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The trouble with cell phones

July 14, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

Happy Hour: an institution in which men gather to solve the world’s problems, and women gather to talk about how to fix their men.

A group of us were gathered around the proverbial cracker barrel talking smart and enjoying a refreshing fermented beverage after a long day at work when the Old Philosopher took the floor and imparted another of his pearls of wisdom.

“You know,” he began, making a broad gesture with his beer can to be sure all were paying attention. “Some people think the decline in the bar industry is due stricter enforcement of DUI laws and greater awareness of the effects of alcohol. Others think it is because of the smoking ban, but it’s not. Do you know what it is?”

He paused for a moment to take a drink and develop the suspense.

“It is this,” he continued, holding up his cell phone for display purposes.

“The decline in the bar industry is due to cell phones,” the sage proceeded. “It used to be that if a guy stopped off at the bar after work, there was no way in this world to get ahold of him,” he elucidated.

He took another sip.

“Oh, you’d pay for it when you got home, of course, don’t get me wrong, but at least you got to get out for awhile,” he observed.

He went on to chronicle the demise of freedom as more towers were built and networks were extended to the point when there are few places left this side of Outer Mongolia where one can claim not to get a signal.

We had to concede that there was some truth in what he said.

Almost as if to illustrate the Old Philosopher’s words, twice during the conversation, people in the assemblage received calls on their cell phones.

We could tell they were calls from home, because the recipients got that hunted look in their eyes that people get when their spouse is on the phone. Then, they shuffled away from the group speaking in somber voices.

Just so we are clear, this phenomenon is the same for both men and women. Many is the time I have watched female friends and co-workers behave in exactly the same way when the bell tolls for them.

It is worse if the significant other thinks there is a hot co-worker lurking around just waiting to lure the man (or woman, as the case may be) astray.

Sometimes, if the hunted one does not drift too far from the group, one can hear the voice of the spouse coming across loud and clear in a tone so frosty it is enough to send the heartiest Eskimo running for the warmth of the lodge fire.

This sort of tone can have a powerful effect on a person.

On occasions when colleagues and I have lingered perhaps too long over an informal after-hours business meeting, I have seen a full-grown man, upon answering his phone and being addressed in such a tone, spring to his feet as if the tusk of an especially aggressive narwhal had unexpectedly come through the bottom of his barstool, and this is no mean accomplishment for a portly fellow with a full consignment of light ale on board.

One might almost draw the conclusion that some people see it as their duty to ensure that their spouses do not have too much fun, especially if they are not on hand to supervise.

All of this might lead one to wonder what lies ahead.

If the Old Philosopher is right (and we have no reason to doubt that he is), is it not possible that cell phones are a threat not only to the institution of happy hour, and, as a result, to the entire bar industry, but to the institution of marriage as well?

The promise and the benefit of cell phones is that they allow us to be accessible at all times, and this is also their curse.

If people quit stopping at the bar for a swift one after work, an entire industry could crumble and unemployment could skyrocket.

If men and women suddenly find themselves together all of the time, they could lose the benefit that a bit of separation now and then brings.

Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder, whereas familiarity breeds contempt. Couples could soon begin to feel the effects of too much togetherness, and tensions could rise.

Deprived of lives of their own, couples could soon tire of the sight of one another, leading to an increase in hostilities on the home front, and the divorce rate could rise.

If the Old Philosopher is right, it could mean that the entire social fabric of the nation will begin to unravel.

On the other hand, it may just be good cracker barrel talk, and not mean anything at all.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to know for sure.