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Unfortunately, We Can Hear You Now

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers, is moving out of his Silicon Valley home because he can't get a digital cell phone signal there. The "Woz" helped create machines that now allow us to add numbers faster than we would ever need to, get junk mail from all over the world, and play solitaire without ever touching a card — but he can't figure out how to get cell phone reception at his house? And what's really striking is that cell phone service is so important to him that he's willing to move out of his custom-built "castle-style" mansion.

Cell phones are convenient, and they're wonderful in emergencies. But, Woz, I'm willing to bet that you have other emergency communication systems in your home. So, if you just need to make a call from your house, do what most of us do — USE YOUR REGULAR PHONE! The one that's plugged into the wall. That's what it's for.

Woz' obvious over-dependence on the cell phone underscores the proliferation of this means of communication. When was the last time you went to a movie, and somebody's cell phone didn't go off? According to unofficial statistics, 98 percent of drivers you see going too slowly, weaving all over the place, or making bad turns are using cell phones as they drive. (Okay, I made up the 98 percent thing, but that's what it seems like).

Just when I was getting used to seeing people holding cell phones to their ears as if they were trying to fuse them onto their heads, people started using phones with dangling little microphones or ones that clip on somewhere. So now we're surrounded by people who seem to be talking to themselves. Until I see that microphone, I often think the speaker is an unfortunate, demented street denizen who just happens to shop at Brooks Brothers. It's a natural mistake. Besides, is the poor soul who rails against the world any more pathetic than the obsessed cell phone user who must be permanently attached to his phone so he can publicly cry out, "It's a bad connection. I'll call you back from my office in three minutes on my regular phone?"

The cell phone was a great invention, but it was never intended to be a public address system. Why can't people at least walk a few feet away, and give themselves — and us — a little privacy? More and more users feel it's okay to talk as loudly as they want in public on their cell phones. So, you'll be in an elevator, and have to listen to things like, "You sure I didn't get any messages? OK, download my e-mail." Or, "If she won't go to sleep after 'Goodnight, Moon,' let her watch 'Monsters, Inc.' one more time."

Let's face it: most of the conversations that we are forced to overhear are not life-and-death emergencies. I have yet to hear, "Oops! I pushed the wrong button! Get those missiles turned around" while trying to have a peaceful lunch in my favorite restaurant.

So, Woz, let me give you some advice. Keep the house. You're much better off living in a place where you can't get cell phone reception. I'm sure the people you hang out with all have the latest wireless communication devices somewhere on their bodies. Wouldn't it be nice to have them over for an evening, and not have one of those things ring, vibrate, or simulate the bugler from Santa Anita? What would you use for communication? You could try something novel — talk to people, face to face.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver