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Dependence on cell phones has hollow ring

| Sunday, April 11, 2004

It is not news that cell phones are simply a way of life. What this middle-ager cannot figure out is why are we talking too much now?

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy long chats with my sister that make my husband's eyes roll. His whispery message, "Don't your jaws ache?" tells me he finds all this blah-blah-blah a big waste of time. But we chat when we're alone and our attention is on each other. Not so with the cell users.

In malls, large groups of teens hang out, but they are not speaking. Not to each other, that is. They are all on their individual cell phones, talking to other people. Why• Aren't the ones they're with good enough• Phones are ringing in the restaurant, the library, even in public restrooms. The RESTROOM, the one room where once you could be guaranteed some semblance of privacy, has now become a place in which to have loud dialogue on your phone while others attempt to do nature's calling. Sigh.

At the video store, a wife reads through all the recent releases -- aloud, on her cell phone -- to someone. Couldn't she alone make the decision just this time• Didn't they have two minutes at home to talk about this• I am so distracted by her reading out loud, including the number of minutes of each movie. I want to say "DO YOU MIND?" in her ear, but alas that ear is firmly attached to a minuscule silver flat board that has taken over her life.

At the playground last summer, women watched their toddlers in the sandbox or on the swings as they talked -- to their nail technician, to their podiatrist, to -- who knows• They held phones, all colors, all shapes. Not one mom there had both her hands free and her mind on the simple beauty of the day. I couldn't help but think how great it would be for those children if their mommies decided to talk to them instead of finding someone else more interesting to spend their time with. Sad indeed.

Don't even get me started with people on cell phones while they are driving. They gesture, they get animated and they also forget the world outside of their vehicle. Far too frequently they cause or nearly cause accidents, and cell phone usage while driving should be outlawed in every state for such entirely obvious reasons.

At a recent luncheon, during the speaker's presentation, phones went off, and I just don't believe that all of those calls were emergencies. Why are we so available• Why don't we find the speaker and the others at our table simply worthy of our attention for a couple of hours• Whatever happened to quiet moments, private thoughts and focusing on the person we are with, rather than any other person• I don't get it. I don't want to get it.

So, at the playground, where I was happily playing with my great-niece, I watched a cute little boy running, his arm outstretched toward a woman. "Mommy, Mommy," he called excitedly. Ignoring his voice, she simply nodded, continuing her monologue on her purple cell phone. He stepped in front of her and opened his hand. "Mommy," he said plaintively, "look, see• I have a phone too. It's for you." She gave him a Mona Lisa smile and kept yakking away, losing the whole moment. And maybe a lot more.

The constant need to talk on a cell phone is a modern neurosis. It is alarming to see people overstating their own importance. Life as it's happening appears secondary to what is next, who can we call• How will they see the seasons change, I wonder. They will miss using their creative juices; instead they will click and talk, press buttons and stay apart from life as it's happening. I just don't think my lifestyle will be dictated by a constant ringing (and mind you, they don't ring but play tunes you choose). No, I would rather offer my time and attention to whoever is around me. And when I'm in a restaurant with colleagues or friends, I am really with them, not just waiting for someone else to come calling. I think the advent of cell phones is an exciting, progressive advance in society, just like the television was during the last century. But I also see people becoming robotic and impersonal. Recently, at an outdoor festival held in Bedford, many people walked around, ignoring the decorated booths, handmade crafts, and merchants. They talked, nonstop, into the air, and chose to wall themselves off from the very thing they came to do! They missed out. They might as well have been home alone on a dark, rainy day. Choose wisely. Just like the TV, cell phones also have an "off" option. There's a good reason for that.

Jeannie Croyle is a freelance writer for the Tribune-Review.

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