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Tracey E.Schelmetic

[July 8, 2004]

Dot Commentary

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions™

Survival of the Unwired: An Experiment in Techno-Darwinism?

Do you remember when you had a tail? Perhaps not you, personally, but at some point back on the family phylum, the primates that eventually turned into us latte-swilling, technology-using urban professionals lost their tails; probably because we didn’t need them to swing from trees anymore. One day, the smartest of a group of tail-bearing primates realized that the really interesting stuff was actually going on at ground level, not in the trees. Perhaps it was the moment when we figured out that it was not per se necessary to fend off enemies by climbing a tree, but that picking up a rock and bashing the threatening party over the head accomplished the trick quite nicely.


A few generations of this ground-oriented living meant that eventually we didn’t need our tails anymore, (and those primates that insisted on remaining in the trees no longer had a good breeding pool) and the tails subsequently disappeared in a poof of evolution. (Good news for the haute couture fashion designers of the world…can you imagine having to design an Armani suit with space for a tail?)


An interesting tidbit from mostly European news reports caught my eye yesterday. Maybe you saw it. A Hungarian scientist from the University of Szeged has released a report that claims that cell phone usage may decline male fertility by as much as 30 percent. Dr. Imre Fejes claims he has scientific proof that radiation from cell phone handsets may interfere with spermatogenesis (creation of new sperm cells). Couple this with the fact that most men have a tendency to carry their cell phones in their trouser pockets or on their belts (and therefore in closer proximity to their…um…fertility equipment), and voilà…a recipe for a declining population of future wired urban professionals.


The scientific and medical communities have reacted with skepticism to this finding, but let’s, for a moment, assume that there’s some truth to Dr. Fejes’ claim.


Let’s assume that the compulsion to chat on one’s cell phone incessantly for needless reasons is, in part, genetic. Understand I have nothing against people who use cell phones out of necessity. I use a cell phone. Business today demands we be very wired to accommodate the broadening marketplace.


What I’ve never understood is the compulsion that some people have to share every moment of wakefulness…every tiny detail that occurs during their day…with some other party, via cell phone. You’ve heard these people. They’re in the grocery store.


“Honey, I’m buying tomatoes now. They’re $1.29 a pound. Should I get two or three? Three? OK. Now I’m in the frozen food section. They sure have a lot of frozen foods in this store. Did you know you could buy frozen papaya strips here? What would you use frozen papaya strips for? Blender drinks? Oops…some lady just left the freezer door ajar. I’d better close it. Now I’m going back to my car. Last time I came to the supermarket, I parked it on the right side of the store. This time, I figured I’d try the left. Oops…a cloud just passed over the sun. Did a cloud pass over the sun where you are?”


What do these people actually talk about when they meet their friends and family members in person, since they’ve already described every tiny detail of their day in a running cell phone commentary? Is the breakup rate of couples elevated since the widespread use of cell phones? If it is, it’s because many couples no longer have anything to talk about at the dinner table.


While checking in for a flight several years ago, I had the dubious privilege (along with several hundred other crabby travelers) of listening to the girl behind me chatting on her cell phone, having what surely must be eligible for the record books as the most inane conversation ever uttered. Did you know there are people in this world who can talk for 40 minutes about a pair of shoes? There are. Stay far, far away from them.


So what I’m wondering is: if 22-hour-per-day cell phone usage leads to an increased risk of male infertility (I don’t mean to pick on men only, but women tend to carry their phones in their handbags, further away from the aforementioned fertility equipment), and presuming the need to chat on the cell phone round-the-clock, 365 days per year is a genetic trait, does that mean within several generations, we will have bred excessive and fatuous cell phone usage out of the human gene pool?


Does it mean that three generations from now, our ancestors will be able to eat dinner without hearing the person at the table behind them describing in detail the limp daisies in the bud vase on the dinner table and the crumb arrangement on the tablecloth to another party via cell phone (or some other sort of futuristic communication unit)? Perhaps we’ll breed a new generation of people that can actually shop, walk, eat and enjoy a drink in a bar on a weekend without conducting a running commentary of the second-to-second minutiae of their lives.


Tracey Schelmetic, who actually misses her tail, may be reached for comment at tschelmetic@tmcnet.com.


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