Hang up the phone…or the phoner

Hang up the phone…or the phoner

Posted: Saturday, August 9, 2008 6:55 pm
By: Larry McGehee

Do you remember the old joke about a man shouting at a woman trying to tell her she had a banana in her ear? She finally pulled it out and said, “I’m sorry. What did you say? I couldn’t hear with this banana in my ear.” Brace yourself. That old banana gag is about to enjoy a rebirth — except it’ll be about a car phone in the ear. I try to be at my office by 7:30 a.m. because traffic around our town is usually pretty hectic at 8 a.m. One day I ran late and got in line at the three-minute-wait red light just behind a big-haired secretary or executive. She had a coffee cup and a cigarette in her right hand and a car phone in her left. When she stopped for the light, she shifted the right-hand coffee cup to the dashboard, held on to the lit cigarette, and picked up a hairbrush, and then cradled the car phone between her left shoulder and the left side of her face and continued talking while she brushed her hair with both hands. Somehow, even with both hands (and an ear and a mouth) full, she still managed to steer and shift the car. By the second light change, she had traded the hairbrush for lipstick, but still without extinguishing the cigarette or putting down the phone receiver. Let me hasten to say that car phones know no sex. Lest someone think I’m picking on women drivers in reporting my annoyances, let me add that later the same day I got behind a male executive cruising at 15 mph down the “faster traffic” inner lane of a four-lane street while engaged in highly animated phone talk. Traffic backed up half a mile behind him. With the weaving his car was doing, he would have been stopped and administered a breathalyzer test if it had not been obvious that it was the phone that had him mesmerized. In the hands — or ears — of either sex, car phones clearly are a wrong number. Beyond the bad manners of drivers interrupting their conversations with passengers in order to place or receive phone calls, car phones probably are the greatest driving hazard to come along since the days of no seat belts or of no railroad-crossing gates. There is just no way to be as alert to one’s driving as one needs to be when one has one’s mind and mouth on a hand-held cell phone. Worse of all, car phones are “ubiquitous.” There’s a good word to look up and then to throw around at Sunday School or at a wedding reception. It means something like “everywhere” or “omnipresent.” I favor the word because “ubiquity” is so close to “iniquity,” meaning that too much of a good thing, even car phones, is wrong, either in practical terms or on moral grounds, and sometimes both. Right now, to be candid, getting in the car and rolling up the windows and locking the doors is about the only refuge most of us have from hectic homes and workplaces. Car phones invade our last bastion of privacy. If God had really wanted us to have car phones, he wouldn’t have given us Benjamin Franklin, first postmaster-general and creator of the U.S. Mail. Except for road emergencies, when one needs to call the police or a wrecker or to alert others of sightings of invading fire ants or killer bees, having a car phone may be more of a curse than a blessing. What are we going to do once all those investment consultants and political fundraisers get our numbers? Good driving requires drivers with their minds on their driving, not on their businesses, or grocery lists, or love life. If we are going to use cars for phone booths, we need to get some designated drivers for when we are doing our dialing. There’s something unnatural about talking heads rolling up and down our streets. Most of them seem compelled to talk even when they have nothing to say, and all of that making something up to have to talk about can’t help over the long haul but to create more communication problems and complexities for all of us. Surely mankind needs moments when it escapes from its phones, but car phones make that essential escape less and less likely. What further amazing auto technology will come next? We hear that laptop computers and FAX machines can plug into lighter sockets. Given another few minutes waiting for the lights, our fellow pilgrims could probably soon be projecting on their back windows slides of their vacations or of houses they are trying to sell. Why not install DVDs and popcorn machines? With all of the advanced technology available, it strikes me as very strange that no automaker yet has solved the problem of where to find a convenient restroom when you need one the most. That conspicuous failure should warn us that advancing technology is not always progress. Larry McGehee, professor-emeritus at Wofford College, may be reached by e-mail at mcgeheelt@wofford.edu Published in The Messenger 8.8.08

Leave a Comment