The following is a transcript of an actual conversation between an employee of a fabric and craft store and a customer purchasing 4.5 yards of taffeta.
“That will be $22.50 ma’am.”
“Just put it in the freezer.”
“I’m sorry?” Store clerk wears a puzzled expression, but continues the transaction.
Customer hands store clerk a fifty-dollar bill.
“You can just put it in little baggies.”
“Excuse me?” Little baggies, he thinks. Do we have any little baggies?
“Under the sink.” Customer points below the counter, to the left.
“Here’s your change, ma’am.”
“Fifteen, maybe twenty max.”
Store clerk recounts the bills, certain that he has made the correct change. Customer seems satisfied with the amount given to her. In fact, she does not even count it, just slides it into the outer pocket of her purse and zips the zipper.
“Have a nice day.” Cordial greetings, he remembers.
“Love you. Bye.” He looks around to assure himself that no one else is behind the counter that she could possibly be talking to.
You’ve all probably witnessed scenes like this yourselves: lone teenagers wildly gesturing in mall food courts, young professionals smoking on park benches talking to themselves.
What our store clerk didn’t see was the tiny wire running from the customer’s ear to a little microphone dangling near her collar to the cell phone hanging from the waistband of her jeans.
It was bad enough when chiropractors had to develop special treatments for permanently cocked necks and emergency rooms began surgically removing cell phones from the earlobes of patients, but now an entire culture is beginning to appear schizophrenic, all because people can’t wait to get home to tell their husbands to separate the hamburger patties and put them up in the freezer.
Is all this talk necessary? Can we really have so much to say?
People used to carry on conversations across tables over dinner or out on the back porch over a glass of iced tea. No longer. Now it’s desperate rants while standing in line at the supermarket and tearful confessions in the middle of Victoria’s Secret.
We are more connected than ever with e-mail, voice mail, snail mail, instant messaging, post-it notes, and that all-inclusive new medium, M-Life, but more people are lonely and depressed than ever before. Why?
We don’t ask hard questions. It is easier to talk about people than ideas, easier to ask someone what they are doing this weekend than what their opinion is on anything.
When is the last time you discussed a truly original idea, asked someone how they were doing and meant it, or sat down and talked to your grandmother about her first love?
We erect an edifice of words yet rarely say what’s really on our minds, much less our hearts. We talk until we run up a cell phone bill the size of the GDP of some small nations, but we don’t say anything we’ll remember tomorrow.
It’s time to pull the hands-free cell phone out of the ear of our society and try to do something innovative: communicate.
Angie Henderson is a graduate student in the School of International Studies.