Going truly wireless

So I’m standing in line like any ordinary American, waiting to take my hard-earned cash out of the ATM so I can squander it on new hiking boots and contribute to our nation’s economic recovery even though my wife insists I should be saving to pay for my daughters’ weddings, and all around me are ordinary Americans, who don’t seem as interested in our economic recovery … or hiking for that matter.

Instead, they have wires coming out of their ears and other body parts, and they’re texting and tweeting.

One guy is watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on his handheld, another is playing Angry Birds on his smartphone, another is scrolling through songs on her iPod and another appears to be arguing with a girlfriend who apparently wants to leave him for a gastroenterologist, who, I imagine, could save her a lot of money when she has to have colonoscopies.

I, however, am rehabilitated. There’s no device in my hands, in my ears, in my eyes, in my nose or in anything else. Instead, I’m engaged in the productive pastime of staring into space.

Surely you remember the good old days before smartphones and iPods, when the elevator doors would open and you’d be face-to-face with a crowd of zombies who refused to make eye contact in case you were a homicidal maniac, don’t you? Is it too much to ask that we can bring back those happy days?

Now, when the doors open, everyone is staring at a mobile device.

The epidemic of distraction in America has led to a lot of new laws. In Fort Lee, N.J., you’ll get fined $85 for “careless walking.” In Utah, the Transit Authority will hand you a $50 ticket if you’re distracted around train tracks. And in Delaware, they put large stickers on the sidewalks that say, simply, “LOOK UP!” to urge people to watch where they’re going.

A poll by Consumer Reports said 85% of Americans had recently seen a pedestrian using a mobile device, and 52% thought they were endangering themselves. You can’t make it through Grand Central at rush hour without bumping into a 20-something woman sending text messages.

In an act of passive resistance, I recently put away my BlackBerry and encountered the real world for the first time in a long time.

Hey, look at those billowing cumulus clouds and that blue sky! And there’s a crow on the telephone wires, squawking at me. And there’s a sinister man crossing the street who looks like an escaped convict — I’d better not look at him. And there’s a woman in an obscenely low-cut dress — I’d better stop looking at her.

Last week I discovered the only place in America where they don’t use electronic devices, and, no, it wasn’t the federal prison system. While I was hiking across the Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains, I saw a few hundred hikers, and not single one among them was texting or tweeting. No one was doing anything except savoring the mountain views and appreciating how great life can be when you look around you.

Then, a guy came up on the trail with his iPhone blasting some trash music, and my buddy said, “Let him go ahead of us. I don’t want to listen to that #@*#$!* up here.”

That day I began a new life … at least until the boss man emailed me.


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected].

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