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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Fishing just doesn't seem quite the same since they started free WI-FI at the lake."

In this past weekends' comic strip, Blondie, I have posted above, Dagwood tells Herb that "Fishing just doesn't seem quite the same since they started free WI-FI at the lake." 

I could not agree with Dagwood more on that score, in fact, nothing seems quite the same since the influx of a need to be on the computer at any given moment, or to be texting, or to be on a cell phone —  no matter where one is at a given moment. For me, the latter is the most invasive. I have even been at church — in line to receive Holy Communion – and have experienced people receiving, and taking incoming phone calls on their cell phone. While I am not a big fan of the use of the "collective We" pronoun (as I find it can be presumptuous), I believe I am correct in assuming that we are all weary of over-hearing the numerous inane "I centered" cell-phone conversations that we encounter as we go about our daily routines. No matter where one turns in a grocery store, a book shop, a quiet cafĂ©, a bus or train ride; or during a walk in the park, or in the midst of reflection time at the riverside; invariably someone is always on a cell phone. The volume at which one speaks on a cell phone is so loud that it causes me to wonder why anyone was ever worried about wire tapping being an invasion of privacy. Folks talk so loud on their cells; they eliminate any "need" to wire-tap.
I am not a cell-phone user (although I own the pay-as-you-go variety for emergencies), but a number of years ago I did volunteer work with a woman in her early fifties (I will call her JTL), who always walked with her cell-phone in her hand no matter what the circumstances were. JTL would even set it on the dinner table. At the time I did not have my pay-as-you-go cell, and I felt left out, knowing that I was not among those, like JTL, who were always ready to engage via the cell in a conversation. I admit that I was inclined to perceive the ownership of a cell phone as a status symbol. Later, when a dear friend gave me a pay-as-you-go cell as a birthday gift, I thought I'd truly enjoy being able to speak from anywhere at anytime, but, much to my amazement, I, who once referred to Alexander Graham Bell as a patron saint for his part in the invention of the telephone, did not enjoy conversations via a cell phone. I found that I much preferred to make, and receive, phone calls in the quiet and comfort of my home, where I could give my full attention to the person with whom I was speaking with (as I am not the type who can walk and chew gum at the same time which is one of the main reasons I am not a gum chopper), on the other line.

In light of the thousands of people that I see on cell phones on a daily basis, I realize that I am in a minority; hence, I try and tune out the loud conversations as I go about my routines. Tuning out conversations is not an art I have developed, but dodging folks who are on cell phones while blatantly walking about New York City as they chit-chat, negotiate deals, act as consultants, or engage in arguments, has become a hazard, and I have almost been mowed down by a person on their cell. Others have not gone unscathed. Two weeks ago, I was informed that JTL was engaged in a cell phone conversation with one of her relatives when the conversation was suddenly cut off. JTL, thinking the call had been dropped, immediately phoned the person back, only to have a police-officer answer the phone and inform her that the person she was speaking to had been hit by an SUV. JTL's relative has since died, and whenever JTL is asked about this incident, she clarifies that "the relative was speaking to her via the cell-phone" as opposed to the idea that she was speaking to her relative — in an effort to make it known who called whom — as if that matters at this juncture.

It seems people on cells — and  at this point in my observation I am referring to pedestrians on cells —  (drivers on cells are very dangerous too for obvious reasons, but, that, as "they" say is another story) feel exempt from any decorum regarding pedestrian etiquette.

It is my belief that, for the most part, the majority of phone conversations can be made in the safety and privacy of one's home, and that perhaps, the much needed trait of patience, in waiting to go home to make and receive phone calls, can be developed. One of the resulting problems with cell-phone usage, and the ability to instantly reach someone, it seems, that it is more and more difficult for people to wait for anything. My correlating the problem of the lack of the virtue of patience in society with the instant gratification of cell phones came indirectly from a conversation that I had with Maureen Corr (who was Eleanor Roosevelt's personal secretary from 1950-1962) a few years before her death. I had been assigned through a volunteer program to visit Ms. Corr in her home, and when I did, Ms. Corr was commenting on the fact that folks (such as yours truly) carried water bottles with them all the time, and, she exclaimed aloud that in her day, folks — if they were thirsty — waited, and went home and drank their water, lamenting that people could not wait for anything these days. Having been a secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt, Ms. Corr was obviously well read, and well traveled, and while society has become much, much more convenience oriented since her "hey day", there is some truth and wisdom to her words, begging the question, does having access to certain conveniences diminish one's capacity for patience?

If you argue, conveniences such as cell phones are not part of the lack of the virtue of patience problem, I hope you will consider that they certainly are a part of a rudeness problem, and that the rudeness does not stop with using the phone to have a conversation no matter what the circumstance. It's also how the cell is used for texting. Perhaps this is a New York City issue, where one's personal space is prime and limited in most public places. To be on the look-out as one attempts to walk down the street — for folks — of all ages and sizes — who are bent over their devices engaged in texting is exhausting. I do not think that is what Yellow Pages had in mind with their infamous advertising slogan of yester-year which was "Let your fingers do the walking . . . " 

It is true that texting is easier to tolerate than being subjected to hearing loud conversations, but the concentration it seems to require does keep folks far from alert as they walk up and down on city streets (and unfortunately while they drive). Moreover, to text, while having a meal with a guest is, in my opinion, very rude. I was a guest of someone that I'll call MCA, and throughout the luncheon, she texted messages to her news anchor husband. Her behavior not only caused me to feel like a "lump on a log", but put me under some quasi-pressure that she was accomplishing so much whilst having lunch with me, that I pulled out a stack of envelopes which I had in my bag that needed addressing, and I began to do just that. Ms. MCA, looked at me, and wondered, aloud, just what are you doing? In her mind, it seems that my action of handwriting on envelopes was different than her texting.

Dagwood, a character that I referred to this past November, is right once again:"Fishing just doesn't seem quite the same since they started free WI-FI at the lake." 

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