Wednesday, June 16, 2010


by Drew Martin

I spent a lot of summer time as a kid in tidewater Virginia. My relatives had little weekend homes along the Diascund Creek. My grandparents' place was a short, swampy walk away from the next house. In the absence of telephones, contacting each other was by means of a hardwired intercom.

Inter-communication was initiated by someone holding down his or her speak-button, which juiced the system. Then the "caller" would yell "Yabba Dabba Do!" This was quite funny because the Flintstones' Brooklyn accent was replaced by sing-songy elderly southern voices. The inquisitive response usually culminated in a game of Nickel-Knock or going fishing out on the dock.

I have always been interested in what communications look like when you stand back from the situation. I remember seeing a homeless man in Berkeley, California communicating with his mothership up in the sky via an amputated phone receiver before there was such a thing as a cell phone. It looked insane but I remember thinking that there will be a time when we would see people talking alone and will simply assume they are in communications with a real person via a wireless device. I flip it now: I take the cell phone out of the picture and watch and listen to people and see how crazy they act.

I have been helping a neighbor train for the NYC Marathon. We run together for an hour and a half every Sunday morning, starting at 6:30. Once he invited another runner along and for the first five to ten minutes they refused to run. Instead, they stood motionless, in the middle of the road, with one arm raised in the air waiting for their Garmin GPS watches to pick up a signal. It was absurd. Even knowing what they were doing did not make them look less silly.

A third of the way through the run, we sent the guest runner back a shorter route as he was dragging. Using his Garmin, he got completely lost on his straightforward return. My neighbor was a hot mess when he ended: more concerned about his average speed than his form. I used to time myself when I ran. I was in communications with that great abstraction of time but it was a bad relationship and so I dropped the stopwatch and listened to my breathing and my heart beat and I measured distance by how my legs felt.