19 March 2012

Cell Phones Redux

Cell phones have become appendages. These devices lie in the palm of the hand like giant warts or goiters, but unlike the latter, the phones are all dressed up in fancy costumed attire. This seems true mostly for young women under a certain indefinable age, like my daughters, who would sooner be caught clothes-less than phone-less.  Of course, many men carry their phones readily available in their shirt pockets the way men used to store their packages of cigarettes, or they stuff them in their front pants pockets and must reach obscenely into their crotch for them when they ring. Some men even hold the devices in their hands. And with surprising regularity both the men and the women glance down at the devices to check for newly received text messages or for missed calls. Of course, how a call could be missed remains a mystery to me since ring tones are intrusively loud.
I think that this response can be understood as a nervous tic not unlike unconscious nail biting or nervous leg shaking. Every 30 seconds or so the person holds the phone to his/her face, assesses the news on the face of the phone, and then responds accordingly. The image of thousands of thumbs clicking away on those tiny screens intrigues and appalls. Intrigues because I cannot get out a message without eleventeen spelling errors and little content: like Facebook most text messaging reports the minutae of a daily life and calls for little or no response, though response is always immediately made. And appalls because the ubiquity of these phones means that everyone is always somewhere else.  At the slightest pause in any event (or non-event, like walking down the street or waiting at a crossing light) everyone looks down at their telephones that, despite the caution made at the beginning of most performances, have not been turned off but simply been put on silent. Or they consciously ‘leave’ the event to check for messages from outside of it. And when the event has concluded, and before commenting to anyone about the quality performance(s), the individual checks the messages received and the phone calls missed. Before exiting the aisle, responses are made. I look about: where is everybody?  Where am I? I am too often guilty myself.
I cannot remember what the world was like before I was availableand expected everyone else to be available as welltwenty-four hours a day. In the midst of the great forest that man stands with his cell phone wondering “Can you hear my now?” There is little respite from the noise. There are today few places to be alone. I usually turn off the sound of the phone when I sleep, but if I am expecting something (what?)  I simply turn the sound down low. I assume that if someone really must speak to me after hours they will ring loud enough! There was a time when the only people who called late at night were those dialing me as a wrong number and those with messages of bad news, but I wait with my phone beside me with expectation and not trepidation.
Silence has become a rarity and solitude unfamiliar. Thoreau writes, “Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other . . . Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty communications.” Thoreau should see the latest discounted rates for phone plans!


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