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Duck quacking in cellphone screen

A Flock of Cellphones {format} {format} 3:36 Larry Massett

Can you hear me now?

Broadcast: Nov 9 2004 on NPR All Things Considered Subjects: Technology, Cultural

Commentary: Realizing what people using cell phones are starting to sound like

November 9, 2004 from All Things Considered

MICHELE NORRIS, host: Cell phones are not just for talking, and they haven't been for a while now. They're used to take pictures, to check the weather, to get restaurant recommendations. Commentator Larry Massett says cell phones may represent advances in technology, but that doesn't mean they make their users more civilized.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)


This is my back yard. It's a gorgeous fall day. You can hear birds and crickets and the odd airplane. It seems idyllic, but it's not. You recall how in "The Remembrance of Things Past," Proust describes the arrival of a telephone in Paris in the 1920s. `People were so excited by the new invention,' he says, `they'd phone each other just to check in.' (Speaking with French accent) `Hello? Hello, Alphonse. It is Marcel here. Where are you?' `Why, Marcel, I am in my house. Mon dieu, where are you?' `Well, Alphonse, I too am in my house. Incroyable.'

These were early days, of course. After a while folks quit asking inane questions because the answer was always the same. Alphonse was home, and so was Marcel. They got over it. They moved on. They evolved to talk about politics or the weather or women or the price of eggs.

Unlike Marcel and Alphonse, we cell-phoners are never in the same place when we check in. We are amazed to discover every 10 seconds that we've moved. So what? Wouldn't it more remarkable to discover a lack of movement, suggesting one of us may have dropped dead? What is so irresistible about a location report? Maybe it's just human nature, or maybe it's something worse, much worse.

Listen to these birds again, these nice backyard birds. `Tweet, squawk, twitter, tweet, tweet.' They carry on sunrise to sunset. And you know what they're saying? They're going, `Hey, I'm over here. It's me. Where are you?' `Hey, I'm over here. It's me. Where are you?'

(Soundbite of same phrase being repeated by multiple voices over one another)

MASSETT: `Where are you?' `Where are you?' `Here I am.' `Hey, I'm over here. It's me. Where are you?' `Hey, I'm over here. It's me. Where are you?' `Here I am.' `Here I am.' `Are you still here?'

In other words, the birds are making cell phone calls. So are the crickets and the grasshoppers and the frogs and, no doubt, the bees and the ants. It's all location, location, location. Cell phones.

A recent human discovery of cell phone technology is not an advance at all; we're slipping backwards, phoning down the line of evolution rather than up. We are chatting ourselves to the level of birds and bugs. The reasons for this alarming devolution are obscure. Maybe it's God's plan. Maybe it's low-carb diets or global warming or MTV. It doesn't matter. In five or 10 years we will no longer be able to ask the question, let alone answer it.

Ask yourself this: Are you having dreams abut flying? Do you feel an urge to head south for the winter? Would you rather spend a weekend reading Marcel Proust or snacking on sunflower seeds? Would you ever, ever consider dating anybody in the cast of "Cats"? Let me know. I'm here. Where are you? I'm here. Where are you? I'm here. Where are you? I'm here.

(Soundbite of various bird noises)

NORRIS: Larry Massett wings it in Cabin John, Maryland. His pieces comes to us through Hearing Voices, a forum for independent radio producers.