April 19th, 2010 10:29 EST
Cell Phone Chatter as an Elaborate Put-On
Walking around New York City these days takes special navigational skills because you have to avoid collisions with people who regard their cell phone self-absorption as a license to mow you down.
There`s a kind of desperation to all this loud yakking and jittery texting. It`s rather like the teen-age girl who stops in mall windows to make sure she`s still there, to reassure herself by her image in the glass that she exists and counts. It may look like vanity, but there is fear in the gesture.
I used to fear that someday I`d look in a mirror and I wouldn`t be there. Some days I don`t feel as if I`m there even when I see the familiar image. He looks like a reasonable facsimile, a decoy. And I wonder if perhaps so many people are not compulsively checking their e-mail and voicemail and text messages to reassure themselves that they count for something, that their existence in the world is certifiable.
Left to themselves in a world without such devices, would they be able to affirm their existences?
I sometimes study the cell phoners in cafÃ©s and it often seems to me that the conversations are between no one in particular, not the noticeable person at hand and not the invisible person at the other end. They seem to be conversations conducted for the benefit of eavesdroppers and observers. I`m important, they say. I count. I have things to do, places to get to, people who think about me.
I like the sight of the girls affirming themselves by their fey images in windows. I find it poignant. Their self-absorption does not annoy me. It`s tragic and lovely. But I dislike the exhibitionistic clamor of the cell phoners. The girl in the window is conducting a private ritual and I join in its urgency. But the cell phoners are loony look-at-me`s. The girls in the window remind me of Diana at her bath, and, remembering what happened to hapless Actaeon when he accidentally beheld her, I usually don`t linger.
Who really wants to hear from these natterers as much as they want to be seen chattering? Who needs to hear from them? How often does their conversation seem to have any substance? It`s twitter and twaddle, not even banter. So why so urgent? Why so obsessive? Is it because the emptiness of life in the 21st Century has become thunderous and they`re trying to ignore it?
Could any of these people bear a week in Walden? Can they stand the silence of introspection? And what happens to a society that becomes incapable of introspection? A visit to a museum may well prompt such questions. I see people who can`t gaze for a moment at an Aphrodite without fidgeting with their gadgets. It`s a kind of pathological auto-eroticism.
These frenetic chatterers who so palpably long to be watched and appreciated for their importance "I sometimes think they fear in their hearts that they are disappearing and this is their desperate stand to anchor themselves in this world before they are swept away by their towering insignificance. Have we created a culture that instills such paranoia? Is this the natural outcome of a society insisting that buying and selling is everything and that life is ultimately about winning and losing?
Could the cell phone phenomenon be a metaphor for a society that engages in a great deal of oratory but very little listening and less and less compromise, an agglomerate of people who talk at each other but do not speak with each other?
What kind of society panics them with insignificance? What kind of society has instilled such manic desperation in them that they seem almost spastic in their frenzy to communicate so little? Is it a society that treats them as consumer drones that unnerves them? It should. But surely there are more creative ways to be unnerved.
They certainly don`t suffer writer`s block or stage fright. The world is their stage and they are taking it over with a vengeance. Those cell phones are their license to swagger, to ignore foot traffic, to pollute the air with noise, to lord it over mere unarmed pedestrians. These people are dealers in weapons of mass inconsequence.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
For More Information: www.djelloulmarbrook.com