Saturday, March 10, 2012

Look Ma, No Hands

If you spend any time on the streets of any big cty, you're bound to come across people who walk around talking to themselves. We're not talking here about the average Joe and Josette who may mutter to themselves every now and again. Rather, we're talking about those unstable individuals who are having on ongoing conversation with God or the devil or their imaginary giant dog. In most cases they should be more pitied than feared, though they can make others uncomfortable. A cosmetic approach to be sure, but one comedian suggested that perhaps we should pair those folks up, so at the very least they can at least look like they're having a conversation.

Today you see far more respectable looking people walking around talking to themselves. Or so it appears. Almost invariably (because there are those who are well dressed who do indeed walk around talking to the ghosts in their heads), if you look closely you will see the telltale blinking coming from their ear, or a dangling wire with a bulge somewhere near their collar. In that case you can safely assume that they are practicing hands free safe driving without the car, and talking on their cell phones.

Going "sin manos" in a vehicle makes sense, so much so that it has been legislated as such in any number of states. The idea is to keep your hands free so as to attend to the needs of piloting a two ton plus hunk of steel down a highway at 65 miles per hour.  (Let's not even get into the NASCAR driver who was using his phone to tweet pictures of the wreck in front of him at the Daytona 500. Start with this: he had a phone in the car? But I digress.) It's a good idea to not be on the phone while driving, but not for the reason you think. Studies show that when we turn our cars into rolling phone booths it's the conversation and not the physical act of holding the phone that's the dangerous piece of the puzzle. Cars can be driven safely with half of one's hands; the same can't be said if the driver is using half of one's brain trying to keep up with a discussion of last night's installment of "Army Wives."

But walking should be another matter. After all, we do it effortlessly from the age of three, and so the worst that could happen is a relatively harmless bump into another individual or a lamppost. And so more and more we are keeping our phones in our pockets and purses, and our eyes on the horizon. We walk along chattering like madmen, oblivious to those around us. More than once I've thought the person next to me was trying to engage me in a conversation, only to realize that I was intruding upon theirs. It's as if we all are astronauts or walking air traffic controllers, talking to some unknown and unseen mother ship.

It's not that I object to being on a call while walking down the street per se. Your time is your time. And if you want to use a stroll to connect with another rather than take in your surroundings, go for it. But I think that if you use a handd free device, you should be forced to let the rest of us know you have tuned out the immediate vicinity. Just as student drivers have a sign that warns others of their status, so too should hands free talkers wear a flashing light so we know to give them a wider berth.

Back when I was in college, a fellow student made a short film in which an exec was walking down the street. We heard a phone ring, and he reached up and tapped his left temple, followed by a hearty, "Hello! Jim, how the hell are you!" A moment later, we heard another ring. Without missing a beat, he said, "Jim, hang on just a minute." He tapped the first side of his head, than the other. "Hello? Oh, Sally, I'm so glad you called. Hang on, I've got Jim on the other line." He hit the right again, followed by the left. "Jim? It's Sally, can you hold for a minute? Thanks!" He then proceeded to jump between calls, poking himself on either side of this head. At the time, the film was meant to be a comedy. Today, not so much. All that's left is the surgical step. If only the filmmaker had shown his movie to Apple as opposed to Ogilvy. In that case, today he wouldn't be making commercials, he'd be making millions.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has both wired and wireless headsets, but hates to use them unless he's driving. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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