Editors Note: I must be just a hopeless Luddite, because, even here in the 21st century, I still don’t own a cell phone. I just don’t see the advantage to being constantly available to everyone. I like the idea of being, at certain times and in certain places, completely unreachable. And, I’ve seen what happens to perfectly normal people, once they’re “taken over” by this technology ... they become “pod people,” who can’t be out of touch even for an hour — if they leave the house without their cells, they must return to get them. They also feel compelled to take every call that comes in (no matter where they are and how unnecessary the call is), and they feel the need to document each activity in their mundane lives to someone else, who has to be bored to death at hearing it.


Pod People: The Invasion of the Cell Phones

 

Is the cell phone a symptom of the decline of Western civilization, or one of its causes? Is the previous sentence a bit paranoid, or is it just plain nuts?

Philosophy 101 textbooks define “the post hoc fallacy” as the mistaken syllogism that, if event A precedes event B, then A caused B. For example, televangelists blame the banning of school prayer for everything from Lindsay Lohan and “South Park” to the underwear bomber and genital warts.

A more-plausible example of cause and effect is cell phones and bad driving. Everyone’s heard tales of being run off the road by a housewife in a Humvee driving her kids to their karate lesson, while ordering their ADHD meds on her iPhone, or being rear-ended by a hedge fund manager “sexting” his mistress on his BlackBerry.

Oddly, once they’ve acquired such technology, those who’d complained the loudest about it become completely hooked. Prior to becoming a chronic multitasker, one member of my family was constantly annoyed by drivers — she called them “self-important twits” — who slide through stop signs while narrating their odysseys into their phones. Now she’s stopped noticing these twits/twitterers, because she’s too busy making and taking calls. Let she who is without sin cast the first handset.

As the last person in Fairfield County without a cell phone, I can still cast stones. Although the cause-and-effect relationship between cell phones and hazardous driving is more than merely anecdotal, cell phones aren’t just dangerous; they’re also obnoxious.

Some websites claim cell phones cause cancer. Of course, the Net includes sites that claim pretty much anything one can imagine. If you believe the BP oil spill was caused by the same Martians who built the pyramids, in a cabal with Bigfoot and the Antichrist, there are probably six sites, five Facebook pages and 11 blogs where you’ll find like-minded thinkers.

Ted Kennedy, who always had a phone pressed to his ear, died of brain cancer. Among my friends, who holster theirs on their belts like Wild West six-shooters, there’s been an epidemic of prostate cancer. I don’t know about the carcinogenic argument, but I have a theory about what cell phones do cause, based strictly on anecdotal evidence. They seem to infect that area of the brain that inhibits rudeness and censors bad behavior. Neurologists call it the Mel Gibson subcortex.

The resulting affliction is proliferating virally and inexorably. The cell phone has become like one of those pods that were hidden near sleeping earthlings in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Pushing my cart past a woman in the supermarket, I heard her loudly suggest an anatomically unpleasant and probably impossible activity. Thinking she was speaking to me, I turned and asked, “What?” Looking me in the eye, she replied, “Mind your own business,” then suggested an even more anatomically unpleasant activity.

At that point, I noticed her tiny microphone, attached to what looked like some sort of night-time orthodontic headgear. Normally, people pushing shopping carts and talking to themselves in loud voices are also wearing tinfoil hats to protect their thoughts from being overheard by aliens. Before I could make this observation, I realized she’d gone back to berating her Bluetooth. For “pod people,” the voices in their heads take precedence over anyone physically present. (Just try getting help from a retail clerk whose phone has started ringing.)

My own wife once railed about people talking on their phones in restaurants, but now that she’s Verizon-addicted, she let me sit for 10 minutes in a fancy restaurant memorizing the menu, while she fielded a call from a friend who calls her eight times a days. When it comes to ringtones, attention must be paid.

When we attended a poet’s reading, he asked everyone to turn off their phones — a courtesy that seemed too obvious to require mentioning. But his plea was futile, as a Lady Gaga ringtone erupted before he’d made it through his first stanza.

When the minister at an outdoor wedding made the same request, one of my friends whispered, “three” — evidently the average number of audible phone calls that can be expected during a 45-minute ceremony. I guessed “two,” but we both underestimated either the difficulty of disabling such complex technology or the trauma inherent in being incommunicado for nearly half an hour.

I also attended an orthodox Jewish burial, where one mourner got three calls. He ignored the first two, then took the third. How important must that third call have been that it couldn’t wait until the dirt had been thrown over the deceased?

My lawyer, who has somewhere between nine and 27 kids, told me each of his children has a phone. For safety reasons, parents feel the need to be in constant contact with their offspring. But what happened before cell phones? Back in the 50s and 60s, my parents would throw open the front door on summer mornings and let us out like dogs, and we only came back for meals. (Yes, there was a time when dogs too ran free.) And neither we, nor our dogs had microchips implanted in our necks.

One beautiful summer evening, my wife and I walked past a romantic French restaurant, where a couple was dining at a window table, with a single candle in the center. Both were talking on their phones.

We theorized that they might be actually speaking to each other — that the conversation might be more intimate that way, or, perhaps, with both phones in use, there’d be less chance of an unwanted interruption. Then we noticed the “pod” next to the candle: a third cell phone. Just in case.


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