Dial D for . . . Huh?

Drunken cell-phone calls on campus—and online

"Hey this is Jen . . . um, and I used to . . . hey guys the bathroom . . . OK, I am looking for my boyfriend. . . . I did call 911 . . . I am at Billy Bob's . . . and I, uh, drank a lot of Absolut before I came and I am definitely not 21 but we're not so sure it matters because no one under 21 doesn't drink . . . whatever, it's college . . . "

This soused student's nonsensical message is one of the many ill communications filling the airwaves on any given night—a typically rambling example of the campus trend of drunk dialing.

Although no precise figure exists for the practice in this country, a recent Virgin Mobile survey in Australia found that of the 400-plus questioned, 95 percent had drunk dialed. (The company offers an intervention service, which allows certain numbers to be blocked until the next morning, though Virgin says there are no plans to offer this service in America.) And in 2005, according to new-media research company Telephia, Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are the ones talking the most on cell phones, averaging almost 22 hours a month.

This gabby group includes the micro-generation currently in college, which is discovering that with modern technologies come new consequences. Marshall McLuhan observed that when people's sense ratios change, they themselves change. The ubiquitous cell phone not only provides ample opportunities to communicate, but has a way of altering one's actions as well. Armed with a Nokia in one hand and a PBR in the other, students are getting fluent in cellular slurring.

The potential for social humiliation is high. "I accidentally drunk dialed my thirtysomething TA instead of my friend by the same name at, like, 5:30 in the morning," confesses Juliet, an NYU undergraduate. "And I didn't realize it until way after he answered in a rage."

With the explosion of networking sites like MySpace, impulsive communication can now even extend to virtual strangers. A Barnard first-year (who asked not to be identified) details one such tipsy evening: "Thanks to facebook.com I looked up this random kid's number and my friends and I almost ended up hanging out with him. It didn't happen, and I don't think we ever said who we were, but I still had a mild heart attack the next morning."

According to Streeter Seidell, a recent Fordham grad and a senior writer for collegehumor.com, a multimedia dude site, "Eighty percent of drunk dialing is sex. You either drunk dial an ex because you are feeling nostalgic and chances are you haven't gone home with anyone that night and you are feeling lonely and you want to hear a familiar voice—however drunk that voice might be. Or you are calling someone to hook up with them."

Although the classic drunk dial remains popular, drunk texting is quickly catching up. "Texting has become a lot more popular," Seidell remarks, since it "forces you to get to the point—you can dispense with all pleasantries and type, 'What r u doing 2nt? Want 2 come over?' "

He also notes that excessive partying can lead to the spontaneous bad move of ringing home at 3 a.m. For parents this offers a disturbing glimpse into their child's decadent lifestyle.

A friend of a friend "who had done a ton of coke and was drunk out of his mind . . . drunk dialed his mom and then passed out," says Seidell. He "woke up the next day, not remembering anything, with blood all over his face and I think he had peed his bed, and his mom was just standing there and he just looked at his mom and without really saying anything just said, 'All right, I'll pack my stuff, I need help,' and then left and went to rehab."

College of St. Rose psychology professor Ann Zak believes that the drunk-dialing trend results from the suspended judgment hanging over these four magical years. "It is almost the norm to drunk dial while in college—something to laugh about later, while in the 'real world,' drunk dialing [is] a sign of weakness."


Shortcoming or not, this act of cellular abuse has evolved past the typical caller-receiver relationship into an online subculture. Functioning as a second interface, the Internet allows people to upload recordings of smashed nights past or eavesdrop on strangers' wild evenings out.

Remember Jen, sloshed and chatty at a place called Billy Bob's? Her inebriated recording can be heard at slackertown.com. After dialing the site's number (321-600-1200) pie-eyed participants can blabber to their hearts' content. The two-year-old website then takes these sloshed speeches and posts them as MP3s with comments and ratings. (Callers are only identified by first name.) These features allow the act of dialing under the influence to be playful and without personal consequence—unless you count the whole uploaded-to-the-Internet thing.

Drunk-dialed.com is another site that transforms DUI calls into globally accessible audio shows. Whereas Slackertown gives agency to the sender, this six-month-old URL shifts the power to the receiver, who forwards the embarrassing voice mails to the site's phone number or e-mails them as MP3 attachments. The site then posts these humiliating accounts of amigos acting badly, adding a subject line and byline. In addition to the classic booty call, bored office workers can listen to what drunk-dialed.com founder Scott Crosby has identified as subgenres of the drunk dial—the "I love you" friend dial ("I want to plant a baby spruce in your name") and the hate dial ("you are rat scum and whale shit").

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