By Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
I was a delegate to a national convention in a big city not long ago, an organization that has become very close to my heart in the 20 years I have been involved with it. One of the pleasures of a national (or, really, international!) convention of like-minded people is the joy of seeing the guys from South Africa or the musical Aussies or our own personal Peach from Jaw-Juh, or the elderly former nukie-boat Sub Skipper from New England, or the Pickers from Indiana, California, and Arkansas who came to play behind Uncle Bob, or all the friends we’ve made in two decades of prison ministry.
This year, it was different.
The summer before I had missed because of a strange exotic illness that if I told you about it, I’d have to kill you. The summer before that it was pretty normal, as I remember, so this change apparently happened in the past two years.
Of course, these conventions are ostensibly to conduct the business of the organization, as well as see what other folks in other states or countries do that might work well in Mississippi. We have hour-or-so-long seminars or committee meetings, and if you are one of the real High Muckety-Mucks, you have Bored meetings to go to. These are always scheduled with frequent half-hours breaks, and this is when the visiting gets done: when Ronan from VA and I get cups of coffee and settle into a corner for the inevitable “How’s yo’ Mama an’ ‘nem?” sessions, ending with a prayer for each other; when Other Bob from the Midwest looks down from his height and declares how much better off the world would be without short people; when Big John T compares his latest Road Kill Recipes with me, then takes me around to let me pronounce one-syllable “Mis’ippi” for people who never have really “appreciated a REAL Southern Drawl.”
At mealtimes we also visit, as well, although someone invariably demands an acapella rendition of Delta native Jimmy Phillips’ “Fried Chicken Song” by a Delta native delegate. These type conversations made the conventions worthwhile – yours or mine!
After only the first couple of breaks on the first day, I noticed that there was almost none of these type get-togethers: as soon as the break was announced, almost everyone pulled out a cell phone and dialed someone somewhere else!
Betsy and I went to a wonderful Broadway play at the Bologna Center in Cleveland not that long ago, and I finally got mad and ordered the young man next to me to take his cell phone and go somewhere else, because he was disturbing the pleasure of everyone around him, even though he’d covered his head and phone up with his coat to try to muffle the beeps and flashes (my first order).
There was a movie advertised just a couple of weeks ago with Clint Eastwood, called “Trouble with the Curve.” Baseball and Clint was a combination not to be missed, so Betsy and I went to see it, and enjoyed it – except for one thing: the row of teenage girls right in front of us all had their cell phones in their laps doing something with them that produced beeps and burps and flashes.
I’ve dined in restaurants where the loud cell phone conversations of nearby diners made it almost impossible to carry on our own table talk in normal tones.
On a visit to Washington DC, we spread out a JungleLunch under a shade tree on the mall, and noticed quickly that almost all other nearby people were using their lunch hours to 1) jog or walk, 2) while talking on a cell phone!
I’ve even noticed hunters on cell phones in dove fields!
My own cell phone is just that: a small portable phone upon which one can call folks, or get calls from folks – none of this fancy stuff. I am aware that some versions of those things will enable one to go to the Internet, book tickets to Tibet, reload the dishwasher at home, or spy on a foreign country. But is there a limit?
Have we programmed out being humans, interacting with other humans?
Oh, well: as my five-year-old Grandboy says: “Grow up, Grunk!”