When I committed this 30 second speech to memory, it was mostly because of the girl's hilarious accent. I also thought it was funny because she sat there with her big hoop earrings and her cup of gelato and summed up all of our frustrations with not being called back. We look at the phone, willing it to ring. We look in the mirror, willing ourselves to just pluck up the nerve to call ourselves, because, gosh darn it it is the 21st century and we should be able to call a guy if we want to! And I also thought it might be a good reminder sometimes when I'm wondering how or why I am single.
But today, while I was walking to work, I was not thinking of the trials and travails of the single life. I was observing that almost everyone I passed was glued to their phone. It was like little elves snuck in at night and put Superglue on every Blackberry in the city - wherever I turned, a man or woman would walk by with the exact same posture and expression. It said:
"Get out of my way I am on the phone can't you see that I need my personal bubble and please do not brush by my messenger bag while I talk furiously into the tiny piece of metal and silicon that is now permanently affixed to my earlobe."
I don't know about you, but I have two questions. Number 1 - doesn't your ear get awfully hot from holding the phone there for so long? I mean, if I talk to one person for an hour or so, I have to keep switching the phone from one side of my face to the other, or I will hang up looking like I just ran a marathon. Number 2 - who is so gosh darn important that you cannot walk from one side of the street to the other before picking up the phone? Is it your boss' boss' boss? Your wedding planner? Your second cousin twice removed on your mother's side Angela, who has bunions and may need to have surgery on her right pinky toe next year?
I am sure that there are phone calls that need to be answered, clients who are in different time zones, feathers of important business people that need smoothing over. But I also get the distinct feeling that our cell phones have become grown-up security blankets. We can't appear to be alone in the wide streets of the city; if we are on the phone, it means we matter, that someone wanted to talk to us, that we are part of a network of people and we don't need to bother about our sidewalk neighbors. I pick up the phone sometimes if I am waiting for the bus on my way home from work so I don't feel like I have nothing to do but stare at my companions. Sometimes I even pretend to text people (when really I'm just checking my calendar or my "notepad" feature in my phone) - just so that I can feel a little more important, a little less like another blank face amongst millions of other blank faces.
But the ironic thing is, by doing that, we actually create the blank faces! I can't tell you what the girl next to me in the Starbucks line this morning looked like - I can tell you that she typed into her silver Blackberry Tour faster than I've seen anyone type. I can't tell you how the well-heeled man who sat next to me on the Red Line metro smiled, or laughed, or even said hello - but I can tell you that he could hold onto the handrail with one hand and type an email with the other on his red LG EnV3. I can't tell you the hopes or fears or even favorite subjects of the teenager who rides the D6 to Dupont Circle every morning - but she does own a new iPhone and she has mastered its apps. The people that could have been people are instead identified by their technical devices. Kindle over there, iPhone here, Blackberry Storm across from me, plain little flip cell phone two doors down, iPad tester on the Metro...
So why'd they even invent caller ID? Why does the life of this city seem to be lived along transmission lines far above our heads, while the lines of talking, smiling, drinking coffee together, laughing at the woman dragging her disgruntled pug down the street go almost completely unused? I mean, like who is this service helping? We can tell the town and state someone is calling from. We can tell you who they are to us (friend, colleague, business partner, family member), and what they might be calling about (we're expecting a baby, get me the Murdoch file stat, I need a list of where to send our Christmas cards this year). But in our rush to identify and communicate with these people via cellular device, I think we might have lost an appreciation for the ways that the strangers we meet in our coffee shops, CVS runs, Metro stations and 7-Elevens can change our lives. I think we might have gotten so attached, so Superglued to our phones and our technology that we feel naked without those lines of communication right in our hand.
We like control. We like not feeling alone. We like looking important. We like putting up an invisible, impenetrable wall of "I'm busy on the phone" around us and moving through the world untouched by the strangers who walk next to us. Our bubble might brush up against theirs, but for the most part we talk at our people and they talk at theirs. But what if we didn't? What if we turned off our phone, our iPad, our laptop... and just sat in a window and looked out at the world? What if I put down my pen in Starbucks tomorrow morning and just watched the people? What if, instead of scrolling through my contacts looking for someone to call so I don't look like I'm the lonely girl who goes home to make macaroni and cheese and cry to Kurt's performance of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" in Glee two weeks ago, I just put the phone away and smiled at the person waiting for the bus?
Okay, I have a question... why'd they invent caller ID?