November 01, 2007

Tectonic shift

My wife and I got cellphones this week. I'm of two minds about being instantly available by telephone, influenced in part I admit by my experience working the evening shift as a PBX operator in a Pacifica, CA medical center years ago. Ah, well. I was a poor choice for a bad job, in retrospect, and as the telephone played a necessarily central role in the work, I've been for some time leery of reengaging the technology I failed so miserably those many years ago.

It was my poor adaptation to the irreducibly interruptive nature of the job of switchboard operator that made a ruin of my work there, I admit. There I'd be in the little closed parenthesis of a receptionist's cubicle in the post-office hours medical building making my $1.65 an hour. Upstairs there were the patients in a long term care facility, and out there were the people in the world who might want to talk to them, and of course the doctors on call out on the town at some fancy restaurant or other, I the one standing in the way of these people having the same instant telephonic connection with one another as that enjoyed with the whole world by everyone with a pocket to spare for a mobile phone these days.

Suddenly, arbitrarily, there'd come a call. Interrupting my credulous coursing through Nietschze as translated by Kauffman, I'd turn to the PBX machine and see if I couldn't deflect the interruption quickly along its proper path, some relative connected to an old one housed upstairs, some plaintive patient seeking a soothing something from a doctor.

At the time my underdeveloped ability to constantly initiate a new task in the midst of another, to be torn suddenly from whatever it was I was about to attend to, to some intruding new unscheduled something or other, often enough resulted in the incompletion of one or both of the tasks in the event. Before long, in the face of successive failures in this regard, an unwillingness to be interrupted in my reading grew like a carapace around the body of my work at the PBX, benefiting no one, it must be acknowledged.

I recognize the utility of immediate telephone contact encased in this compact little tool of a mobile phone, and the concievable but unlikely to be utilized utility of the text messages and photographs it makes possible, too. But I drag along with me my unwillingness to hear the interruptive phone ring at all, an abreaction developed to a fine if unhelpful sensitivity at that job long ago.

Along with the mobile phones, we were delivered an earthquake this past week. It lasted suprisingly long, the land rolling under our house in Santa Cruz for nearly 20 seconds after the initial jolt that announced it. I immediately wondered where it was centered. For all intents and purposes the quake in 1989 along the transverse section of the San Andreas Fault that passes through the northern part of Santa Cruz County was centered directly underneath our house, but I guessed that this week's earthquake wasn't so local, wondering as it went on if what we were experiencing wasn't the distant report of the dramatic lurch of the Hayward Fault everyone recognizes must come some day.

We had no damage, and except for the framed print of this image, which fell harmlessly from a bookshelf onto the ironing board below, nothing was dislodged by all the earthquake's extended roiling.

It didn't occur to me to use my new mobile phone, which, as it turns out, would have been useless in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

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