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Daze of My Life/Not Music to My Ears

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Iím sure everyone is familiar with second-hand smoke and the potential harm its airborne carcinogens can have on us unsuspecting non-smokers. But at least we can see it coming; we can anticipate its arrival - the inhale followed by the inevitable exhale and the puff of smoke sure to follow.
Well, recently Iíve been exposed to another kind of second-hand annoyance.
This annoyance involved neither the eyes nor the nose. However, it did involve the ears, specifically oneís sense of hearing. What an encroachment! What an invasion! What a disturbance! What obnoxious imposition on my personal space!
What I am referring to is the very varied and personalized ringer tones that cell phone users/talkers have now programmed/downloaded, etc., into their phones so that when their phone rings, it doesnít; it sings instead, not in so many words exactly, but in a series of all-too-familiar notes - ďJingle Bells,Ē ďWilliam Tell Overture,Ē and ďFur EliseĒ are three that Iíve recognized, that I can remember, anyway - that seem to cause the cell-phoner to immediately, and I mean in a quick hurry, find his phone and answer it. In my observation, the response has been to find and answer the phone as quickly as possible, as if the ringerís tune was somehow embarrassing and that answering the phone was as much about stopping the music as it was receiving the call.
And itís the irony of that behavior that has struck me. Itís the programmerís phone, right? Presumably, itís his song, one that he selected and programmed to play, so as not to ring, right? It didnít happen by accident. He, or someone he knows, made it happen. It didnít happen by itself. Therefore, itís only logical to believe that the ringer is not actually ringing because the cell phone user wanted it not to ring but rather wanted it to play.
Accepting this premise, I donít understand the rapid, almost knee-jerk-type grab of the phone, to silence it almost, when he is responsible for the very notes that have replaced the more conventional/traditional ring. The cell-phonerís actions seem to reflect a new paradigm: Rather than the oft-used expression, ďIf it ainít broke, donít fix it,Ē it now sounds as if we a technologically phoney upgrade: ďIf it ainít ringing, answer it.Ē
These new sounds that break the silence seem as much an intrusion on my life as does the second-hand smoke. Granted, this noise pollution is not nearly as harmful, medically speaking, as cigarette pollution, but given the numbers of cellular-phone users - everyone, everywhere, it appears - vs. the number of smokers - certainly fewer than cellular-phone users, I would guess - I feel itís more likely Iíll be serenaded by song than smoked out by cigars, pipes or, of course, cigarettes.
Unfortunately, only one of these two (smoking) has been characterized as a public nuisance and thus had action taken to restrict its presence, whereas, the other one (cellphone ringers) has been categorized as such only by yours truly.
I would hope that through the passage of time, however, this public annoyance (cellphone ringer tones) will grow more into an unacceptable public nuisance and have similar action taken to silence its all-too-public sounds, just as the smokers have been put out of their preferred element.
Itís nothing personal; itís just practical. And besides, I donít like your taste in music, and I donít want to be subjected to it - repeatedly! Do us all a favor: Put your phone on vibrate.
Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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