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Late one evening, my son called our home in Connecticut from his car phone. Anxiously, he explained that he and a friend were headed toward Tucson from their home in Boulder, Colorado. "The signs are confusing," he informed us. "I can't tell if I'm on the right road or heading toward the Mexican border. Would you please check a road map and tell me where to go?" His father found the appropriate highway, guided my son and his friend and stayed on the phone until the correct turn was taken. Neither of us commented on the astonishing communications network that had made this an occasion not even worth commenting on. Once the teletoys of science fiction heroes or the ridiculously rich, today's ubiquitous cell phones are firmly entrenched in our daily lives.

"Cellular" was an inspired name for the technology which brings communications out of the kitchen and into the Camry. Often no larger than the hand which empowers them, cells proliferate with abandon as they challenge rules that govern the very fiber of fiber optics. Once considered an intrusion, the ringing of a telephone in unlikely places now signals success. Traditional manners have been overturned. Diners out embrace a preliminary ritual in which phones are folded and tones are muted. Technology is served before the soup. Although it is generally considered a faux pas to connect with one conversation while conducting another, hushed phone whispers at the dinner table are often considered prestigious reminders of prominence.

Cellular technology has also engendered the "beeper", once considered the signature accessory of drug dealers and hired guns. Now the symbol of suburban satisfaction, beepers proclaim family ties and professional place. High school students are asked to deactivate their phones before class. We warn our children that beeps at dinner will not be tolerated. Movie meanderers in the video store dial desperately to make a decision. "There's not much left, dear. Would you prefer "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" or "Mary Poppins?" A child I know rather well once called his mother on the home office line to inform her that he was stranded in the downstairs bathroom without toilet paper. Will parents expound cellular etiquette with the same frenzy once reserved for thank-you notes? Are we winning or losing?

Cell phones remind me of the Plotnick Diamond, a colossal gem famed for its brilliance and clarity. Like many things we cannot understand, the diamond carried a curse. One brave appraiser approached the elegant Mrs. Plotnick. After romancing the stone, he asked quietly, "Does it really carry a curse?" "Oh yes," she replied sincerely. Ejecting his loupe from a startled eye, he inquired furtively, "What is the curse?" "The curse," replied Mrs. P. with resignation, "is Plotnick." If we want the sparkle, we'll have to suffer the side effects. Brain cancer seems a bit extreme, but I think it is even more dangerous to have a conversation in a car while presuming to give full attention to the road. By the time I unlock my access and give my security code, I have driven from Buffalo to Boston. I swore I'd never use it for anything but emergencies. I could picture myself overturned in a culvert, saving my life by dialing 911 from the car phone. I could thwart a thief by reaching slowly into my pocket and screaming, "Freeze, I've got a phone." But lately, I've been keeping the take-out menu from my favorite Japanese restaurant in the glove compartment. Well, after all, my phone is a Sony!

When Marshall McLuhan wrote of the "global village" in the 1960's, he never envisioned the instantaneous universal communication we enjoy today. I have a favorite photograph of a Bedouin Arab in traditional dress riding a camel in the desert. He is surrounded by sand. Gauzy robes waft mysteriously around him as the camel ambles slowly in the heat. On the Bedouin's head is a sparkling white keffiyeh. On his ear is a cellular phone. "Fatima," I fantasize. "I'll be home in five minutes. Take the hummus out of the fridge." Or imagine AT&T at Ararat. "Master of the Universe? Noah here. We seem to have landed on a mountain top. Can you get someone to help me get these creatures out of here? They're behaving like animals!"

I consider cellular phones invasive, intrusive, meddlesome, rude, and redundant. They find me when I don't want to be found, question me when I don't want to answer, and inform me when I'd rather not know. Nevertheless, I seem consistently programmed to run for the receiver. I have always fought my tendency to commit to the edgy side of life, but this time I must admit -- I'm addicted. My name is Marcia, and I'm a celluholic. I'm going to kick it, though. I'm treating myself one call at a time.

Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
February 5, 1998

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