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The little demons whispering in our ears
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“Why don’t you write about cell phones in church and behind the steering wheel?” editor Dennis Wyatt suggested last week.  I’d checked at 8 or so Friday evening, as I often do, to make sure he saves space for my article, which is always longer than it should be and much later than the deadline.

“Not a bad idea,” I’d thought, but then decided to work out my misgivings about seeing Sylvester Stallone’s latest bloodbath, “The Expendibles”.   

Still, the subject matter kept ringing in my ears, so to speak.  I am a cellular addict, as everyone here knows, putting in over 5,000 minutes per month since I can remember.  Having purchased my first Motorola (those giant black things that wore out your wrists and shoulders and made your ears heat up) fifteen years ago, and can no longer imaging an un-cellular world.

Certainly, the Good Lord confirmed the value that Motorola when, on the very first day I activated it, driving home from the Bay Area at midnight, I happened upon a vehicle stranded along the highway.  The tire had blown completely.  It lay there in shreds, while a young woman sat, desperate, behind the wheel.  Beside her a baby was whimpering.  Calling 911, and then her boyfriend, I thanked God for having inspired me to join the club.

All of us, I’m sure, can recite any number of miracle stories or testimonies of how we’ve accessed emergency assistance, a long-lost friend, or many other benefits via of our hand-held devises.   They’re worth all the trouble.

And yet troubling they can be.  The statistics on driving and cell-phone use provide their own sobering testimony.  According to “DrivingLaws.Org”

“We will never know exactly how many accidents and deaths have been caused by drivers distracted by their cell-phone conversations, however, we can attempt to draw conclusions from studies that have been done over the past 5 years.” (“Driving on Cell-Phones: Laws, Accidents and Death”)

“According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society cellular phone distractions have caused 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has compiled their data and has come up with some very compelling evidence when it comes to cellular phone use while driving.  

“The NHTSA estimates that your chance of getting in an accident increases by 300% if you’re talking on your cellular phone while driving.

“In addition, their data shows that 25% of all traffic accidents are a result of distracted drivers.  Cellular phone use has gone up by over 600% in the United States.  In 2005 there were approximately 10 million cell phone users in the United States and approximately 50 to 75% of these cellular subscribers have used a cellular phone while driving.  The numbers are staggering; at any given time, there are almost 1 million drivers on the road using a cellular device”.  We, the readers, are left to draw conclusions.

You don’t have to watch an avid text-er skid over the embankment to learn how problematic a cell phone can be.  There are infants less than two years old who not only know how to operate the expensive little toys, but who’re already addicted.  No long ago, I met an 18-month-old who would scream every time her parents tried to separate her from the devise.  It seemed that a little demon had somehow jumped from the noisemaker into her head.

In church, during Mass, we enjoy a wide variety of ring tones, and even an occasional conversation in which everyone seems to be included.  On more than one occasion I’ve simply stopped, said nothing, and waited for the offender to finish his or her business.  In three such cases, they just went on chatting, as if the whole universe had suddenly melted into cyberspace.

“Watch and listen,” I at times warn the faithful, sounding like Jesus as he prepares us for his second coming.  “In spite of all our efforts, at least one cell phone will go off, and likely it’ll happen at the most sacred moment.”

I hate to sound like a doomsayer, but it’s true.  During the Consecration, we had to re-instate ringing the bells, just to cover the inevitable incoming call.

Well, to be honest, we’ve rung them all alone.  Now we just ring louder.

It’s as if people are deathly afraid of ever extinguishing the possibility that, at the hour least expected, yet another call will remind them that they’re not forgotten -- that to somebody, somewhere, somehow, they still matter.

They appear to be so desperate that even a prank call or solicitation will do.

It seems they just can’t forsake the opportunity, in a fit of sheer boredom or the sudden recollection of a person not yet contacted, to send a hasty text.

They can’t endure the prospect of being alone with the people around them.

They’ve grown accustomed to a world in which relationships are reduced to a jumble of sound-bytes and to cryptic messages devoid of solid content.

A world woven of fantasies and digital friendships in which unwelcomed intruders (like parents) can be turned off and the channels changed at will.

But this artificial world of instant (and easily-manipulated) communication not only to stunts people’s development in the universe God has created, it tends all too often to collide directly with reality. Just last week I witnessed on the news how a man absorbed in his cell-phone, in the midst of a packed crowd of baseball fans, was pegged right in the head by a fast foul ball.

“It’s amazing how oblivious people can be,” Dennis Wyatt told me last night.  He’d just attended a Sierra High football game.  When the JV game was over, a stream of youth poured out of the stands.  Stepping aside, he watched with amazement as a young girl walked a dozen steps right into him.  It was as if he didn’t even exist.  “She just kept on going, still talking on her phone.”

And still we keep up the air-borne chatter, hoping in the end to have sent all the text-messages we can, to have caught up with all our calls, to have made our contribution to the invisible network of undulating waves, and to have created our own unique ripple in the earth’s magnetic field.  And as we go to sleep with our little helpers beside our pillows, dutifully pumping more radiation into the soft tissue of our beleaguered brains, the rest of the world goes on talking.  More lives are connected, more fantasies are entertained, and more cars careen off the highways or collide in the silence of the night.