Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Such a tangled web we weave


By BETTY BELL

It's glory time for every kind of tether, and we have many: family tethers ... work tethers ... righteous religious tethers. Tethers-R-Us. Not too long ago, though, we severed a biggie—Alexander Graham's—except really what happened is we swapped it for another—our cell prone tether. We're all cellists now, distinguishable from the other cellists who make music with a four-string instrument and who call themselves "chellists" because we dropped the cheery "ch." We're cellists, plain and simple.

Our new tether isn't strung overhead and easy to see. In fact, only a small pod of we clairvoyants, most of us born in the first half of the last century, can actually see the cell phone tethers. For me, these tethers are vivid, turgid, terrible tangles. In the post office, for instance, where always there are cellists cradling this dearest of possessions, it's hard not to duck under, step over, or go around them. Last week I saw a poor chap, a fellow clairvoyant, laboriously raise one leg and then the other and step over a formidable mess. I always resist that urge—it's hard to be that nimble, and besides I try to quash the feeling I'm stuck in a spook-house full of cobwebs.

Likely you're carefree in your illusionary tether-free life—except when you lose your signal. Even the fear of losing one's signal has given rise to a new malady, one as ethereal as restless leg syndrome. Let us call it "cellblock" until Merck comes out with a prescription that we should tell our doctors to prescribe.

Take this simple test—see if you're afflicted with cellblock: Do you suffer intense anxiety when you forgot your cell phone on your dog walk? Do you become exceptionally cross when you lose your signal? Have you committed your current carrier's number to memory?

Uh oh...

Cellists take a lot of heat for indulging their avocation as they drive, and I think much of it is unjustified. Around town, for example, in their effort not to be judged reckless, cellists drive even slower than I do. They usually just poop along in a caterpillar crawl trying to assure us that a safety-minded driver is at the wheel. Surely you've noticed that a cellist will sit forever at a stop sign and continue his earnest chat as though he's safe at a "time-out" place. Even with no-see-um glass you know you know you're behind a cellist when it's clear to the left and clear to the right and clear straight ahead and still they sit there. Sure it's maddening, but menacing is a tad strong—in fact, it's the other way around. If you get stuck behind a cellist isn't it you who becomes the menace as you carom around him and do a 180-degree head swivel to give him The Look?

Even though you might lose your signal on a drive out Warm Springs, the new tether lets you stay hitched almost everyplace on the planet. Say you've purchased a ticket on Jet Blue and are on your way to Brazil to check out things Amazon. You land in Belo Monte in Para, and with a hernia belt to gird your loins, survive a trip down the Trans-Amazon highway to Uxituba where a local guide, Ezequiel, helps you plop into his dugout for a float down the Tapahos. In less than 10 minutes, should you check your map, you'd see that you'd already entered white spaces where the "you are here" signs are few and far between.

But not to worry—you're almost sure to have a satellite tether. The first time your phone rings, Ezequiel may come close to falling overboard and a hush will fall upon the red and blue and green birds in the canopy. But when you explain that you're talking to the renowned Mount Hood Search and Rescue team he'll be cheered—his dad has the family bread-and-butter dugout and you're in the spare with a ready-to-go knot in the stern. No need to tell Ezequiel it'll take awhile before the Mount Hood folks arrive should the stern knot fail.

It's not life threatening to live in an illusionary tether-free world. And maybe there'll never come a day of reckoning, though if history is any lesson in 20 years or so cell phones won't be limited to today's crude functions. Even Costco models will be able to do brain scans and guarantee SAT scores high enough for Harvard—and oh what a tether tangle then! Best hope there'll still be a few clairvoyants around to lend a hand.




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