by Brad Nelson
This isn’t another cell phone rant…at least not a typical one. There used to be this guy in our neighborhood who would walk down the street talking to thin air, often shouting at people that the rest of us could not see. Other times he would stand on the street corner and have a conversation — sometimes an argument — with nobody in particular that you could see. Schizophrenia may look like a Monty Pythonesque disease, but it’s hell for those who have it.
But how could we ever diagnose this disease today? I’m frequently running into people talking to thin air, and ran into an occurrence of that just other day. A lady in the supermarket was talking to a person that I could not see. There was no cell phone in her hand. There wasn’t even one of those itty bitty Lieutenant-Uhura-like Bluetooth ear buds in her ear. She may have had a lapel mike. I don’t know. For all I know, she may have been crazy. How could I know? All that I could see and hear was this woman talking to thin air. I quipped to a friend, who was standing there with me, that there is no sure way to know whether she was conducting business or was an all-out schizophrenic.
What a boon the Bluetooth cell phone must be for the self-esteem and acceptance of true schizophrenics. We are now accustomed to people talking to thin air and holding conversations with people that we cannot see. But this can still cause confusion. Many of us have been fooled more than once by trying to answer the Bluetooth Schizophrenic when they were actually talking to someone else, not us. That’s happened several times to me in a grocery store check-out line where it is quite common to strike up a casual conversation while waiting.
“What time is it?”
“It’s about four-thirty….oh, sorry.”
You then realize this person wasn’t talking to you. I’m much more careful these days but it still trips me up once in a while. But I now know well enough to leave these out-of-body cell phone talkers alone. I’m not so quick to answer someone in the checkout line.
The cell phone is a marvel in allowing us to stay in touch with people wherever they may be. But, ironically, it can put more distance between us and the people who are standing just feet away. Where once I might have struck up a casual conversation in the checkout line, now I’m more apt to ignore what people are saying around me. I’ve gotten so used to tuning it out. The connections may be good via Bluetooth but they are often not so good via regular air.
These out-of-body cell phone conversations (Bluetooth or otherwise) have always struck me as a bit of a ghostly affair, if not downright annoying. And sometimes stupid. Is it really necessary to call home from the produce section to make sure that you got the right kind of cucumber? Does the rise or fall of governments really depend upon choosing the right kind of lettuce? You know that these phone calls must be real. Who would make that up? Who would intentionally want to look that pathetic?
And yet there are times when I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that some of these all-too-public cell phone calls were made to no one at all, that they were simply made up. “Oh, the trip to Vegas was marvelous. We dined with Wayne Newton, zip-lined across the Grand Canyon, and then jetted over to The Donald’s for cocktails.” Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But some of these calls sound as if they are public for the express purpose of trying to impress someone. It’s part of the Facebook phenomenon wherein someone stops their entire day to get in front of the keyboard and tell us that they are having such a great time polishing the Mercedes emblem on their car.
For the Bluetooth schizophrenic, whether that “someone else” is a real person or just a vision inside their own heads is ultimately a metaphysical question. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a ringtone? Such questions are harmless enough. But one wonders, now that these disembodied public cell phone conversations are so ubiquitous, how many schizophrenics go untreated? And, perhaps more to the point, how many of these oddball public cell phone users need treatment themselves? It often strikes me as odd that many people can’t stand it unless they are hearing a constant stream of voices via Bluetooth. On the other hand, schizophrenics long to get rid of the voices inside their heads. Which one is truly crazy?
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