Cell Phones

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I was traveling in Pakistan a few years ago, and we were in the backyard at someone’s house. We were standing around before dinner when the host came up to my American friend and said, “Do you want to call your daughter?”

Then he handed him a cell phone.

Now I have to admit I am not the quickest person to pick up on new technology. A friend told me recently that she and I were the only two people she knew who didn’t own a microwave. When it comes to new technology, my usual reaction is, “What’s the point?”

I saw the point in Pakistan and it blew me away. My friend took the cell phone in his hand and punched in some numbers. A moment later, a particular telephone, in a particular apartment in San Francisco was ringing. Some kind of coded electronic beam was able to zoom up into space, find a satellite and then zoom back down on the other side of the globe, where it found that phone in San Francisco.

So I admit it, cell phones are a wonder, and they allow us to keep in touch with loved ones even on the other side of the globe.

Another friend was remembering 30 years ago when he and I were Peace Corps volunteers in Afghanistan and calling home was impossible. Back then when you were gone, you were really gone.

More recently, his daughter was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican. Any time she wanted to hear someone’s voice, she could use her cell phone. That was good for her, but we old-timers still have the idea that something gets lost when convenience makes things easy.

Needless to say I don’t have a cell phone, and I would dread the idea of having to be so closely in touch with my job that I had to carry one with me. Can you ever feel truly alone with a cell phone in your pocket? It’s like a prisoner with an ankle bracelet.

I know cell phones come in handy. You’ve got your roadside emergencies and any number of moments where you have to be in touch. I understand about the march of progress, and I know my Luddite tendencies aren’t going to make any difference anyway.

That march of progress now involves any number of cell phone companies who want to put up towers over hill and dale in Vermont. A lot of people resent the incursion of these towers on the state’s beautiful hilltops. I’d say beautiful hilltops ought to win out over ugly towers and towns should exercise their authority to make sure these towers go up in the right places.

That means the march of progress may not go as smoothly in Vermont as elsewhere but I think that’s all right. If convenience and progress were the only measure, life would be a lot less interesting.

Now I think I’ll go for a walk. I don’t know where I’m going, and neither does anyone else. But that’s OK. I finally bought a telephone answering machine. So just leave a message.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

–David Moats is the Editorial Page Editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.

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