Cell Phone Culture: Who Are These People?


A few years back when we were confronted with the noise of boomboxes carried along the street, restrictions were quickly put into place so that young music lovers were relegated to playing them in the privacy of their homes or, if in public, to wearing earphones so that the rest of us didn't have to listen to the music as well.

But, it seems we aren't putting up much of a fuss over the way cell phones now invade every part of our daily lives. We are constantly forced to listen to what were once personal phone conversations or to someone's business deal - they're always big deals, never little deals with the cell-phone crowd. But, I wonder why anyone would want to be a part of a total stranger's conversation about a businessman's lunch dates, or the intricacies of a businesswoman's calendar as she commiserates with her secretary.

I always loved taking trains, especially the train along the Hudson, where the views of the river between Albany and New York City are exquisite. On a delicately beautiful day a few Junes back, just as I got ready to press my nose to the window, Mr. Important Businessman boarded the train in Albany and sat down behind me. And then he started calling - his office, his friends, his wife. Like so many cell-phone people he was garrulous and loud. I felt that either I was invisible to him, or he wanted me to know his affairs.

Well, I was invisible to him. My bit of peace and beauty staring out at the river was shattered. Oh, I could still look at the river, but there was no quiet, no chance to think. I might as well have been this guy's secretary. He commandeered our section of the train as his personal office, yet I wasn't on salary and he sure didn't offer to pay for my train ticket.

Another time, I took a break from work to go to a restaurant. It was small, maybe 15 tables, the staff smiling and helpful. Just as I was jotting some notes in a reverie of quiet, a woman across the restaurant started complaining in a strident voice about her gardener.

But, she wasn't just talking loudly to others in her group. She was shouting into a cell phone The woman's table might as well have been beside me, because I heard every piercing syllable.

"I'll never use him again, terrible. I'll tell everybody. He left the lot down by the pond a mess and he still expected me to pay him, do you believe it?"

The woman then went on to make two more calls and repeated the whole story - word for boring, angry word.

The woman's whole family - four adults and a brand new baby - sat around her in numbed silence as she performed. They seemed used to this.

MY lunch treat was shattered. I could not think or write. And I was saddened that everyone let this happen - that one woman's gardening saga was allowed to take over a whole restaurant.

Why do we put up with this? Am I the only one bothered by this? I don't feel any movement to stop this behavior. Are we bamboozled because many of the cell phone enthusiasts wear expensive clothes and carry briefcases? Do they intimidate us?

Do we believe their deals are that big - big enough that somehow they justify behavior that pollutes our air and our ears and our peace of mind?

If it were teenagers in jeans blasting loud music, the cell-phone people would have been dealt with long ago.

* Mary Pat Kane is an essayist who reads her work in cafes in New York City. She currently is at work on a video documentary in Italy.

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