The cell phone's popularity is an expression of the culture's most epidemic disorder: Talking Disease. Even if you're not subjected to a driver on a cell phone, just turning on the car radio makes you a victim of TD. Neil Boortz, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly have made careers out of Talking Disease, and are obvious examples of what's abhorrent about it. The compulsion to talk -- or the requirement to fill time with running commentary -- turns language into another expression of fast-food culture. The banal thought glibly expressed -- like a well-marketed sandwich from McDonald's -- succeeds quite well in a world with no time or patience for complexity.
The only silence TD sufferers know is the split second someone interrupts them effectively and they have to take a breath before restarting. I hear Boortz/Hannity/O'Reilly do that numerous times when a caller backs them into a corner with logic and their lips flap in the breeze momentarily. Then, of course, they just disconnect the caller, go to a break and come back to attack the caller, usually on the basis of something irrelevant to the main issue, like the caller's parenthetical mention of Hillary Clinton (aka the Antichrist). In short, where Talking Disease flourishes, actual conversation does not.
Recently, I was writing at Starbucks and someone plopped himself in a chair near mine and began calling friends on his cell phone. He had one of those earphone contraptions that make people look like schizophrenics as they go about jabbering and gesturing to the air. He spent 30 minutes reporting to a variety of friends (and everyone in my immediate vicinity) that he was at Starbucks after working out and getting his hair cut before going to dinner, where he planned to have a high-protein meal and avoid carbs because he's been lifting a lot and carbs bloat him and he has a hot date in a few days and wants to look his best and, oh my God, can you believe Maynard and Lester died in the same week as Katharine Hepburn? The calla lilies are in bloom again!
You can imagine what hearing this speech repeated about five times would do to your nerves. A friend sitting nearby, also writing, rolled his eyes with skull-rattling intensity at Mr. Talksalot who, like all cell phone addicts, was immune to recognizing the torment he was causing others. Finally, I spun around in my chair and said: "You know, I can't hear myself think."
"What?" he said.
"I said your phone etiquette sucks. Can you perform your soliloquies outside?"
I stood up and glared at him, deciding to take a walk to the bookstore instead of ripping his tongue out. Ten minutes later, as I was reading a magazine I was too cheap to buy, Mr. Talksalot appeared in front of me and said, "Sorry about earlier. I couldn't make out what you were saying. I was on my cell phone."
"Yes, I know," I said.
"What were you trying to tell me? It seemed important."
"Frankly," I said, "I was angry because you were filling the entire coffee shop with your conversation. It was very distracting to everyone."
"Wait a minute!" he said. "Aren't you that writer, Chris Boswick?"
"Yeah, something like that," I said warily.
"Well, I find what you write very distracting because it's so wrong. You have a nerve telling me to pipe down. I know a lot of people who wish you'd shut up."
"You don't have to read me," I said. "When Neil Boortz annoys me, I turn off the radio."
"Oh, I don't read you, believe me! And I turn off the radio too when I don't like what some liberal has to say."
"Cool," I said. "So next time you act so rudely at Starbucks, you'll understand when three or four of us rush to turn you off."
"Asshole!" he barked, walking away, punching the buttons of his cell phone furiously.
To the compulsive talker, his disease is no disease. It is an entitlement. In the compulsive talker's hands, a cell phone is not a tool of listening but a megaphone, a way of invading the world with his ego: "Attention! Now hear this! I am picking up eggs and toilet-bowl cleaner on the way home!"
It's like what I heard an ass-kissing Boortz/Hannity/O'Reilly caller say the other day: "We can't remain silent. We got to make ourselves heard."
I'm going to teach my next parrot to say that.
Cliff Bostock's website is www.soulworks.net.
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