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How The World Wags

"Talk About Multitasking!"
By Dave Kiffer

March 19, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Last week sitting in a Sea-Tac departure lounge I came to a shocking conclusion.

I was waiting for a flight to Oakland (yes, Gertrude, there is a "there" there) and it dawned on me that I was only person (amongst a whole herd of folks) that wasn't talking on a cell phone.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Sure, sure, I'm certainly aware that a lot of people carry these personal communication devices with them 24/7 (flipping them open must make one feel just like Captain James T. Kirk checking back in with "the bridge"). I just didn't realize that I was the last person on earth without the ability of instantaneous communication.

Don't get me wrong. I am not a Luddite who pines for the days of standing in long lines behind pay phones listening to people spill out their life stories between expectorations from the unintelligible public address system. But at least then you could be excused of "eavesdropping" because you were patiently waiting in line to use the danged phone. Now, you are made to feel like the aural equivalent of a peeping tom when you express surprise when the person sitting next to you in the departure lounge suddenly, loudly, vividly describes a recently undertaken sexual act.

I didn't hear any such descriptions this time out. But I did hear a man two seats away explain that he had been fired for asking for additional time off from work. I heard a young woman standing nearby call her "scuzzums" just about every lovey-dovey name imaginable. I heard a woman in the row across from me take a subordinate to task for some failing. Suffice it to say she used language that was once - quaintly perhaps - attributed to sailors.

And that was in the first half an hour or so. When a well-dressed gentleman standing in front of me began to replay the details of his recent hamstring surgery I had had enough and left my comfy seat to wander the halls looking for the lost city of Silantis.

After a while, I found myself using a bathroom for its intended purpose. A man came in and chose a "station" a short distance away.

"Well, that's really something," he said, obviously to me.

I ignored him.

"That was pretty rude," he said after a short silence. I was trying to use all of my superpower peripheral vision to see - without actually turning my head because it is super rude to stare at someone else in the bathroom - if he was looking at me while he was talking. He was staring straight ahead and he did not have a cell phone clamped to his head.

"I just don't understand why you think you have to act that way," he continued on.

I wasn't being rude. Men - in America at least - just don't talk to other men at the urinal (they do in Ireland, but that's another story!)

I was just clearing my throat to answer him, when he flushed and turned around. Yes, he was talking into a headset. Talk about multi-tasking!

He wasn't the only one. On closer review of the departure lounge, I discovered that the people I had observed sitting in their seats without their hands to their ears, were actually using the latest hi-tech yak-yak facilitator, the headset.

So much for me assuming they were just sitting there. Their blank expressions were actually that of people focusing intently on their invisible phone mates. I just thought they had the infamous departure lounge stare. Whatever. I digress.

But it was a couple using a the more traditional communicators that seized my attention once again. They were a young couple (I'm guessing Eastern European, but their voices were so overwhelmed with emotion that it was hard to tell what language exactly they were speaking). Even many of the other phoners stopped to watch the drama unfolding before us.

Body language made it clear that joint "travel" had led to the "I can't stand you any more moment" that everyone experiences with their poossai (person of opposite sex sharing an itinerary). They were standing toe to toe, quite obviously engaged in a "frank" discussion.

Finally, the young woman sped on her heals (4 inchers at least!) And stomped over to the other side of the departure lounge, keeping her back toward her not-so-dearly recently departed travel partner. He just stood there with his hands outstretched in the international recognized symbol for "crucifiction."

After a couple of minutes, he reached into pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He angrily stabbed speed dial with one finger. The young woman's phone began to ring (It sounded vaguely like a Europop version of "I Can't Get No Satisfaction.") She let it ring for quite a while. Then she reached into her blazer and took it out. Without even turning around, she deposited it into a nearby waste receptacle. Then she raised her right hand and made a finger gesture that needed no translation.

Eventually, we all boarded our respective flights and stopped communicating. It's hard to imagine a plane flight as some form of peaceful bliss but in this case it was a joy (mine) that my fellow fliers were no longer able to "reach out and touch someone."

Unfortunately, the FAA is considering whether to allow people to use their cell phones during flights in the future. I'm sure that the outcome of doing so would make "road rage" seem relatively tame.

If it's unsafe to fly with bic lighters and nail clippers, then how can be safe to fly with a cell phone after someone has used one to beat a rude caller to death over the Atlantic or a headset that has been used to silence someone Mafia style on a flight to Vegas?

Finally. Incontrovertable evidence that cell phones are dangerous to your health. And not a single roaming charge too soon.


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Dave Kiffer ©2004

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