This piece originally aired on “All Things Considered” (Minnesota Public Radio). Click here for an audio connection on the MPR site, or just read the piece.
Driving to work this morning, I suddenly started to pay attention to the drivers in my rear view mirror. It all started when a large SUV nearly hit me from behind. The driver was jabbering away on a cell phone. I’m sure the conversation was important. Why else would he jeopardize our safety?
For the next fifteen minutes on I35W I conducted my own scientific survey. All of the drivers had cell phones glued to their ears.
Makes me wonder. Are we that uncomfortable being alone? Or do we think we’re so important that the rest of the world can’t get along without us? Or perhaps we are afraid that the rest of the world WILL get along very well without us – so we need to keep reminding others that we exist because we’re not sure we really do unless someone else is filling the speechless void? I wonder.
As concerned as we should be about the terrorism of distracted drivers on the highway, I’m more concerned about what our use of cell phones says about us as a people. We are addicted to outside stimuli. Less and less comfortable with silence. Less and less attuned to wonder. More and more filled with chatter. More wordy – less thoughtful.
Sociologist Eugen Rosenstock-Huessey once observed – before the advent of the cell phone – that for many folks the drive to and from work was the only true “free zone” during their day. It was time for solitude and reflection, a transitional pause to get your bearings, time to make the transition from home to work and from work to home. These were trips to be celebrated for what they were – opportunities to stand free from the herd – the herd mentality of religion, nationalism and ideology. They were times to think.
Maybe I’m just getting older. I am. And that’s a good thing. Because I’m getting tired of looking in my rear view mirror at someone with a cell phone stuck in his ear because he can’t stand the silence…or the sound of her own heartbeat. Someday that beat will stop and there will only be the silence. Maybe we ought to put down the phone and listen before there’s nothing to hear.