For whom the cell tolls? Me.

Barry Smith

In my Big Idea File is the kernel of a column that I’ll never get around to finishing.

The premise was simple (but, you know … brilliant): How different would famous moments in history have been if cell phones had been around?

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for … um, hang on, I gotta take this call. Marilyn! Are you at home? Can I call you right back?”

“Fourscore and seven years ago, our…”


“Um … fourscore and seven years…”


“Look, didn’t you hear the announcement to switch your phones to vibrate mode? Yeah, you … in the hat.”

“How blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit … um, hang on, I gotta take this call. Judas? Are you at the office? Can I call you right back?”

The thing is, I can’t finish that column because I am, as of just a few days ago, a cell phone owner. I know what you’re thinking, and I appreciate your condescending welcome into the present century.

I’m no Luddite. I have no problem filling my life with as many electronic gizmos as possible, but I’ve just never really needed a cell phone. And I knew that when I finally did get one I would be hooked, no turning back, forever shackled to the cellular. Kinda like e-mail – hard to imagine how I lived without it.

So I held out until just last week, and the moment I touched my new lifeline for the first time, I could see my future flash before me in a way that would have made Stephen King proud. I was destined to do, and even become, everything I’ve ever hated about cell phones and their users.

I could see my phone going off in the middle of a theater because I forgot to turn it off. I could feel the angry stares from those around me who were trying to enjoy “Garfield the Movie.”

I could see myself talking on my phone at Who-like decibels in quaint little coffee shops where people were trying to commune with their laptops and MP3 players.

I could see it all. Blathering total crap while out for a hike. Terrifying cyclists with my gargantuan, swerving SUV while checking my voice mail. Yelling “Sell! Sell! Buy! Buy!” into my tiny phone in restaurants even though I have nothing to sell or buy.

As an occasional AV Guy, I used to delight in watching people whose phones went off in the middle of darkened-room meetings. First you’d hear the squeal of a Beethoven composition – at a volume that even Beethoven could have heard – then some poor soul would jump up and race toward the exit door, hunched forward, whispering a loud “hello … hang on a minute” into his phone. Their gait reminded me of Groucho Marx making his way through a sniper zone. Hilarious.

I took it all in, delighting in their embarrassment, noting that electronic progress was actually causing a reversal in evolution – these people moved like Neanderthals down the center aisle in hopes of not being seen. And all the while I sat smugly in my cell-free tower, laughing my little pay-phone-using head off.

As I stepped into the street with my new cell, I could feel the door to that particular wing of mockery slamming shut. Soon, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it, I would find myself hunched over, racing from a room to take a call. I know it. I can feel it. Live by the mockery, die by the mockery.

Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at