Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Plug In, Talk On, Zone Out

When I graduated from college ten years ago, cell phones, iPods, pagers, and other portable electronic devices were not very common. I knew two people who each had one, and I thought that was an amazing thing.

Two months after graduation, I purchased my first cell phone, an Omnipoint. My father asked me why I wanted to be in touch with someone 24 hours a day. I told him it was for driving purposes, in case I got into an accident, my car broke down, or ran out of gas. At that time, statewide cellular networks were still being built, and Omnipoint had the lousiest coverage out of all of them. The only place I could get reception in my hometown was at the traffic light at the intersections of Routes 20 and 189, and only if I positioned my car, and leaned my body, just right.

When SNET came out with their own cellular service, I canceled Omnipoint and switched carriers. I got better coverage, but I also got a cell phone larger than the palm of my hand. When I went to upgrade it six months later, I placed it on the counter at the Cingular wireless store and the employees started laughing.

Two years later, I upgraded again, to a small, digital Motorola StarTac. I loved having a phone that you could flip open. It was a simple, silver phone, with only one ringtone.

In the fall of 2004, I took a course at Southern Connecticut State University. That was the first time I noticed this phenomenon...

...after I got out of my car and started walking through the parking lot, I observed nearly everyone on campus walking around, gabbing on a cell phone. When I got in the building, everyone in the hallways--or nearly everyone--gabbed on a phone. Whenever there was a break between classes, people whipped out their cell phones to check their voicemail or make a call.

And now, it's the year 2008. I just got back from a conference where most people whipped out their cell phones whenever there was a break in the action. And now these cell phones have miniature keyboards, internet, music players, and lots of ringtone styles. Most of the American population has an electronic portable device. During most of my Subway/Metro rides this summer, I noticed many riders listen to their iPods, text their loved ones, and organize their Palm Pilots--all while being completely, or almost completely, oblivious to the outside world, only to snap back to attention when they arrived at their destination. There is absolutely no human interaction.

I've become one of the guilty ones. When I leave work, the first thing I do, once I get in the car, is turn on my cell phone, put my Bluetooth behind my ear, and check my voicemail. I return any calls on the commute home. Then I get home, turn on the computer, and catch up on E-mail.

At the beginning of the summer, I decided that I was tired of depending on my phone so much, so I started to leave it at home. And I felt, in a strange way, free. I felt good that no one was able to reach me, that no one could get in touch with me. It was a little difficult at first, but it got easier.

Then my hypochondriac, on-edge side took over and thought, "What happens if you're in an accident, Kitten?" So I started carrying my phone again, only I started leaving it off for extended periods of time. If people missed me, so they did. I could always call them back.

Now, if Darwin's theory of evolution ever becomes law, it may not be so unwise to think that humans may eventually evolve so that the portable electronic device becomes an appendage. Don't be surprised, ladies, if you hear a "Barney" ringtone come from your womb if you ever get pregnant in the next twenty years...

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