I am now a cell phone owner. Yeah, I know … congrats on joining the new millennium. I got the cheapest phone available – the kind that doesn’t fold in half, but is just a single lump of phone with exposed numbers. I keep it in my pocket, because the only thing worse than talking loudly on a cell phone in a restaurant is walking around with it clipped onto your belt. I don’t know why – it just seems like bad personal feng shui.So, I keep it in my pocket, set on “vibrate” mode. This makes receiving a call pretty exciting, and will hopefully save me the embarrassment of having it ring during a funeral.The first thing I did after getting my phone was program my home number into speed dial. With the push of a single button, I’m calling home.One week later, my home phone rings. I pick it up, say hello, and get no response. There’s obviously someone on the other end, but they say nothing. Prank call? Shy telemarketer, maybe? I say hello again. Then I say it really loud and often and with increasing annoyance. Then I hang up. I pace back and forth a few times, trying to let it go. I can’t. I pick up the phone and dial *69 – I’ll get to the bottom of this silent caller. The cell phone vibrates in my pocket. Dammit. Who’s calling at this inopportune time? I fish it from my jeans and answer it without hanging up the home phone, as I seem to think you can only *69 once. I say hello into the cell. No answer. I notice that the home phone has answered, so I say hello into it. No answer. I’ve got each phone to my ear now. Hello? Hello?! HELLO?!And there I stand, a Mobius strip of technologically assisted rage, a perfect circle of self-contained, self-generated revenge. Were it not for my need to eat and sleep, I could have stood there forever, yelling back and forth, a perpetual annoyance machine.Eventually, though, I hear my own voice coming from the opposite phone and I figure out what has happened. I’m ashamed to tell you exactly how long it took me to realize this, but I will say that by the time I did I needed to eat and sleep.Since that incident I feel like I’m bugged in the most random and potentially devastating way. As a result I’ve lost my ability to speak frankly.For instance, if someone asks me what I think of Bill’s recent theatrical performance, I get an image of Bill at home, answering his phone in time to hear me say, in a not-quite-muffled-enough voice, “What the hell inspired him to explore the Holocaust through interpretive dance? It’s gonna take me a year to get the image of him in a zebra print unitard out of my head! He must have kept his crack dealer busy while working on that one.”Even though I don’t have Bill on my speed dial, it’s not too much of a stretch, in my paranoid state, to imagine his number accidentally being dialed while my phone is in my pocket. I mean, there’s a lot going on down there. So instead I answer, “Very powerful piece.” Which is what I’d say if Bill was in the room. Not technically a lie, but hardly honest.I can’t even speak freely about friends who live in other states or overseas. I mean, as long as there’s mysterious dialing going on in my pocket region, it’s not too hard to imagine adding in a 1 plus the area code, or even a three-digit international prefix.The cell phone, rather than increasing my communication options, has hindered them. I’m clammed up all day long, afraid of being turned in by this little snitch in my pocket. In fact, the only time I can really talk some smack about someone is when I’m on the cell phone with someone else – when I’m absolutely certain that there’s no way this gossip-worthy person is going to be summoned by my self-dialing cell.And then someone told me about this “3-way calling” thing …Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is barry@Irrelativity.com, and his very own Web page is at http://www.Irrelativity.com
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