Friday, May 22, 2009

Lives of the Cell Phone

In my community college class this week, I asked the 22 students how many had cell phones with them at that very moment.

Twenty hands went up.

The two without cell phones were obviously different, but just how different?

I had some idea because I’d left my phone at home, as I often do.

But unlike me, the two non-cell phone students had made a decision not to have pocket communication at all. I suggested that in doing so, they were not alone, at least historically speaking. They were like virtually all human beings pre-1980. For starters, think of Plato, the Buddha, Jesus, Jane Austin, Thomas Jefferson, Helen Keller and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nary a cell phone among them.

But if cell phone users are absent in history, they certainly aren’t in the present; nor, if humanity manages to survive, will they be in the future.

I suggested to the class that having a cell phone, or not having one, helps define who we are as human beings. It defines how we feel about our relationship to the world, to time, to space, to privacy and to our fellow human beings. Indeed, as phones become “smart phones” (mini-computer terminals), they define what we do with much of our time — how we spend out lives.

With much else to talk about in the class, we didn’t explore the ideas further, but the topic certainly has an allure.

Marshall McLuhan wrote that each major communication invention creates a new “extension of man.” The printing press, the telegraph, the photograph, the telephone, the radio, the television, the computer, the cell phone all change us and how we relate to each other and our environment.

In ways, the innovations make us more aware; in other ways they make us less aware.

McLuhan’s observation nestles neatly into the fascinating field of “media effects.”

In the class I touched on the subject of media effects by asking how we might go about measuring them.

One of the two non-cell phone students, Shelby, raised her hand. “Study what happens to people when they are deprived of a particular media device.”

Good idea. We could, in fact, study her. How was she different in her cell-less state?

I suggested that we might further, as an experiment, ask our horde of cell phone users to give up their phones for a week and then study them.

“Over my dead body,” snarled one student in mock defiance. I might as well have been suggesting that he stuff his ears with cotton or tie his hands behind his back.

He and the majority of the class, were clearly different — very different in some ways— from the technologically self-deprived minority.

But how?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Judge rules against caregiver in contested will case

Some of you may wonder what happened to the contested will of the late Warren Cummins of Hillsdale. You may recall that to the surprise of Cummins' family, the will named Cummins’ caregiver of four months as the sole beneficiary of his $1 million estate.

Today, declaring that caregiver Patricia McIntosh’s testimony was simply not credible, Judge Katherine Tennyson of the Multnomah Circuit Court threw out the will.

Instead, under an earlier will, McIntosh will get $50,000 and the rest of the estate will be divided with half going to the non-profit Loaves & Fishes, headquartered in Multnomah Village. The other half will go to Cummins’ family.

But first the beneficiaries have to retrieve an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 that McIntosh drew down from Cummins’ checking accounts. Cummins, who died at age 91 last September, had added McIntosh as a signatory on the accounts, which became hers on his death.

The judge ruled her claim to those accounts to be invalid because of McIntosh's undue influence over Cummins.

Tennyson concluded, based on hundreds of pages of legal documents and three days' testimony in April that the changes in the will clearly reflected McIntosh’s designs on the estate and resulted from her instilling fear and suspicion into Cummins.

The old man had disapproved of his stepson’s placing his late wife into a nursing home in 2007. But it was only in late May 2008 after McIntosh moved into the caregiver’s unit of the Cummins’ big ranch-style house, on the corner of Boundary and SW 19th, that Cummins sought to change his will to benefit McIntosh and to cut out Johnson.

McIntosh repeatedly testified that she resisted Cummins’ changes, saying that they were wrong, but, she maintained that Cummins insisted so she reluctantly agreed to go along with them.

Tennyson declared that McIntosh’s version of what happened simply didn’t hold up under the testimony of others.

Speaking from the bench, the judge said the most telling exchange in McIntosh’s April testimony came when McIntosh’s own attorney, James Cartwright, asked her “Why didn’t you just say ‘no’?” to what she said was Cummins’ insistence that she take the money.

To which McIntosh answered, “How do you just say ‘no’?”

On Wednesday, in explaining the decision to set aside the will, Tennyson gave McIntosh a mini-lecture on when and how to say ‘no’” to wrong.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

TV Turn-off without even trying!

Talk about TV Turn-off!

The technology is doing it to itself in Portland. Take a look.



We talked about “fundamentals,” our core beliefs, at our Quaker discussion group early Sunday morning.

One person suggested that a good way to determine our fundamental beliefs is to ask, “What would I die for?”

While I could see the truth in what he said, it seemed to me more immediate and pressing to ask, “What should I live for?”

And then, of course, do it — now!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009


Recently I met one who feared she would be wrong.

Soon I met another who he feared he would be right.