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Tied up in wire(less).

A friend gave me a cartoon from the Cincinnati Enquirer that made me smile so broadly it nearly dislodged the cell phone from my ear. In it, a busy executive stops on the sidewalk to help a lost-looking tourist, saying into the mobile phone at his ear: "Can you hold, Stan? I've got a live interaction here I have to take." This is the same friend, I should explain, who just days before was chattering away with me on our mobile phones as we walked, separately, to separate appointments. Being the '90s kind of fierce global competitors we are, we swaggered down the streets of our town in electronic cones of silence, wirelessly connected to each other but oblivious to the passersby who not only could hear our conversation -- "You're kidding me." "He didn't." "But did you know that . . ." -- but also could actually read our lips. Imagine our surprise, then, when in midgossip we each rounded the corner of an elevator bank and ran straight into . . . each other. We were so stunned that we kept right on talking, not to each other's faces, but into the fancy little phones glued to the sides of our heads. Afterward, I wondered if I should be worried. After all, just two years ago I had laughed at the self-importance of a businessman in the lobby of a Hong Kong hotel who conducted a face-to-face meeting while talking on not one but two cell phones at the same time. Now -- equipped with call-waiting on my car phone -- I sometimes find myself putting one caller on hold while I tell the other to be patient, because the digital phone in my briefcase is ringing. Or did my wife leave her own digital phone in the back seat? It got me wondering what people did -- in their cars, on walks, in restaurants, on golf courses -- before we all carried our jobs and our to-do lists and our Puritan-work-ethic guilt in little microchip-driven plastic cases wherever we went. So I called my dad, who drove to one office or another for 40-odd years and who walked to lunch each day of those 40 years without a phone or a PDA (personal digital assistant) or even a pager to keep him company. "How did you do it?" I asked. "How did you keep ahead of everything on your desk? Just what did you do while you were driving and walking? Didn't doing nothing in the car drive you crazy?" His answer was -- to a '90s kind of fierce global competitor, at least -- unconvincing. He said that although he didn't always know how, the work on his desk always seemed to get done. And that one reason it did is that although he often listened to music or news in the car, the main thing he did as he steered or strolled was to think. About planning the workday to come. About leaving behind the workday he'd just finished. He said he even enjoyed the peace and quiet of his phoneless car twice a day. "Thinking?" I said in disbelief. "Nobody has time to think anymore, Dad. After all, where would we be if we put down our cell phones and started thinking?" Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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