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THE MALIGNED CELL PHONE TAKES ON NEW IMPORTANCE

In an uncertain world, cell phones may offer the precious opportunity to say a final good-bye.

Closure is one of the most-overworked words in American culture, but during last Tuesday's terrorist attacks, we learned that many people trapped in hijacked airplanes and burning buildings said good-bye with their cell phones.

For the living, mourning may be eased just a little knowing that untied ends were knotted and unspoken words uttered because of those frantic calls. And for many of those who perished in this terrorist nightmare, the cell phone was their final link to the ones they loved.

Consider the last moments of Jeremy Glick's life when he turned to a cell phone for a conversation with his wife.

Glick, 31, was aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark, when he spoke to his wife, Lyzbeth. They talked about the hijacking, and their 12-week-old daughter, Emerson.

Mrs. Glick managed to set up a conference call with her husband and 911 dispatchers. He and other passengers reportedly had been told of the World Trade Center crashes in cell phone conversations.

Glick told his wife not to be sad and that he loved her, according to the New York Times. Those would be their last words to each other. The plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

This type of cell phone story has been repeated over and over since last Tuesday. That's why last week, cellular telephone technology truly came of age in America. Despite the obvious advantages, many considered cell phones public nuisances and driving hazards. Now, they are indispensable.

Instinctively, those in life-threatening situations reach for cell phones.

"Think of those people in New York, covered with dust, barely able to breathe, and their first reaction was to communicate with a cell phone," said Garth S. Jowett, a communications professor at the University of Houston.

"Just 10 years ago, the notion of cell phones playing this kind of role in our lives was unthinkable. Clearly, this tragedy is an indication of how much the cell phone has become a part of our experience."

I remember once having lunch in a restaurant while listening to a man, sitting at a nearby table, have a cell phone shouting match with his wife. The whole restaurant had been turned into an audience as the man revealed the intimate details of his marriage between bites of a cheeseburger.

Most of us sat in disbelief, not only at his stupidity, but also at his arrogance. He seemed to believe the cell phone transported him into his own universe, failing to understand it actually turned his private life into public spectacle.

We have all sat in movies or concerts or even church services when solemn moments were interrupted by the incessant electronic buzz of a cell phone ringing. Who hasn't seen a careless driver weaving in traffic, with a cell phone attached to an ear while steering with one hand?

What do people say on cell phones that is so important?

"It's a way to talk to each other and it can be hard to do that in this society," Jowett said. "We need to maintain a sense of contact."

In the context of what happened last Tuesday, those words have added meaning. Human contact with loved ones by cell phone, just may be the technological last rite.

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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