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The Cell Phone Calls, Conclusion

By Kai Staats
Aug 4, 2004 6:00 AM PT

With the close of part one of this column [Kai Staats "The Cell Phone Calls," MacNewsWorld, July 28, 2004], my first reaction was to toss my cell phone from the car, to teach it who was in control.

The Cell Phone Calls, Conclusion

But the thought of the look on my bookkeeper's face when I would explain why I needed a new phone kept me from enjoying the experiment in high-speed trajectories. I removed my left hand from the window controls of my vehicle. But the internal struggle remained. I should not have been fighting as I was. I knew this was not how I used to be. When did this occur?

I quickly searched my memories, seeking a time and place when I would not have conceived of owning a cell phone, much less using one there in the middle of Nevada -- on a weekend.

I then recalled a memory some 14 years prior: my very first solo road trip, a winter trek from Phoenix to the lava tubes outside of Flagstaff. With several gallons of water, a tent, sleeping bag, shovel, fire extinguisher, stove, cook set, atlas and ample clothes to keep me warm should another ice age hit that weekend; with my full tool kit, camera and food enough for a small army, I was not only self-sufficient, I was prepared for all possible natural disasters.

Reliance on Technology

As I placed seemingly countless miles between me and my Phoenix home, I became less concerned for the trivial fears that had plagued my mind while packing. With recognition that I was on my own, I was not only free to, but bound to, make my own decisions. I gained a wonderful sense of accomplishment, independence and confidence, which has since carried me to many countries around the world.

Now, at age 33, I felt I had somehow fallen into reliance upon technology rather than on my own preparation, confidence and intuition. I recognized that now, instead of preparing to go to the office of a customer or industry associate by asking for detailed directions or downloading maps the night before, I often drive in the general direction and then call to ask for assistance. If necessary, I call again, usually from the wrong side of the correct city block.

Ridiculous. That tiny black box with numbers 0 through 9 was stealing my independence and, more important, my ability to live in the moment. How could I enjoy the here and now, the rich beauty of Nevada's multiple, parallel mountain ranges or the company of my travel companion if my mind was occupied by concern for, and anxiety with, the work-week to come?

Taking Note

I therefore drew upon that rich memory of my first road trip and, with little hesitation, powered down the cell phone, tossed it into the glove compartment, held the warm hand of my companion, and was once again free.

Both prior to and since this recent trip, I have taken note of, for instance, my own desire to check messages immediately after deboarding an airplane. I have decided that given the context of a business trip where I am to meet someone or I have a tight agenda, it makes sense.

But what concerns me most is the nearly autonomous reach for the jacket pocket or outside compartment of the shoulder bag as I race through the terminal corridors, bumping and pushing against the hoards of other humans with cell phones seemingly surgically attached to their ears.

Moments to Observe

For me, even a few moments of taking it all in makes the difference. And so I stop, usually to the side of the walkways, and just observe. I watch the families with excited children tugging on shirt sleeves and skirt pleats. I watch lovers scan the horizon with a look of sadness until their partner is found, their face exploding into smile, laughter and then tears as they embrace.

And I watch the hurried business person in a near sprint, polished leather shoes reflecting the recessed overhead lights like a shiny car beneath street lamps at night, the reflections racing in reverse. I feel the rumble of the next jet as it leaves the earth and the nearly unintelligible attempt by the pager to pronounce names of those travelers who are lost or temporarily missing in transit.

It takes only a few moments, accompanied by one or two deep breaths and a cool drink from a fountain, to remind myself that I am the human, and the cell phone is the invention of my kind. I exist without this device. But it cannot exist without me. And when I do power it on, I do so by choice. Therefore, I do so with greater pleasure and far less anxiety.

I abruptly pulled the car to a stop on the side of the road. Without concern for traffic -- for it does not exist in the high desert of Nevada -- I planted myself in the middle of the road, arms outstretched to become a human antennae. No matter how hard I tried to intercept them, tens of thousands of microwave transmissions passed through me every second, completely unnoticed, for I am missing the feature in my human frame required to receive them.

And this caused me to smile.

Kai Staats, a MacNewsWorld columnist, is the cofounder and CEO of Terra Soft Solutions, developer of Yellow Dog Linux for PowerPC.

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