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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

You Can't Be on the Phone and in the Moment

Cell users who chatter away in public are like zombies among the living.

May 25, 2002|CHRISTOPHER NYERGES | Christopher Nyerges and his wife, Doris Nyerges, are the directors of the School of Self-reliance in Eagle Rock. Web site: www.self-reliance. net.

I was in line at the supermarket behind a man who was talking on a cell phone. He loudly chattered away, as if everyone wanted to hear his personal business. He was slow in moving his items from cart to checkout stand. After all, he was using only one hand.

Those in line briefly commented on his absurdity. Was that conversation so timely and important that he had to make it at that particular moment? Was he such an important individual that his communication to afar was worth being a zombie to the here-and-now moment?

Using a cell phone while driving is not merely an absurdity; it has become a road hazard.

You can tell when drivers start to talk on the phone. They slow down, and there is a slight weave. After all, they are concentrating on this other conversation, this person somewhere else. They cannot possibly have their full attention on the road.

Radio-listening is far more passive. Talking on a cell phone requires a more active part of the mind.

Recently, in the short walk from where my wife and I parked in Pasadena, we passed three people, all of whom were wholly involved in animated cell phone conversations. It was like walking by zombies. No hellos, no eye contact, no courteous greetings.

Few people would argue that the telephone was a bad invention. Telephones bring people together. Their invention has enabled us to provide rapid emergency services and to remain in regular contact with family and friends. These are good things.

Before phones became ubiquitous, it was not unusual for a phone call to someone far away to be a big event. You would prepare for a phone call with East Coast family members, and when you talked, you courteously gave them your undivided attention, as if you were speaking with them in person. You were communing.

But we seem to have lost the point of communication. In our attempt to make phone communication easier, we have lost the here and now.

Today it is not unusual to see two people dining together in a restaurant and one of them having the audacity to carry on a telephone conversation with someone far away. His body may be sitting in the restaurant, but his mind and attention are focused elsewhere.

Real communication is not about technology. Yet, in our quest to always be able to communicate with anyone at any time, we have begun to lose what it was we were trying to achieve.

A wise man once commented that with every technological step forward, modern man seems to take a moral and intellectual step backward. There is no better illustration of this than the now-ubiquitous cell phone.

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