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The world is up to its ear in telephone technology

The Baltimore Sun

What we're moving to in this society is around-the-clock instantaneous communication that might drive us all crazy from the blather.

Look what's happening now. You can be walking down the produce aisle of your supermarket and the man next to you will suddenly start talking in a loud voice while squeezing a cantaloupe.

At first you think the man is insane - My God, he's talking to a melon!

Or you think: No, wait, he's talking to me! Only now he appears to be talking and staring at the ceiling, as if communing with the fluorescent lighting.

But then he turns to one side and you see he has one of those tiny Bluetooth phones in his ear, the kind that only SWAT team commanders in Hollywood thrillers used to have, or Secret Service agents guarding the president, or that the ruthless bad guys used in those Matrix movies.

Now everyone can have one. And you can talk to your friend anywhere in the world, even while you're squeezing a cantaloupe in the produce aisles and making everyone around you nervous.

Isn't that great?

Yep, it sure is.

At the Verizon Wireless store in Lutherville the other day, I talked to a young sales associate named Dee who said Bluetooth phones have become wildly popular with people of all ages, even old guys like me.

"Once you have a Bluetooth, you'd never want to use a regular cell phone again," Dee said.

Well, um, OK.

Dee wore a pink Bluetooth phone in her ear, as did quite a few of the other employees, making me feel that my cell phone was now as dated as a cotton gin.

Dee said she never takes the phone off, except to shower and go to bed.

All she has to do to make a call, she said, was hit a little button on her ear loop and issue a voice command like: "Call So-and-So."

At this point, I felt as old as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I wanted to sit in a rocking chair with a blanket around my shoulders and tell stories about the Yalta Conference and how, dammit, we should have been tougher on the Russkies.

But instead I got a little huffy and said: "Sure, but my cell phone sounds nice and clear - at least when it's not breaking up or dropping the call altogether or telling me there's no service in that area. How's that Blue- tooth sound?"

"Here, listen," she said, clicking a little button and taking the thing off her ear so I could listen.

I heard a ringing sound and then some kind of command that sounded like a menu option.

It sounded pretty clear to me.

Maybe if you were a SWAT team commander overseeing a terrorist takeover of a burning building and you were directing swooping helicopters and rooftop snipers and things were kind of chaotic, you needed something louder and clearer.

But if all you do is order a mushroom pizza at Village Sub on Friday nights or call Blockbuster to see if they have the Barry Levinson movie Diner - oh, I go wild on the weekends - the signal was fine.

So after Dee took a hike and I was alone again, I looked at rack after rack of the Bluetooth headsets.

The cheapest one was around $70, but newspapers are doing so well now that that sure wouldn't be a problem.

I pictured myself in one of those long coats that Keanu Reeves wore in The Matrix and a cool pair of shades, and now you top off the look with a jet-black Bluetooth phone in one ear.

It might be a good look for me, except you don't want people who know you thinking: Isn't that the fat guy who usually wears khaki Dockers and an Eddie Bauer shirt?

What's he trying to pull?

The new thing, I'm told, is that people accessorize their Blue- tooth phones with things like matching earrings, flashing lights, cool ear loop designs, floral patterns and all sorts of other Blue- tooth bling.

Dee wasn't into all that, apparently.

She was going for a spare, tasteful look that was somewhere between BGE Call-Center Operator and Busy Marketing Gal on the Go.

Her colleagues looked similarly sharp with their Bluetooth phones, although a couple of the guys looked like they were going for that Off-Duty CIA Operative look.

Not that it mattered to me.

In a few years, I realized, we'd all be wearing these Bluetooth phones, talking to each other incessantly, 24 hours a day, even while we squeezed cantaloupes or stared up at the dusty fluorescent lights in the supermarket.

And I would be ready.

I'd have my aging Keanu Reeves look down cold.


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