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Communication Breakdown

Communication Breakdown

When we focus on the little picture on our cell phones, we're missing the big picture – the person right in front of us.


My life used to center around the fervent hope that important people were trying to reach me when I couldn't be reached. In the pre-answering-machine stone age of my youth, anything was possible. While I was out, Ed McMahon could have called from Publisher's Clearinghouse. Post-answering machine, the zero staring back at me squelched that fantasy. (They should have invented a kinder readout for messages than "zero," like "fewest.")

During my dial-up days, I could support the other web of deception that people were trying to call me while I was online. DSL -- proof my phone was a glorified paperweight.

Now, wherever I am, the fantasy's over, thanks to my non-vibrating cell. As for the world around me, plastered to theirs, the good vibes continue. Not that I have phone envy, except for when I hear my neighbor's land line ring through the wall of my home office. The transmission of a human voice all that way, and it just missed me.

These days, the attempt to connect with a human being has become one in a series of other tasks we regimented adults have to juggle, and it usually takes second or third billing. Stroll down most streets in my adopted town of Los Angeles, if you're among the limited number of street strollers here to begin with, and you'll notice the folks successfully connecting with their cells or BlackBerrys. These electronic appendages are designed to grab their attention away from where they are, the big picture, and focus it on where they aren't, the little pictures on their phone.

If I do manage to sneak in a face-to-face conversation with a woman, i.e. a date, when her ring tone chimes, it's as if her personal band is cuing her to go to a commercial: "Be right back."

When her ring tone chimes, it's as if her personal band is cuing her to go to a commercial: "Be right back."

You hear it often enough: L.A. is a tough town for meeting people. It may be a dehumanizing byproduct of the sea of cars that too often equates with hunks of metal, not living and breathing drivers inside. But there's also a growing sense that many people are in their impenetrable bubbles, whether they're in their cars or not.

In this year of the need for change, we're told Washington doesn't work anymore, that it should stop giving in to special interests. Perhaps a part of our culture doesn't work anymore either. Maybe cell "phonees" could stop giving in to their special interest in absorbing what's not going on right in front of them. And return the power back to the people they might actually begin to notice again, versus a shiny little blue screen with lots of cool colors.

When new technology for "communicating" is quietly replacing actual communication, it's nothing to text-message home about.

True, all of these new gadgets are "cool," or at least that's what the media keep telling us, but what is the ultimate reward for all this coolness? I still haven't quite figured that out. If I could come up with my own new high tech invention, it would enable everyone to start truly communicating with each other – live and in person. Imagine if being open to the world around you was the new cool. What a high tech invention that would be.

Writer, producer and performer Andy Cowan can be reached through his website,

July 12, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, September 24, 2016 5:56 PM

cell phones

and people do,nt know that the battery goes dead and minutes run out because your using them so much and how could people text drive and walk while texting I find I lose track and miss my bus stop or crossing a street while car drivers are waving me to cross just wanting to get back there thrill of driving cell phones can lead to an ebarassing death watchout they turn us all into idioits

(3) Anonymous, October 23, 2008 2:55 PM

THANK YOU! This article is much neededd.

(2) Feiga, July 17, 2008 2:41 PM

Too True!!

There's not much to add to such a true for every word article. But if we all try to listen full-heartedly, then maybe something can even come out of spreading such a good piece. Thanks for putting this out.

(1) Joey, July 17, 2008 12:29 PM


And unfortunately, Luddites like me eventually have to get a cell phone, because everyone else has one, one can no longer function without them.

God bless.

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