Guest Op-Ed: Left to Their Own Devices

By Alison Barnet

Remember phone booths? The way people pushed hard on the doors to make sure they were tightly closed? Why? Because a phone call was a private matter. Back then, of course, people usually had more to say than “Oh, hi! I’m in a phone booth. Where you at?”

Not to laud the past—although it’s looking better and better—years ago we walked down the street with friends and talked to them. We noticed other people and the world around us. We weren’t so addicted to phones that we were completely unaware we were walking right into someone—with not even an “Excuse me.” What could possibly be so important, so immediate that you have to address it in the middle of the sidewalk? Years ago, someone crossing the street gesturing and laughing would have been considered nuts—certifiable! And how about all those people who walk down the street talking and smiling, making us think they’re speaking to us?

It’s Saturday and the mall is crowded. Here he comes on his cell phone, claiming, “This is just between you and me.”

“Hello, hello!” She’s yelling into her phone at an art store. “Would you take the dishes out of the dishwasher for me?”

He’s standing on the steps as I walk by. No one else is around, so he must be talking to me when he says, “Could I have the steak tips and a tuna salad?”

On buses and trains, phone calls often begin with a dull “Hull-oh? Hull-oh? Hull-oh?” Then quickly become loud and personal. “I’m on the bus” she says twice. “Can you hear me?”

Yes, I can!

“You never listen!” he’s yelling into his phone. 

Unfortunately, I have no choice.

“You know what I’m sayin’?”

Yeah, I do!

“I’ll talk to you later.”

Good idea!

Children are often ignored. It’s so bad that psychiatrists of the future will have an overload of clients crying. “My mother was always talking but not to me.”

I have a friend who makes buttons. I told him about cell phones, but he’s not a public transportation taker and he didn’t quite get it. Instead he came up with a button that says, “Thank you for not speaking.”

Alison Barnet is a South End resident and former editor of the South End News.

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