Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

My Morphing Cellular



The cell phone rang in the middle of the poetry reading and someone shouted, "TURN IT OFF!" so loudly, it was worse than the phone. Apparently, this happens so much now at public events, lectures and in formerly quiet places that a new phenomenon has been born: Cell Phone Rage. One of the few formerly quiet places left was the Greyhound bus. No longer. People yell their (often seamy) business into the cell as if they were lying on their couch. Inevitably, someone will yell: "WE DON'T NEED TO HEAR THAT!" It won't be long before a case of phone rage makes the headlines.

After the poetry reading, a number of us went to a watering hole and had a loud bar conversation about who knows what, all in good cheer. In the middle of this dizzy din the cell rang. It was my mother. She was terribly distressed. It seems that my cell, without any prompting, had called her from my pocket. She listened for a while to what sounded like a gang of fiercely quarreling monkeys. Snatches of song came through the words. Hank Williams was pretty clear: "I'M SO LONESOME I COULD DIE!" and so were one or two other things like, "THEN YOU CALL THE COPS!" and "I DON'T LIKE CENSORSHIP." My mother listened to this distressing audio and became sure that something dreadful had happened, involving cops, censorship and a singing man.

This wasn't the first time that my cell called my mother. Once, it called her during an office visit to the doctor. That time she heard the doctor saying that I was OK. She listened to him calmly describe my minor condition and prescribe some vitamins.

There is no question that my cell has a relationship with my mother. It likes to harass and scare her. Why her and not somebody else? After all, she's not even at the beginning of the phone memory's alphabet, but somewhere in the middle. Or maybe I'm wrong about that. My cell, for all I know, may be calling everyone in its memory at regular intervals and letting them listen in. Gawd! The things that might be broadcasting about! Embarrassment is quite human, but before cell phones, the danger of being overheard was specific to public places and eavesdroppers, unless the FBI bugged you. Now, it seems, we are bugging ourselves. We carry about a tool of embarrassment as casually as a wallet. A broadcasting wallet. Cellular phones have left behind the innocent age when they were merely convenient nuisances. They are entering a new stage of active self-determination, creating their own connections with our mothers. Cell phone rage is just beginning. We must curb these beasts before they make us their playthings.

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