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Who's Everybody Talking To?

A plague on your cell phones


What amazes me about cell phones isn't just how many there are, but how much they get talked on. People appear to be having crucial conversations each and every moment of their waking lives. It makes me wonder: who's everybody talking to? Do you automatically acquire more conversational pals when you get a cell phone?

I need to confess here, no, make that proudly announce that I'm a cell-phone-free American, and stress it's by choice. I realize this is akin to telling children you don't wish for Christmas to come, producing looks of shock and disbelief. You can feel them suspecting you're some kind of unnatural creature, like the lurching, perverse product of a mad scientist's laboratory.

But it's simple. I don't desire to be reachable by the world at all times. This to me represents a special kind of hell. People ask, "But don't you want your son to be able to contact you?" and my answer is I especially don't want my son needling me anytime he chooses.

I've been out too many times with friends whose phones start yodeling uncannily the exact minute the restaurant meal is being served. Sure enough, it's one of their children calling to tattle on a sibling or report on a bowel movement, breaking news the parent repeats for the benefit of the rest of us trying to enjoy our rudely interrupted dinner. Not once in this situation has an adult justifiably cut off their kid with the command, "Don't call me unless it's an emergency," and hung up.

Hey, my son whines and pesters me enough in person. I don't need for him to do it over the phone. If kids can contact you about every little thing, they will. After a very early age, like infancy, they need to learn that their parents aren't available to them 24/7. As for truly urgent situations, there's home and work phones, which is all our parents had, and that seemed to adequately cover the bases for them.

A bubble that I really don't want to have burst by a bleeping beeping phone is the one I surround myself with in the car. Ever since childhood, cars have provided me with major staring-and-pondering opportunities. If gazing at nothing is your idea of a whoppin' good time, car-riding offers the perfect cover, since nobody's going to harass you with, "Why are you just sitting there staring out the window?"

I'm willing to have conversations with other passengers, but I don't want to talk to anybody who isn't there. The car functions as a neutral zone the outside world shouldn't be permitted to penetrate, a capsule of release from responsibilities other than getting from one place to the next. You shred that when you start taking calls.

In addition, I don't have a cell phone because I don't want to have to carry the damned thing everywhere. People walk around wearing them and looking like robots with visible battery packs, or clutching them as if they're extensions of their hands that they expect to go off any second with some life-changing communication. Maybe God now sends The Call for holy orders through cell phones.

For me, freedom is having less to carry, not more, despite those cell phone ads pitching "Freedom." Once at a wedding I was in the ladies' room with some of the guests and one of them exclaimed, "What would I need my pocketbook for? I'm with my husband!" It seemed like a fitting setting for my realization that when it comes down to it, having somebody along to tote the keys and credit card is truly one of the bigger benefits of being married.

Say for the sake of argument I did break down and get a cell phone. I'm not sure I'd have somebody to talk to on it all the time like everybody else appears to, since I just don't have that many dealings with the phone. My dogs bark when it rings, that's how rare an event it is.

Let's see: my husband calls once a day to say he's not going to make it for dinner. I call my mother every weekend. I talk to local friends on the phone maybe once a month and long-distance pals even less often. My agent rings me up when she has good news, which so far has been never.

If I got a cell phone, would the calls suddenly come pouring in? Maybe they multiply exponentially with opportunity, meaning that if you can make and receive calls with your every breath, that's what you'll do, an idea that appeals to me about as much as licking the road. Whatever happened to "escape" as a desirable concept?

I predict that someday there will be a massive revolt against cell slavery, and then the hip thing will be to not have one, at which time I'll take my rightful place at the forefront of the truly cool, not to mention the free.