Jewish World Review May 2, 2000 / 27 Nissan, 5760
There they go, just
a-yappin' down the
street . . .
NEW YORK Question: When did a sign of insanity
become a sign of status and importance?
Answer: Oh, right about now.
This thought occurred the other afternoon as I saw a
man walking along Park Avenue talking away to
himself. I mean, jabbering-- this guy was walking
down the street having the most animated
conversation you could imagine. He was
emphasizing words, he was laughing, he was giving
Was he nuts? Did he look as if he might be crazed?
No-- he looked like an affluent, influential executive.
Expensive suit, highly polished shoes...the only thing
that made it seem that he was out of his mind was
the fact that he was talking a mile a minute to no
But the little black wire that hung down from his ear,
just past his mouth, was the tipoff.
Perhaps you have seen the skinny little wires. They
are the newest advance in communications-- the
sight of them is beginning to replace the sight of
people holding cell phones to their ears.
They work, I am told, like this. You place a small
plug into your ear. You snake a connecting cord to a
cellular phone you carry in your pocket or wear on
your belt. From the earpiece, the skinny black wire
dangles past your mouth. There is a tiny microphone
built into the wire.
And...you walk along the street, hands free, yakking
away. Some of the phones have voice-activated
dialing, so you don't have to reach into your pocket
to dial-- you are always in contact with the rest of
the world. It's pretty eerie-- the sight of people
talking at top speed, with no one in the vicinity as the
intended recipients of their words.
A check of several cellular telephone stores
indicated that these skinny-wire devices have been
on the market for some time now, although only in
recent months have they picked up in popularity.
Phone-store employees say that some people like
the skinny wires because their hands are free when
they are driving and talking; others say there is a
prestige factor built in-- business people think it looks
cool to be walking along and talking, without having
a phone in their hands; still others think it is a
prudent health decision.
For several years now, there has been debate over
whether cellular phones pose the potential threat of
releasing radiation into the heads of people who
constantly use them. A recent story in the New
York Daily News said: "Although the jury is still out
on whether mobile phones of any variety can cause
brain damage, many experts contend they pose a
risk for cancer, memory loss and psychological
Now...without taking any position on the health risks
of cell phones, it is possible to say that the
skinny-wire devices definitely have a connection
with psychological disturbances-- and it has nothing
to do with radiation.
You can make the case that our new national
obsession with being in touch every second of the
day is itself a sign of a societal psychological
disturbance. We have willingly given up the concept
of down time, of quiet moments-- and have replaced
periods of rest with constant talk, ceaseless
checking-in. From airplanes to automobiles to
ballgames to-- now-- a stroll through the city, we
have chosen not to be where we physically stand or
sit, but instead to link up with voices somewhere
No one has made us do it; we have arrived at this
choice on our own. The skinny wires are the
penultimate step; the only communication horizon
beyond this is the day when surgeons implant
telephone devices into people's brains and ears, so
that business executives can link up with associates
around the world just by thinking of who they want
to talk to, then speaking aloud.
(One person I saw wearing the skinny telephone
wire and yapping into the air was a man I wrote
about here recently: Goldberg, the professional
wrestler, whom I met on a trip to Las Vegas. I was
going to question him about why he felt the need to
talk into the skinny wire, but then I thought: Nah.
This is not a fellow it's worth offending over his
telephone habits. Let him blab. The downside of
kidding him about it is not worth it.)
So where is all of this heading?
Probably where it has been heading for years. With
millions upon millions of people in nonstop contact,
the real sign of success for a person will be if he is
not reachable at all. The guy with the skinny wire
will not rule the world; instead, the guy you can't
phone, the guy you have to write a letter to, will be
on top of the universe. Power? It will be found in the
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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