by Thomas Wailgum

I Know You Fake Cell Phone Calls

Mar 22, 20074 mins

When I’m at big corporate gatherings, such as conferences, or just out among the masses of the general public, say at the airport, I often wonder who all of those people on their cell phones are talking to. Just who are they calling and just how important is that call? And are those people on the other end of those calls just as annoyed that the caller is bugging them as I am for having to watch and listen to the caller blather on and on?

After years of study, research and reflection, I have come to the very unscientific conclusion that half of all cell phone calls are extraneous, wasteful and superficial. “Look at me! I’m on my fancy mobile device. I’m very important.” It’s like people who drive a Hummer — there’s just so much excess and vanity at work. One study of mobile users found a subset that researchers termed “fashionistas.” This group think of devices as status symbols and love to show theirs off. Maybe you do too?

Within the overall cell phone culture, however, I have deduced that there’s another growing segment of users that no one really talks about: phone fakers. Yes, I’m talking about the throngs of mobile device users out there that have their mobile device attached to their ear and are feigning that they’re actually talking to someone else. That’s right: There’s no one on the other side of that call, and more than likely, that cell phone isn’t even turned on.

Unfortunately, there’s little research on this critical topic. I found a New York Times article (TimesSelect) from April 2005 that looked at the silent and growing epidemic. In the article, James Katz, a professor of communication at Rutgers University, surveyed a couple of his classes and was astonished to find that, in one poll, 27 of his 29 students admitted to fake phoning on their cell phone. The article went on to say that people admit to staging conversations 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.”

In many business circles and at some offices, giving the appearance that you’re always working the phone can be a good thing — “I’m productive, I’m communicating with current and potential customers, and I’m very busy and important.” (I liken this to those coworkers who think that if they look busy in the office — tons of papers on the desk, always IMing, walking around with important-looking documents in hand — then the bosses will assume that they are invaluable employees.)

So my question for the audience is this: When in the business world is it appropriate to fake a cell phone call? Have you done it? Have you ever been caught doing it?

I freely admit that I faked a cell phone call once. I had good reason, though. It was back in 2005, and I was at an Accenture conference in Orlando, Fla. Tiger Woods had just won the Master’s golf tournament the day before the conference started and, ever the good pitchman, was going to speak to the attendees on Monday. Though he looked a little weary, he came out and spoke to the delighted crowd. Afterward, however, I was outside milling about the building, and all of the sudden a couple of white SUVs pulled up to, I assumed, whisk Tiger away. I noticed several other people waiting around too. So what did I do? Pulled out the cell phone and made my first fake cell phone call — all in an effort to see Tiger up close and in person. (I suspected others around me were doing the same but had no proof.)

Anyway, Tiger came out and I briefly spoke to him — my call miraculously ended just as I saw his security detail coming out the front doors. I think I even said, “OK, I’ll talk to you later” into the phone at the time.

So, there, I’ve come clean. How about you? Have you tried it? Remember, there were 1 billion mobile phones shipped in 2006. And that means the potential for millions of fake phone calls.