October 3, 2008

Philip Roth on cell phones

In Exit Ghost (2007), writer Philip Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, returns like Rip Van Winkle to a post-9/11 New York after being away for eleven years :

What surprised me most my first few days walking around the city? The most obvious thing--the cell phones...I remembered New York when the only people walking up Broadway seemingly talking to themselves were crazy. What had happened in these ten years for there suddenly to be so much to say--so much so pressing that it couldn't wait to be said? Everywhere I walked, somebody was approaching me talking on a phone and someone was behind me talking on a phone. Inside the cars, the drivers were on the phone. When I took a taxi, the cabbie was on the phone. For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had prevously held them up and collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one's surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the streets through one's animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire. For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous. And yet it seemed like a real tragedy, too. To eradicate the experience of separation must inevitably have a dramatic effect. What will the consequence be? (pp. 63, 64)

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