These days they seem part of the human hand. Almost everybody I know has one. Even my 8-year-old granddaughter. And she got hers simply because all the other kids at school had already gotten one. Not being able to text some friend at another table in the cafeteria proved too much for the child. She whined. She cried. She carried on. She got her wish -- a pink Disney mobile.
So grows this ever-booming breed of cellphone users.
With phone pressed to ear or eyes fixed on its screen or fingers tapping out some code-like word, these people are the product of modern technology. A new strain, perhaps, in our social evolution.
One of this group recently sat down next to me on the Ronkonkoma line of the Long Island Rail Road. A middle-aged woman got on at Brentwood, already deep in conversation with some disembodied soul, and for the next hour or so blabbed on about an argument she'd had with her husband. This was done in a voice so loud, passengers all around us could hear. Only when the train entered the Penn Station tunnel did her relentless rant end.
In the strange sudden silence, a man across the aisle began to applaud. Others soon joined in.
The woman turned to me.
"What's going on?"
She had no idea.
Such oblivion seems common with many public talkers. And they are everywhere. In cars crawling along the Long Island Expressway. On a ferry headed to Fire Island. In my gym, on treadmills and stationary bikes; sometimes before a set with the weights. At supermarkets, at Burger King, at the movies, at pee-wee soccer games, at diners and malls and clubs. Even, sometimes, at Sunday Mass! There, in a half-nod to respect, they text. So do a good many of my students in an English class at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. In every class, fingers peck away while I'm trying to teach. Although the phones are supposed be put away, there is no real way to end this practice short of confiscating the devices or expelling the guilty. Like their brethren, these young men and women seem to have an almost insatiable need for electronic communication. It is an addiction, the plague of our time.
My children laugh at this. Tell me to stop being so "old school."
That's not it, though. I understand that cellphones bring a certain convenience to life. Besides providing faceless contact with any and everyone, they take pictures, enable banking, play music, access the Internet . . . even screen a movie for the kids on that long Christmas car-ride to Grandma's.
All amazing things.
How can it be when a small thin rectangle commands the attention of so many? When conversation with the family at dinner becomes a chore? When more and more books are not being read? When flowers and sunsets and birdsong go unnoticed . . . just like that sleek red sports car suddenly swerving into a cellphone-talking driver's lane late at night on the Southern State Parkway.
No. Despite its gift of a technological Eden, the cellphone has come at too great a price.
We are no longer who we were.