Thursday, April 23, 2009

pavlov and the ringtone

First period high school sociology: a wake-up experience to rival caffeine. The teacher, let's call her Mrs. B, was a piece of work. Her shoulder-length, mildly wavy, black hair was in a state of disarray, corraled only by a giant clip pulling half her hair to the top of her head. This "do" was partially masked in the front by a hair-sprayed-for-permanent-lastability set of bangs teased to monumental proportions. Her accessory of choice was a scrunchie pulling her fluorescent-colored, loose shirt to the side. Everything in the room paled in comparison.

So it was no suprise when, as we stood on our desks to see a classmate's car get searched during a drug bust, we had no idea why Mrs. B kept repeating, "Yellow. Yellow." A friend, partially genuinely confused and partially seeing an easy joke replied, "Blue? Red?"

"Why are you being like that? The yellow construction paper taped to the wall clearly says 'Sit in desks.'"

And indeed, there it was. Along with an assortment of other rules taped to the wall on brightly colored construction paper. I probably should have felt insulted. We were, after all, juniors and seniors in high school. Likely in an effort to help us associate rules with colors, for what purpose I am not sure, Mrs. B had painstakingly posted rainbow rules on the wall and instead of bothering to just ask us to sit down, she opted to shout the corresponding color. My guess is that at the very least this would have forced us to pause a second to review the wall, find the correct color, read the rule and decide how to proceed - had we known that's what they were and why they were there and made the connection between color and rule.

It's a sociology class though so such experiments seem appropriate. And what's a good teacher without giving students some memorable stories infused with a healthy sense of the absurd - or in this case, just a lot of color. I did learn in this class, and the point of this post: Pavlov and the dog. In an effort to understand why dogs drooled even before being shown food, Pavlov designed a set of experiments testing their associations. The experiment I recall from high school sociology was ringing a bell everytime food was brought to the dogs. Eventually, the dogs would salivate just at the sound of a bell. Today we have our own version: cell phones.

Actually, I'll broaden this further to any phone. It rings. Someone jumps. I have seen people dump entire purses in search of their elusive ringing phone; interrupt conversations with real-live-friendish-colleaguesque-humans for, as caller ID indicates someone they don't know; take off in a dead sprint through rooms and hallways, treading over small children and pushing over the elderly, to grab the receiver moments before the last ring sends the anonymous caller to voicemail; and otherwise foam at the mouth every time the sound suggests a call.

What's so wrong with voicemail? How is it different than picking up the phone and saying "I'm in a meeting, can I call you back?" or "I'm at dinner, can I call you back?" How about instead of interrupting whatever the present engagement is, just letting voicemail take a message so the call can be returned at a more convenient time?


  1. I've been ignoring phone calls for years and people just call me anti-social!

    wait, according to your post, does that make me a poorly trained dog?


  2. One of the things I've loved the most about living abroad is my complete disconnect from my cell phone. I go into my purse only to find that the battery has died, perhaps days earlier? This disconnect from the phone has become so freeing, I only wish more people could see that life does go on without being tied to a cell phone, blackberry, email, etc. and in fact you discover the enjoyment of the moment with family, friends, etc.

  3. Sarah, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you've advanced a bit beyond poorly trained dog...

    Jennifer, just an observation... :)

    Elizabeth,maybe that's what we need to do...move overseas...another reason to do all your blog updates -so jealous of the traveling!

  4. I just realized I goofed on explaining Pavlov's experience - finding out dogs drooled was part of the experiment looking at associations - not the reason for it. Just to clarify :)

  5. Good accurate descriptions. One of my favorites is stopping a conversation and staring in the direction of the ring but never attempting to answer it. Not sure what that behavior symbolizes - maybe giving up and letting life take over.!?