The Digital Age (Part II)

There hasn’t been this much excitement about a “To Be Continued…” event since Ross had to choose between Rachel and Julie! Thank you for the hundreds of letters that flooded our mailbox here at home. As a result, Part II is now here, sponsored by Coors Light.

And what does Part II have to do with, exactly? Well, cell phones, of course! Not since the invention of the wife have men become so tethered to other beings. It’s actually rather interesting, because while e-mail has greatly changed the landscape of communication throughout the world, cell phones have increased it. This is largely evident in three key places: the grocery store, in the office, and on the road.

On a good note, the addition of cell phones to grocery store aisles has come as a savior for men everywhere. In the age of the rotary phones (here’s where you imagine spinning that big dial around and around, and without fail you’ll notice a small smile creeping across your face), men would walk out the front door on a seemingly harmless errand to pick up some milk at the store. But just as his foot crosses the threshold, his wife would inevitably call out, “Honey? Could you pick up [insert product here]? We’re almost out.” The husband, confident in his unwavering ability to lead a household, nods absently and continues on the store.

Minutes later, with milk dangling from one hand and thoughts of Monday Night Football racing through his head, a crisis ensues on Aisle 12.

“I have the milk…what else was it that she asked me to get? I know I heard it! Oh, this is not good. This is not good at all.” And thus came the moment of indecision: does he go all the way back home to ask? Does he guess? Or does he play dumb and pretend he never heard her? Ding! The latter solution has given us a winner. And so an hour later, with beer in hand and the Bears trampling the Eagles in the second quarter, even 70,000 screaming fans can’t overcome the one screaming only four feet away.

But what is the beauty of this story? Well, it is that cell phones have completely eradicated this panic-stricken moment from every relationship in America (even Ozzie and Sharon). Need a reminder on what to buy? Call the wife from Aisle 12. Need to get birthday gift advice for a friend? Call another friend from the parking lot. Need to know what your day is going to be like, the moment you walk through the door at work? A quick call to The Psychic Friends Network can be completed in only three minutes and $11.85. And it’s always available anytime you need it.

Which brings us to the office, of course…and what everyone with a corporate cell phone knows as the “electronic leash.” If you’ve seen Office Space, you have to love the scene where Peter hides from his boss to avoid working that weekend (unsuccessfully, as it turns out). His hope here rested on the fact the Lumburgh (the boss) had to walk past rows and rows of cubicles to get to him. But now, in the day of the cell phone, Peter would be toast the moment he decided to keep breathing. And the worst part it: the boss doesn’t even have to leave the office. Hide in your cube? The cell phone rings. Leave the building early? The cell phone rings. Sleep in a leaden coffin, dreaming of your vampiric activities after dark? Think no signal will save you? A voicemail is still waiting for you when you awake. There is no escape. And we know how harassing those little voicemail icons and annoying alert tones can be. Our ability to run away in corporate America has effectively been eradicated, and surprisingly, it’s not because of our growing obesity rates.

But while these things may damage us emotionally, there is nothing as dangerous as the disastrous events that can be triggered by cell phones on the road. To look at this in the clearest light, consider the following facts:

    • In test after test, nearly nine in ten drivers think they’re in the top 50% in driving competency (even drivers in Massachusetts).
    • When is the human mind most bored? Why, when it’s doing something it’s done a thousand times. So let’s see…other than sleep, what do you do more than anything else? Drive. Down the same roads, at the same speed, actually hoping that nothing unusual happens. This definitely creates boredom.
    • Cell phone headsets are just not cool yet.
    • The survey answers to the first question assumed both hands were available for driving.
    • Every year, more and more people live to be over eighty.

Add these things up, and we’re clearly putting our lives at risk every time we drive out of the driveway (ironically, my mother has been telling me this for years, even before cell phones were invented). But for all the dangers involved, our friends and family are always a push of a button away. Long distance is now paid for in many cases, night and weekends free, and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling all the rage. So isn’t it ironic when you walk through that front door, into the harsh accusations of forgetting to pick up bread even when you had a cell phone, that all you feel like doing is e-mailing someone.

Ironic, indeed.