by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 30, 2004
KEEP IN TOUCH
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- We don't often hear "keep in touch" anymore; people are never out of touch. Whether you drive by, walk by, or look out the window - you're bound to see or hear someone on a cellphone.
Often you hear one-sided conversations while almost as often you hear, "wait a minute, you're breaking up ... let me go outside to see if it's clearer." And, as the commercial goes, "Can you hear me now?"
Yesterday, I spent three hours at Jacksonville International Airport waiting for two girls on Spring break to arrive for a week in the glorious sunshine of the Golden Isles of Georgia. If you've seen one airport you've seen them all so it was an ideal time for people watching. Some smart travelers were wearing their backpacks on their fronts - all the more easy to sit down.
With the dropping-off-ers and picking-uppers no longer able to go to the gate, everyone waited in one circle of tables and chairs, eating, drinking or reading. Or, in my case, taking it all in. Everyone, well, almost everyone, had a cell phone to their ears or clipped to their belts.
One scenario was amusing. I was walking down the hallway toward the circle and a young man was standing behind a huge sign indicating 314 more days until the Super Bowl is played in Jacksonville, while a television set nearby attracted viewers watching The Players Championship Golf Tournament live from nearby Sawgrass.
The hidden man was not paying attention to anything or anybody, he just talked away and then popped out from his hiding place, planting himself directly in front of the person he was speaking with on the phone.
"Well, I didn't want to hang up on you," he said. They laughed and then hugged in greeting before heading for baggage claim.
The cellphone ringers used to be the same on everyone's phone, except for a tone high or low. When a phone rang anywhere, we all reached for our own. Now we're treated to any number of tunes. I started to grab my own phone yesterday before realizing I wasn't The William Tell Overture; my ringer plays Crazy Rhythm.
One passenger headed toward Terminal B for a U.S.Airways flight while still talking on the phone. The person seeing her off waved and although she didn't skip a word of her conversation, she waved with fingers bent in and her thumb and pinkie finger extended - the new universal symbol for "I'll call you."
I don't know whether to feel sorry for the guy left outside security. After all, he was the one who carried her bags and drove her to the airport. Of course, he could have been her brother, in which case he wouldn't mind her "hooking up" with someone at her destination. I felt the wires were sizzling and the guy left behind was fuming. Body language.
Twenty years ago Hands Across America connected the East Coast with the West Coast by the feel of one warm hand clasped in another and so on and so on and so on. Everyone involved "felt" the connection. Connecting was deemed very important.
About 15 years ago, I did some lecturing at NYNEX, the telephone company in New York since named and renamed and merged into what I believe is Verizon. But, then, it was NYNEX. One of the sponsors asked me for my "reach" number. It was one of the new language additions like "heads up" for advance notice. My reach number was not just my phone number, but where I could be reached right then ... whether at a hotel or on a cell phone or pager.
There was no doubt about it; when they wanted to reach me, they expected to find me. That premise has escalated to the point where we never say "I don't know how to reach him," without looking like a dumb cluck!
Technology is zooming so fast we don't have time to appreciate the stages. I was thrilled with my Motorola cell phone just four years ago; now, it would be akin to carrying a brick - same size. When they talk about something having all the bells and whistles, well, I've got one. I have a cellphone that not only has bells and whistles, it can take pictures of me to send to the caller and vice-versa - instantly. Not simultaneously yet, but instantly.
It's great to live a span of life that includes using a crank phone, saying "Hello, Central" to operator, and have her place the call, and to now dig into the cushions of the couch for the slim little number calling me to answer with a nifty rendition of 'Crazy Rhythm."
Is it all moving too fast for me? No, I'm keeping up. Do I long for the good old days? Not on your life. This advance is so important in today's society I believe everyone should have a cellphone - and, if they can't afford one, the government should issue one.
The biggest difference is that we once had to be where the phone was to reach out and touch someone. Now we have someone within reach all the time.
With all the wonderful features available to us, there is one thing I find most appealing: There is an on-and-off switch. When we find ourselves in a whirlwind, when technology is growing exponentially, we might want to step out of it all for awhile -- you know, like "stop the world, I want to get off."