March has lots going for it. Most prominently, basketball madness and green beer. It is also the month in which the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was born on its third day in 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Bell had more on his altruistic mind than vibrating membranes and electrically transmitted sounds. He and his father were involved in teaching deaf persons to speak. Little has changed. One hundred seventy-one years later, thanks to his inventiveness, I am hoping to teach cell phone addictees to put their thumbs away, and use their lips. Otherwise, it is my personal belief that future generations will be born with pointy little thumbs and no vocal chords. At least that’s how it seems to me. All, in a way, because Bell electrically summoned his faithful assistant from another room: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!”
One snowy morning recently as I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, a young woman arrived, bundled up in a winter jacket and knitted stocking cap, and approached the chair across from me. I looked up, smiled and started to say good morning, but before I could, and while she was still in landing mode, mid-air over the seat, her head was down, her thumbs magically flicking across the HD display of her gold phone with the 3D touch and many, many gigabytes, “resistant to splash, water and dust” … and apparently also to “good mornings.” I am not quite sure what most people are doing on their little electronic devices these days, but I have a feeling many, particularly younger addicts, are desperately trying to be connected with other people. In many cases, hoping to be, for the sake of being included. That’s a big thing today for young people…inclusion … surrounding themselves with electronic lifeboats. All while seated across from a “live” new friend, job opportunity, smile, laugh, or hug.
But let me not be too harsh on today’s young folks. Seems like everybody has a cell phone these days, from grand parents to wee ones. If you doubt that because you don’t get out much any more, you should check out the “arrivals” lounge of your nearby airport. Talk about thumbs. Hundreds of communication-starved travelers scurry down the ramp, cell phones in hand. Many hundred thumbs wagging and clicking. “Hello Houston. Eagle has landed!” I smile. Hasn’t been too many years since I did the same thing … but, with a dime in my hand searching for a pay phone. The bonus: Standing in line waiting my turn to use the phone, there was a fellow human being to talk to. A real connection. “Good to be back home. Sure is. I just got back from Africa. Wow, that must have been great. Tell me about it.”
Frankly, I recognize both the miraculousness of Bell’s invention and what it has morphed into in the 21st century. And I fully understand the importance of much of what is being transmitted upon it. The world is in a mad dash to everywhere, and sharing the ride (the business deal, the win, the loss, directions) is fundamental in today’s busy business-driven society. But, I am frightened and angered by its dangerous use by drivers, and annoyed by its senseless use just to be connected. There is nothing more disconcerting, when I am looking for Panko Bread Crumbs at the supermarket, to have some woman lally-gagging down the aisle, chit-chatting with her girl friend about the sale at the department store up the street. I approve of course that she is using her lips. I just don’t really want to know about discounted bras this afternoon. I have bigger things to contemplate: Bread crumbs. Excuse me for a moment. My cell phone is vibrating in my jacket pocket under my car keys and glove. “Hello … wait a minute I can’t hear you. Okay. Forget the bread crumbs, just bring a loaf of rye. Got it. Bye.”
By now, you know that some of what I have been saying here is just tongue in cheek. Lip service so to speak. But I do have a real concern about cell phone addiction and how it distracts users from perhaps more important things in life. To wit, Bell’s wife is quoted as saying that even Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study. Let’s put it this way. As I studied the young lady in the knitted stocking cap across from me in the doctor’s office, I thought perhaps while you are looking for a connection, there is a really good one to reach out to: The grandmother who knitted your stocking cap, sitting by an old black rotary phone (or who knows, a gold cell phone with many, many gigabytes) hoping for a call from her granddaughter. Some day. Any day.
Which reminds me as a matter of fact, I guess I really ought to call my own German Mother. It’s been a while. Now where’s my little black cell phone? I just used it a few minutes ago at the supermarket. Darn. Come here Mr. Watson. I really need you.
Mel Grossman is a local resident and guest columnist.