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The Little Picture
by Andy Cowan
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Andy Cowan, an award-winning writer, whose credits include Cheers and Seinfeld, regularly contributes humor pieces to the Los Angeles Times and the CBS Jack FM Radio Network.

My life used to center on the fervent hope that important people were trying to reach me when I couldn't be reached. In the pre-answering-machine stone age of my youth, anything was possible. While I was out, Ed McMahon could have called from Publisher's Clearinghouse. Post-answering machine, the zero staring back at me squelched that fantasy. (They should have invented a kinder readout for messages than "zero," like "fewest.")

During my dial-up days, I could support the other web of deception that people were trying to call me while I was online. DSL -- proof my phone was a glorified paperweight.

Now, wherever I am, the fantasy's over, thanks to my non-vibrating cell. As for the world around me, plastered to theirs, the good vibes continue. Not that I have phone envy, except for when I hear my neighbor's land line ring through the wall of my home office. The transmission of a human voice all that way, and it just missed me.

These days, the attempt to connect with a human being has become one in a series of other tasks we regimented adults have to juggle, and it usually takes second or third billing. Stroll down most streets in my adopted home of Los Angeles, if you're among the limited number of Los Angeles street strollers to begin with, and notice the folks successfully connecting with their cells or BlackBerrys. These electronic appendages are designed to grab their attention away from where they are, the big picture, and focus it on where they aren't, the little pictures on their phone.

If I do manage to sneak in a face-to-face conversation with a woman, when her ring tone chimes, it's as if her personal band is cuing her to go to a commercial: "Be right back." Water bottle's in one hand, cellphone's in the other. If we ever got to the hand-holding stage, I couldn't compete.

You hear it often enough: L.A. is a tough town for meeting people. It may be a dehumanizing byproduct of the sea of cars that too often equates with hunks of metal, not living and breathing drivers inside. But there's also a growing sense that many people are in their impenetrable bubbles.

In this year of the need for change, we're told Washington doesn't work anymore, that it should stop giving in to special interests. Perhaps a part of our culture here doesn't work anymore either. Maybe cell "phonees" could stop giving in to their special interest in absorbing what's not going on right in front of them. And return the power back to the people they might actually begin to notice again, versus a shiny little blue screen with lots of cool colors.

When new technology for "communicating" is being crammed down our throats, and actual communication is, "like, like, like" it or not, suffering as a consequence, the end result is nothing to text-message home about.

True, "cool" is crucial. It's what the media perpetually remind the demo-worthy they're aspiring to be. The irony is that the supposed ultimate reward for all this coolness is the dangling carrot we'll never stop chewing on: sex. But when you get down to it, sex is about being vulnerable, opening yourself up and truly communicating -- the antithesis of being cool. Imagine if being truly open to the world around you was the new cool. That I just might like, like, like.

Andy Cowan may be reached through anthrosop.tripod. com/upampdownguys.

Published: Jul 11,2008 15:47
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