitting in Starbucks for hours plotting my next artistic moves. I couldn't possibly be expected to call you back. But you know what? Thanks for the messages. I love you, too. Kisses!

I am so not concerned about returning calls to my friends. But I am concerned about being rude to strangers while I talk on my cell. I turn my cell off when I'm watching a movie. And, you know, that's hard for me. I'm an actor. What if Spike Lee tries to reach me and my cell phone is in the off position?

I was with a friend recently who not only left his cell phone on during the film, but he also answered it and talked in his normal speaking voice. I asked him after the film why he didn't silence his cell phone. I mean, I think its common sense to silence one's phone during a movie. But I'm aware that we still live in a world where there are reminders in public restrooms for hand washing and the appropriate materials to be flushed down the toilet.

Anyway, my friend told me that he never turns off his phone. Not since September 11th. That shut me up for a minute, because I didn't want to question the man's fears. But then I realized that the person who called him during the movie was not trying to warn him about a terrorist attack.

And now there's a group of parents in New York City suing the Department of Education to dismantle its cell phone policy. They want to be able to reach their children in the case of emergencies during the school day, but the DOE is concerned about children using their phones to disrupt classes and to cheat. Now, I think that if a kid has to enter a school through a metal detector, then there's a chance that that same kid may have to use his cell phone to dial 911.

But not all schools have metal detectors, and not all parents warn their kids not to use their phones to text each other while teachers are trying to teach respect.

The world isn't as safe as it once was and our cell phones seem to be our lifelines. As my friends and family try to pull me closer wirelessly, I pull away by choosing a new plan with fewer minutes, buying a cheaper phone, not returning calls. Maybe I don't want them to be surprised if something bad happens to me and I never call back. Or, maybe I'm just a jerk.

All I know is they better answer their phones when I try to call them. Okay?

GORDON: Kevin R. Free is an actor and career coach living in New York City.

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