Cell Power or Beam Me Up, Scotty

During summer vacation we observed over a period of a week our national addiction to cell phones. A few examples, but by no means all, follow.

In the Amtrak Station in Milwaukee a young man discussed his recent college graduation and then proceeded to describe his new apartment in the minutest detail. This conversation went on for 25 minutes. (The train was late.) The talker was oblivious to a least 30 other people who were rolling their eyes as we all waited together for the train.

A teenager, also waiting for the train, was wearing very shredded jeans, a tank top and flip-flops. I surreptitiously took notes on her conversation, which proceeded as follows: “Wow. Cool. Yeah. Oh, exactly. Don’t freak when you see my stuff. Wow. Cool. Really? Hee hee. OK. OK Cool. Cool. That’s very cool. I’m addicted to that stuff. I like lotion anyway. Yeah, it’s cool. OK. Yeah. Well the train’s coming. Cool. Bye.”

On the train, a young woman seated across the isle from us talked non-stop for almost an hour. We gave up trying to read anything – even a magazine. A man in the seat in front of us proceeded to haggle and finally close a business deal after talking for 45 minutes. We could not read. We could not even take a nap. In the dining car, two men at two different tables were also gabotah-ing on cells (in other words they never shut up).

When we reached our destination, we hailed a taxi. After we settled in the cab, the driver who was talking on a cell phone attached to his head went on for the whole $17 trip to our B & B. Once he knew our destination, he never directly addressed us during the entire ride. We climbed out and paid the driver who took the money, nodded and drove off talking, talking, talking.

When we got to our room we noticed that there was no telephone. I asked the owner why and he replied that everyone has cell phones anyway. I smiled, knowing that yes, we too had brought ours.

We went to dinner with our daughter to meet her “significant other.” He was supposed to meet us at the restaurant but he wasn’t there. We got a table, sat down and our daughter picked up her phone. She dialed a number, waited a moment, then said, “Hi Sweetie. Where are you?” She looked up and waved at the door. He was just entering the restaurant. During the meal, we noticed that there was a man sitting near us who was talking on his cell. We couldn’t help but notice that he stayed at it through most of his meal. Later, as we walked to the theater, we joined a throng navigating an intersection. A quick glance informed us that probably 199 out of 201 people were talking their way across Broadway. After the show, our daughter informed us that two teenagers sitting behind them (we were in different places in the theater) were texting during the entire Tony Award winning show.

The next morning our son was to pick us up at our B & B. He lives a block and a half away. He called us to tell us he was “still on.” (Whatever happened to feet?) That afternoon our daughter wanted to take us to visit a nearby art gallery which is owned by a friend. It took three cell calls to settle on a good time. Then we spent some time at the Museum of Natural History. Later, as we stood outside the museum, our daughter consulted with her brother about meeting us. We listened to her side of the conversation. Here’s how it went. “Hi, where are you?…Where?…But I don’t see you…I am telling you we are right in front of the entrance…You don’t see us?…OK. Do you see those guys in Revolutionary War uniforms talking on cell phones? (It was the 4th of July) …Yeah. You’re parked beside them? …OK. Drive up three cars and here we are.” As he drove up, he closed his cell phone, grinned out the window and said “Ah, there you are!” (Because our son is a monk, he wears long robes. When his cell rings, he digs down into unknown depths to retrieve it. My husband, Henry, says he doesn’t want to know where he keeps it.)

On our return trip home cell conversations took place behind us, before us, and beside us. And we used our cell to finalize meeting a friend who was picking us up at the station. (We never leave our car at the station for several days.)

Now cell phones have added incalculable convenience to the way we live. It all started with email of course and with it our compulsion for instant answers. How many times have you gotten a phone call from someone who wanted to know if you received an email that was sent 10 minutes ago?

But there is a more serious issue here. On the News Hour on Public Television at 6 pm on September 30, 2009, it was reported that there is a new concern about the use of cell phones while driving. At least talking allows the driver to keep eyes on the road. Texting does not. According to this news report the risk of an accident is 23 times greater with texting. Ray LaHood of the U. S. Department of Transportation reported that over a half a million people have been hurt or killed in accidents involving texting. Texters may look down at the cell for only a few seconds at a time but that is all it takes. According to LaHood, texting during driving has reached “epidemic proportions.”

Perhaps it is time for us to balance convenience, obsession or whim with a little common sense.