I was standing on a downtown Spokane corner this week, when a man walked up beside me and bellowed, “We have a problem!”
I performed an involuntary standing long jump. When I came back down, I was crouched and ready for action. When a man walks up and screams, “We have a problem!” I assume that he is either a mugger, a parking meter attendant, or a street-fighting insurgent commencing the revolution.
I stared at him. He just looked straight ahead, held his cell to his ear, and said, “And if we don’t get a handle on this project, they’ll just take it somewhere else.”
I shouldn’t have used the word “said.” He didn’t “say” it. He shouted it. He barked it. He projected it like a ham actor performing “Hamlet,” outdoors, during a thunderstorm.
So it was at this moment that I realized that I needed to lower my sights. Instead of railing about how rude it is to blab on cell phones during things like bus rides, restaurant meals, baseball games, first dates, wedding ceremonies and visitations of the body, it’s time to admit defeat and move on to a more modest goal: Getting people to talk normally into their cell phones instead of shouting all the time.
Is that too much to ask?
The problem is this: Too many people refuse to believe that cell phones are sophisticated electronic devices. They apparently think that cell phones are like those wooden box phones in old movies, in which people turn a crank to generate power for the call.
Apparently, people believe that, instead of using a crank, they must generate power for a cell phone call with sheer decibel energy. They must create huge vocal volume in order to physically shove their words all the way across the country and into someone else’s Verizon ’Droid.
So I want to mount a campaign to convince people: This is not actually the way cell phones work.
You may be talking to someone in, let’s say, Ephrata, but you don’t have to yell loud enough to be heard in Ephrata. You only have to speak loud enough for the sensitive microphone in the cell device to pick up the words. Then the device uses the magic of electromagnetic waves to send your words to the cell tower, up to an orbiting satellite, back down to another cell tower, and into someone’s LG flip-phone. It can perform all of this magic over vast global spaces – and it doesn’t need your help, in the form of shrieking, at all.
And here’s the truly magical part. It works just fine even if you’re merely murmuring into your cell phone. It works fine even if you are whispering.
Here’s a little trick that actors learned a long time ago. Whispering a sentence can have more impact than shouting it. Try quietly breathing these words into your cell phone: “We have a problem.”
Your listener will immediately grasp that the situation is urgent. And the poor guy on the corner, overhearing the call? He’ll be spared a trip to urgent care.
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