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Why let cell phones ring our lives? It's a tough call

By SANDRA THOMPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


A woman standing in line at Woody's, a popular South Tampa lunch place, peers over the people in front of her at the blackboard and says into her cell phone, "Armenian lentil and butternut squash apple," the soup specials for the day.

A man and a woman sit across from each other in a dark booth at Bella's. Throughout most of dinner, she talks on her cell phone to someone who is apparently better company.

At dinner at the Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club, a woman answers her cell phone and is quietly presented with a white card that informs her no cell phone conversations are permitted.

At Shapes, a woman stumbles out of the steam room, one of the last bastions of peace, quiet and relaxation, when a phone hidden in her gym bag propped outside the door rings. Dripping wet, she answers it.

Why?

Why do people want to interrupt whatever they're doing to talk on the telephone?

We're not talking emergencies here. We're not even talking hair-trigger stock market moves. Or any business at all. The cell phone is a technological miracle for people who work outside offices -- every Realtor in town has one; so does the guy who cuts our grass. We're talking about people who use their cell phones to talk about . . . not much at all. You've heard these people's conversations (whether you've wanted to or not). Like the 30-something guy wandering the aisles in Barnes and Noble, telling his cell phone what he ate for lunch.

Why do people want to be constantly reachable?

Years ago, when I was married to a man whose business was conducted on the phone, we vacationed on Caribbean islands where there were no phones. That was the whole point: to get away from it all.

In our everyday lives, if we choose, we can still get away from it all -- in our car, at the gym, walking around the mall or bookstore, even the supermarket.

I like to let my mind wander freely. I like to think. But maybe thinking is going out of style. Remember that jokey phrase: When I'm alone with my thoughts, I really am alone. Is that the way people feel today? Are we so bombarded with stimulation we feel anxious when there is none and we're left with our own selves?

Okay, I have a cell phone. I bought it a couple of months ago, the purchase precipitated by a medical emergency. (In case you're thinking of doing the same, take note: You can't use cell phones in the O.R. waiting room.) No one has the number except my husband and my daughter, and they know better than to call me on it. It's almost always turned off.

My 25-year-old daughter, of course, has one. She likes it so much, she uses it to tell time and as an alarm clock. She calls me on her way home from work on the highway from Raleigh to Durham, N.C., while the image of a car cutting her off at 70 mph is foremost on my mind. She will call or be called from anywhere, such as the dressing room at Harold's asking my opinion on a certain pair of pants. She's like so many in her generation who've made multitasking a lifestyle.

One good thing, and a great social advance: Neither she nor anyone of her generation will have any reason to understand song lyrics like sitting home, all alone, by the phone. He can call her at the movies or the mall or while she's on a date with a lesser guy.

As for improving communication -- real communication -- I don't think so.

Yesterday I asked my husband, who was at home, to let me know if a friend called saying she'd be late. That way I could stay longer at the gym.

I'd forgotten about it when the phone rang from the passenger seat of my car and my husband started talking.

"I'm in the driveway," I told him.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer who lives in Tampa. City Life appears on Saturdays.

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