Consumers too connected to TV, telephone noise

Recently, I found myself sitting at Gate 10 in New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Allow me to set the scene:

I find a seat along the windows, appreciating the natural daylight coming through and mitigating the unnatural, overhead, headache producing glare. A welcome blessing.

Naturally, every other person or so is speaking into cell phones about all sorts of matters, business and personal.

"What do you mean, you didn’t send the contract?" one red-faced man screams (one imagines the poor soul on the other end cowering in his seat at some other far-flung airport). A more-than-middle-age woman in a bubble pink running suit says loudly, "And, yes, I just had my appointment for my colonoscopy … ." I move to another seat out of earshot, as I really don’t want to hear what comes next.

Unfortunately, the only open seat is even closer to one of the several television sets hanging over our heads. CNN’s Lou Dobbs’ face and voice loom large over the crowd and I hear every scathing comment, whether I wish to or not. I watch the faces of my fellow passengers. It’s hypnotic, this need to watch a screen, like moths to flames.

I open The New York Times, hoping my powers of concentration are greater than the invasion of noise around me. Of course, they aren’t and I read the same sentence five times. The frowns on other faces tell me some of us are thinking the same unkind, possibly violent thoughts.

Layered on top of the obnoxious cell phone use and the "talking heads" chatter is what we normally would expect to hear at an airport: announcements about flights, babies crying and conversations between people.

Why isn’t the noise that is normal and expected enough? Why do we have to have televisions on and blaring all the live-long day everywhere we go? It’s not like the news junkies don’t have their BlackBerries to get them through.

Why are we so addicted to being "connected?" The cell phone, the BlackBerry, the television, all have "power off" buttons, but maybe that’s it—when we turn the power off, does the sense of being disconnected makes us feel less powerful?

Why can’t we just be quiet once in a while and create some space between all the noisy parts of life?

I will never forget attending a free opera performance in Central Park. It was one of those perfect summer evenings and the prospect of sitting on the grass, sipping some wine, and listening to world-class opera and free, to boot, felt like a heavenly way to spend the time.

There were two older ladies in folding chairs nearby, practically giddy from the anticipation of hearing beautiful voices and music under the skies. When tickets to the Metropolitan Opera can cost upwards of $300, this was a real treat.

As the music began, with most of the crowd respectfully quiet, there was a significant number who were on, you guessed it, their cell phones.

These were not emergency calls. It was, "Yeah, we are over by the fence on the right side of the stage and, yeah, we bought pizza and beer." After the first act, I noticed those two gentle ladies were gone.

Faenzi is vice president of business development with Rowland Design and a public speaker. She may be reached at 636-3980.

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