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Sci Tech    H2'ed 3/1/09

The Beeper Cacophony

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                                                              by Walter Brasch
            Barack Obama was determined that the only way anyone was going to take away his BlackBerry was if they pried it from his cold dead hands. Or, something to that effect.
            The President justifiably relies upon his BlackBerry, but many rely upon electronic communications as a status symbol or as a crutch so they don’t have to make decisions or engage in face-to-face conversations. Such was the case at a party I thought I might have attended.
            It might have been an enjoyable party, but I didn’t experience much of it since pagers, cell phones, Palm Treos, and BlackBerries were going off all evening, and all I heard were excuses of why used car salesmen, real estate agents, and grocery store clerks had to break off conversations to answer the calls of nature.
            “So, what’s your sign?” a striking brunette asked me, only to excuse herself when one of her cell phones chimed some hip-hop music. Apparently her sign was Ice-T, with AT&T rising.
            The knock-out redhead and I talked for three minutes before she got an urgent text message to alert her to call her service which relayed a poke from her boss who wanted to know what color dress she was wearing to work the next day so he’d be able to color coordinate his staff. At least that’s what I think she said, but I wasn’t sure because she was text-messaged 13 words into our conversation and spent much of the evening exercising not her mind but her thumbs.
            The junior high school English teacher was paged, unleashed his cell phone, checked something he called an “app,” and told his friend that his Treo just informed him that the temperature in Phoenix was 86.
            An attractive blonde in the corner lusciously smiled at me, teasing me with a come-hither look. I was about to come, but she got tweeted. I had no idea whether that’s sensual or not, but it compelled her to rush off into a dark corner and twitter back. I think she kept twittering until a failed whale shut down her system.
            While waiting for a movie usher and waitress who simultaneously excused themselves when they were tagged by a Facebook request, I overhead three people by the bar ask each other what our hostess must have been thinking to have actually invited someone so low on the prestige scale that he wasn’t wearing any electronic devices.
            “Could be a diversity thing,” said one politically correct matron. “You know, we invite a Black and a luddite columnist to our party.”
            Feeling alone and needing a drink, I asked the bartender for a virgin piña colada, but before she could crush the ice, she received a text message from Starbutt across the room who needed two whiskey sours with a twist of lemon. When Starbutt, Bartender Jo, and 832 of their closest friends finished texting each other, I got a glass of diluted pineapple juice with a trace of coconut.
            After an hour of watching the Information Age, I noticed another soul all by himself.
            “Interesting party,” I said opening the conversation.
            “Yeah,” he mumbled. “I just hope I get some action tonight.”
            “Since everyone’s poking everyone else,” I said. “I doubt there’s much action anyway, especially when everyone seems to be so Linked-in that they have blurred the lines between business and personal lives.”
            “That’s what I mean,” he said. “It’s now been 27 minutes, and no one has called or IM’d me. It’s so humiliating.”
            Not having done my good deed for the day, I sighed, and shuffled off to find the only landline telephone in two counties. He answered his cell phone and chatted with me about the price of kumquats. He was most thankful, especially when I didn’t try to talk to him again so he could carry on simultaneous conversations with the striking brunette, the knock-out redhead, and some guy who was selling life insurance.
            About the time I was ready to leave, the hostess told me I had a telephone call. It was Marshbaum wanting to know if I needed him to come in early the next day. “How’d you find me?” I asked.
            “I was driving along Route 11 finding dumb things for you to write when I thought I should check in. So I called Horsehide who paged Littany who text messaged Bullnose who poked Chartbound who said you were at some muck-a-muck’s party, so I called Ringtone.”
            You have a car phone?” I asked.
            “Car phone? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s so ’90s. Got a G3 cell with Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, PDA, MP3, MP4, 6 gig Mpx, and packet switching. Also a pager, FAX, laptop computer, and portable satellite dish. Also running a CB, good buddy. Gotta be on top of things in case you need a dumb statement at a moment’s notice.”
            “When’s the last time I needed you moments from deadline?” I asked.
            “Makes no difference,” he said. “Sometime you may, and you’ll be happy you could get to me.”
            “That’s all well and good, but I don’t have any of those communications devices.”
            “Check your office in the morning, Boss. Got some nice units for you, too. It’ll only cost you a thousand or so a month to find me.”
            “Marshbaum!” I shouted, “I don’t have an extra thousand a month to pay for cellular phones, paging equipment—”
            “No problem, Boss. Got a great two-year plan, and it’s all deductible.”
[Walter Brasch is professor of mass communications and journalism at Bloomsburg University. He says he communicates with news sources the old-fashioned way—he shows up on their doorsteps early in the morning, and unstrings a series of questions before they get their first cup of coffee. You may contact Dr. Brasch at or through his website,
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Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of (more...)

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