Andy Rooney's Phone Dilemma

Do We Really Need All The Great Inventions We Have?

The following is a weekly 60 Minutes commentary by CBS News Correspondent Andy Rooney. It was first broadcast Jan. 9, 2005.

Time magazine had this cover at the end of last year: "The Most Amazing Inventions of 2004."

I like Time magazine, but none of the things in the magazine called inventions are really inventions.

The U.S. Patent Office granted 200,000 patents last year, and most of those were not inventions. They were either gadgets or modifications of something that was invented 50 or 100 years ago.

The age of invention is over, I'm afraid.

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876 and that changed everyone's life. People could exchange information instantly, even when they were a long way from each other.

The cell phone is not an invention. It's an improvement on Bell's invention, and nothing in my lifetime has changed the way we live in an unimportant way more than the cell phone has. There are now more cell phones in use in the United States than there are regular, wired telephones.

It's amazing how often people want someone else to hear what they have to say. They carry this tiny radio broadcast unit with them everywhere they go. It's as if we all had something important to say to each other.

The public telephone booths that used to be on every big city street corner are rapidly disappearing. We no longer have any privacy on the phone.

People behave strangely talking on the phone, too. They might be 1,000 miles away, but the callers always act as though the people they're talking to can see them. They emphasize their words with gestures.

We must be getting more done than we used to, because a lot of people do two things at once now.

They walk and talk.

They carry things and talk.

They wheel the baby, smoke, drink and talk on the telephone. One guy set up an office in the street with his phone. Another did it on the train.

We all used to sit down when we were on the telephone. Not anymore. People just keep going.

Kids in college all have phones. At graduation, they all call home, asking for money, I suppose.

It seems possible that we might all be just as happy if they had never invented some things we have. If Alexander Graham Bell hadn't invented the telephone, we could spend more time thinking about something important, and less time talking to each other about nothing.

Written By Andy Rooney