Beware the Chattering Crowds

Cell phones are, of course, the worst thing to happen to civilization since the Mongol hordes (search), a particularly apt analogy since cell phone users have become a horde of their own and, on all too many occasions, publicly flaunt their early Mongol manners.

They talk on commuter trains and in supermarket checkout lines and in their bloated SUVs (search) while making left turns from the right lane directly in front of you. The ridiculous melodies that they have programmed their cell phones to perform, instead of a conventional ring, are an even greater offense to civility: a tinny version of Ravel’s Bolero interrupts movies; a tinny version of Beethoven’s Ninth interrupts concerts; a tinny version of "The Bridge On the River Kwai" interrupts athletic events.

As for the conversations of cell phoners, they are sometimes pointless beyond description, unnecessary except as an expression of the infantile yearning of the user for his technology, his lust for indulging in means without thought of ends. “Hi,” the cell phoner says into his device, so that others in the vicinity can hear, and be disturbed by, him, “how ya doin’, what’s up, everything okay, aw right, cool.” 

Or, one of my favorite conversational snatches from the early morning commuter train: “Sally, hey there, it’s Mike. I’m on the same train I’m always on. I’ll be getting into Grand Central the same time I always do. I’ll stop at the same bagel shop I always stop at. I’ll get the same flavor bagel and the same kind of coffee I always get. I’ll show up at the office the same time I’ve gotten to the office every day for the past 17 years and 11 months. Just thought I should tell you. How ya doin’, what’s up, everything okay, aw right, cool.”

E.B White (search), the noted New Yorker essayist of many decades ago, did not like the fact that his telephone rang so often, so unexpectedly. He found it rude, jarring. After a time, he decided to keep the phone in a closet, “as you might confine a puppy that isn’t fully house-trained.” Today, with the advent of cell phones, it is the users who need to be confined, who are not fully culture-trained.

And now, it seems that the hordes have even more reason to glue themselves to their gadgets.  They have----da-da-da-da-da-dah!---the National Enquirer (search) and its even less respectable supermarket rag-in-law, the Weekly World News (search). 

Cell phone giant Sprint is now providing, on its PCS Vision (search) line of phones, a tabloid news service. Why did it choose the publications it did rather than, say, The New York Times and the Weekly Standard? Simple. “The National Enquirer delivers investigative news, gossip, secrets and scandals that can’t be found anywhere else” it has been said. “The Weekly World News, America’s most unusual newspaper with its host of hilarious characters like Bat Boy and Bigfoot, gives wireless customers reporting straight out of a parallel universe.”

Can things get any worse? Can things get any tackier? Can the entire drift of Western society get any more vulgar and mundane and---?

Wait a minute. Hold on here. I just thought of something. 

If the new service catches on, it means that cell phone users will shut up once in a while in public places: one cannot, after all, use his phone for blathering at the same time that he is staring into it to learn about pop stars having sex with aliens while two-headed cows low in the background from the adjoining pasture. In other words, the dreadful prospect of tabloid news on a cell phone somewhat mitigates the dreadful reality of the modern Mongols’ disturbances of the peace.

I would like to commend the public-spirited citizens at Sprint for the brilliance and innovation they have displayed in making available their new Vision PCS products, a socially-beneficial consumer good if ever there was one.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. He is the author of several books, including The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Temple University Press, 2003).

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