Sunday, August 26, 2007

The World's Latest Most Obnoxious Habit

Because I was born in 1968, I can remember when people smoked anywhere they pleased.

People smoked in a car full of kids with the windows up during driving rainstorms. People smoked on airplanes while seated next to mothers holding their sleeping babes. People smoked when they visited your house without bothering to ask if it was OK.

Thankfully, these days smoking in public is a big taboo. But don't fret -- us post-modern folk have a brand-new obnoxious compulsion: Yakking on our cell phones anytime and anyplace we doggone want to.

Freud would probably chalk up this cell phone servitude to our intrinsic sense of discomfit. Alone in the world, cell phones give us the faintest hope that someone actually cares.

"Did Dakota text me yet?", or "I wonder what LaShonda's doing right now." Out in the public square, when we should be shopping, driving, sitting quietly, or interacting with people who are actually present and accounted for, one sees the desperate techno-slaves, fumbling for their Nokias to check a message, or blowing through stop signs while yakking about God knows what. I've seen teenagers on dates sitting opposite one another, with absolutely nothing to say. They're both busy checking their cell phones to see if someone else has "texted" them.

Like smoking, it's a hand/mouth compulsion. Like smoking, it gives someone something to do when we don't want to look vulnerable. Like smoking, it's annoying as hell.

Unlike smoking, it doesn't cause cancer. But wait -- we're hearing early rumblings of brain tumors and other crazy ailments related to cell phone use. And scientists have noticed an alarming shortage of honeybees recently. Some think our cell phone signals have driven them all mad. They refuse to pollinate our flowers.

Oh, we'll read a few more decade's worth of headlines featuring SUV-loads of cheerleaders in head-on collisions because the designated driver was busy on her cell. A few dozen little kids while get flattened by driving talkers in their Ford Expeditions. We'll pause for a moment's reflection before placing our next call.

A St. Louis Cardinals reliever died this summer while driving drunk and talking to his girlfriend. She later said they were on the phone, and suddenly the line went dead. I'll bet there have been 10,000 calls like that, two people talking together while one of them suddenly gets killed. Now THAT'S what I call post-modernism!

Eventually we'll react to cell phone use like we reacted to smoking, and relegate it to fringes of polite society.

Or not. Compulsions are hard to break.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous essay. I agree completely that it's a compulsion. I have compared it with a boy toddler's tendency to hold his penis, just because he has one. When you ask, "Jarred/Joshua/Jake, why are you holding your pecker?" he looks up blankly, completely unaware of what he is and cannot stop doing.

Yesterday in a class I was teaching for English majors (not a general ed. class for which I am supposed to hold absolutely no standards of behavior), a student's cell phone went off no less than three (3!) times, each time with a different yet no less jejeune ring-tone. On the second ring, I interrupted our discussion to say, "make that stop." His solution? Just hold his hand over the phone the next time it rang. Insert your favorite expletive here.

Scintillating student cell conversations overheard:
"I'm just leaving class, where you at?"
"I'm going to class, where are you going?"
"Hi, baby."
"I don't know where the room's at."
I know, not unlike a confab at the Algonquin.