The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, November 15, 2004

FROM A DARK CELL: I don’t own a cell phone. In fact, I have never owned a cell phone and I will not own a cell phone in the future. I won’t have one of the accursed things in my house. I realize that in this our modern age, where we all worship at the altar of global interconnectivity, this makes me something of an anomaly, but if wanting to maintain my sanity amid the now constant assault from the legions of people who want to reach out and touch somebody, as the old Ma Bell jingle put it, and usually for more than I am willing to pay, makes me an anomaly then who am I to argue with the label? There are worse things in life than being an anomaly; being a disk jockey comes immediately to mind, as does any job related to the advertising business.

So let me make my position clear: the invention of the telephone was one of the great technological innovations in the history of humanity; the cell phone, by contrast, is an annoying and altogether unnecessary development. Why does the cell phone exist, if this is the case? Let’s not kid ourselves here; the answer is simpler than you think. Cell phones exist so that people you do not want to talk to can find you and talk to you. All other reasons are untruths, travesties, propaganda, and red herrings, when they are not out and out lies.

Once upon a time, it was possible to remove yourself from the great commercial hurly-burly of American civilization by simply going for a walk. You could relax, talk to your neighbors, feed the pigeons if the mood struck you, or simply ignore the passing parade and think quietly if that is what you wanted to do. By taking a stroll around the neighborhood you could get away from all the people who think, simply by virtue of them calling you, that they have a claim to some portion of your time. Try doing that with the cell phone attached to your hip.

It is, in short, impossible. For example, is there anyone that you wish would simply go away more than a salesman calling you on your cell phone? And now that he’s got your number, what can you do about it? Because salesmen are all in the same racket, you know. If this guy selling encyclopedias has found your number, then you can bet dollars to doughnuts that he’s passed your number on to an insurance salesman and your local PBS affiliate as well. Try to get the PBS people off the phone without giving them a pledge of your support and see how fast they make you feel guilty about all those years you watched Sesame Street and your parents didn’t contribute a dime to the station. The only reason you’re literate today is because you watched Bert and Ernie and Kermit and Big Bird for years and years and now you won’t help the next generation of kids learn anything, you cheap bastard. Give them money and you’ll get the Irish Tenors CD, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t care much for Irish tenors myself; I think it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt—my parents loved that kind of music and I heard it a lot when I was a kid, which probably explains why I don’t have much use for the music now. I still think Irish tenors sound like guys wearing very tight underwear trying to sing after someone’s just driven a knee into their testicles, but that’s only my opinion.

Now it’s true, you could go the traditional route and simply hang up on your annoying salesman /alumni committeeman/ con artist, but he’ll only call you back; he knows that this is your cell phone and that you haven’t gone anywhere. You’re still where he can get a hold of you, a situation that will go on until you leave the phone at home. He’ll stop calling once he realizes that there’s no warm body at the other end. No one really enjoys talking to themselves except schizophrenics and politicians.

The other people I wish would just go away are the people who insist on answering their cell phones no matter where they are. There’s something beyond crass about someone who insists on answering a phone at a wedding or in the middle of a movie where the rest of us who don’t care what you and the person you’re talking to at the top of your lungs have to say to each other. I just paid ten dollars to get into the theater and another twelve dollars for popcorn and soda and after spending that kind of money I want to see the picture, not listen to you gabbing away with Tiffany about how Alicia’s boyfriend broke up with her to go out with Jennifer. I don’t care, in the first place, and secondly, I didn’t pay twenty-two dollars to listen to half of a radio soap opera. Shut up and put the phone away, dammit, I want to watch the movie.

And can someone explain the logic of giving teenagers cell phones? Giving a teenager a cell phone smacks of mindless socialism run totally amok. Parents who think this is a good idea will think that right up to the day they get the bill for that phone little Tommy or Tammy got for their birthday and discover, even with the best, most heavily discounted plan in the world, that they have to pay for calls made to every portion of the universe inhabited by intelligent, and as we are talking about teenagers here, not so intelligent life. Telling your teenager that they must use the cell phone responsibly is like telling them to clean up their rooms; they hear you, they understand what you’re saying, but let’s face reality, it’s not going to happen. Go ahead, roll you eyes at them—see how much good that does you. Look at next month’s bill and see if it gets better. It won’t and why should it? It’s not like your average teenager has to pay for his or her cell phone; that’s what parents are for, remember? You had them so now you’re stuck with them. It’s entirely too late to ship the ungrateful hooligans back to the factory.

So, remember, free yourself from the tyranny of the telephone age and leave the cells at home. Enjoy life away from the constant nagging of people you wish would go annoy somebody else. Be the anomaly on your block. And don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.



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