My trainee sat quietly as I explained what her temp job with my company would involve.
“You’ll want to make sure the changes have been made to the document,” I instructed.
“Hmmm,” came the response.
“We’re not responsible for typos the client has created,” I added.
“And be sure that you make your marks legibly,” I said.
“Mmmm,” she seemed to say. “Mmmmm. Hmmmm. Mmmm.”
Finally, it occurred to me that this rather stout woman wasn’t voicing acknowledgement that she understood my instructions. Instead, the low vibrating noise was coming from the vicinity of her lap. Perhaps she was pregnant instead of chubby, and the baby, ready to be delivered, was clearing its throat to get her attention. Or maybe she had swallowed an electric razor and it was getting ready to pass.
No, wait — that’s right, this is the twenty-first century. It must be her cell phone set to vibrate.
“Do you need to get that?” I asked, gesturing toward her crotch, and immediately regretting the move.
“Oh, it’s just my cell getting a text,” she said. “It can wait till later.”
Text messaging is one part of the wireless revolution that I can vigorously endorse. Like most people my age, I feel I should be annoyed by others talking on their cell phones. For one thing, they’re almost inevitably younger than I am, which I resent. They also seem to have friends, friends who want to talk to them with such urgency that they can’t wait to get near a land line. The conversation must be had now, regardless of whether they’re in the middle of outpatient surgery, being sentenced to prison, or sitting on the can.
I prefer texting to phoning for a number of reasons. I like to type. I like to get to a little thing I like to call “the point.” I like to know that I’m not interrupting something important on the other end of the line.
When I do have to call someone’s cell phone, I’ll typically text them first and ask if it’s a good time to talk. The portability of cells means they’re being carried everywhere, and not all of these places are places that civilized people want to talk. My sister finds this habit highly amusing, but I think she genuinely appreciates the opportunity to avoid talking to me.
Then there’s the issue of concern for who might overhear the other end of the conversation. I’m really more amused than bothered when I listen in on strangers’ discussions. It’s a little peek into lives almost always more interesting than mine, and I enjoy the voyeurism of it all. I wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of allowing this to happen on airline flights, as is now being considered. The babble of several hundred businesspeople confined in a space where they have nothing better to do than talk is an even more frightening prospect to me than catastrophic decompression at 30,000 feet. Allow wireless on jets and too many of us will be thinking about which type of explosives cause the least amount of chafe in our shorts.
It is a little irksome hearing about all the things going on in my coworkers’ lives while I’m trying to earn a living. I was minding my own business at my terminal the other day when a woman walked up behind me and cooed, “I love you so much.” Needless to say, she wasn’t talking to me but instead to a distant boyfriend. Another employee gets calls from her daughter asking what time it is. Several have idiot husbands who think their wives can mystically triangulate where their favorite shirt is from 20 miles away.
Worse than the chatter are the ring tones. For security reasons, we’re really not supposed to be taking calls on our cells at our desks, so one dutiful data entry lady always jumps up and heads for a small alcove near the door whenever Michael Jackson starts crooning “got to be there … in the morning.” Even if I need her to be here instead of there, to enter my sales order, she sprints off to learn the latest developments in Bob’s half-hearted search for employment.
Of course, the worst scenario is in the bathroom, where a surprising number of people have no problem at all mixing the sound of their voice with less musical tones being emitted from elsewhere on their persons. There’s little that’s more disconcerting than to hear a conversational opening in the stall next to you, and wondering if it’s you who’s being addressed or some distant acquaintance tuning in via satellite. Even once you’re relieved to learn it’s Frank, not you, who’s being told “yeah, I thought that was a great game [gurgling noise] but I felt sorry for Favre,” I still feel compelled to muffle my own sounds. Nobody wants to see, smell, taste or feel what’s going on in a presumably private setting; why would they want to hear it?
Cell phones have become so common that it now strikes me as unusual not to see them. When I stop by the local college to visit my son, I feel sorry for the two or three people in the crowd of pedestrians who have to be content listening to their iPods rather than phoning a friend. They seem lost, and frequently fall down from sheer loneliness. I even imagine there will be cell phone conversations in the afterlife, though the angels will obviously be having fewer dropped calls (because of the antenna-like haloes) than will their counterparts suffering eternal damnation downstairs. You’ve got to think all that hellfire will play havoc with decent reception.
I’ll take texting over talking any day, even though I realize there are safety concerns when you try to do it in a moving vehicle. I saw in the news yesterday where the Department of Transportation has banned texting by truck and bus drivers, probably a good idea considering the size of their rides compared to my Honda Civic. But I think, at the same time, we’re missing a great opportunity to open up the conversation on America’s roadways as a way to stifle road rage and other aggressive driving habits. Think about how much better we’d all get along if every car had its driver’s cell number posted in the rear window, and we could openly discuss constructive suggestions for improved motor vehicle operation.
I could preload “you goddam moron :)” into my Quick Notes and be ready to meet the world head-on.