Lissen up now – but not too hard

A colleague and I were discussing the state of the nation over two platters of steaming calamari limone a few hazy afternoons ago when he paused to wring out his goatee and express concern about the status of interpersonal communications.

“Ever notice how people, in general, seem to sound a whole lot stupider these days?” he asked, brandishing a forkful of chewy, marinated tentacles.

He then launched into a lengthy diatribe condemning the educational system, the news media and prime time television.

I nodded sympathetically, but deep in my heart I knew he was only scratching the surface of the conversational stupidity epidemic that seems to be sweeping across America.

The real problem is, alas, the proliferation of cell phones in public places where the average, usually taciturn American, can now be heard blurting out non-stop nuggets of stupidity with giddy abandon.

You see, before the advent of the cell phone, people only felt comfortable mouthing stupidities while they were in the privacy of their own homes speaking on their own telephones.

The home-based telephone was a place where they could relax, cut loose and be goofy with understanding friends, relatives, drinking buddies or the Internal Revenue Service.

Once outside, conversation was safely limited to “Hey, what’s happening?” and “Looks like it’s gonna rain, unless it doesn’t – know what I mean?”

Now the very same conversations about root canals gone bad, the state of Uncle Ernie’s liver cysts and the likelihood of a human child raised by bats are being bellowed out in shopping centers, supermarkets and at the occasional funeral.

For some reason, people who would never think of discussing the condition of their colons with a stranger are now blurting out all the details before dozens, sometimes hundreds, of complete strangers because the presence of the ubiquitous cell phone has given them some sense of privacy in some very public places.

And because of this false sense of security, cell phone users have gradually grown unaware of just how stupid they sound while shouting out a quick recap of the previous evening’s “Big Brother” episode or their hilarious misadventures in housebreaking a stubborn schnauzer.

It’s heartwarming to exchange a few “Goo-goo diddy-wabums!” with an infant grandchild over the telephone in your den, but it just sounds goofy when you’re standing in line at the bank.

The cell phone has, unfortunately, effectively removed the stupidity filters from our collective consciousness.

Worse, once conversational stupidity is loosed, it’s almost impossible to stop. It’s liable to burst out anywhere at anytime, regardless of whether there’s a cell phone present. Before you know it, complete strangers will be buttonholing you and shouting out detailed descriptions of their pet spider monkey’s mating habits or the effectiveness of their favorite laxative.

And then it’ll get ugly. People will enthusiastically begin babbling about pattern baldness. And golf. And (shudder!) politics.

Golf and politics?

Hey, it doesn’t get any goofier than that, amigos…

Originally published September 1, 2002

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