-- AN  ONLINE  PUBLICATION --



                     Joseph E. Trimble, Ph.D.

     Let me share  with you a  little story,  some  observations
about a few things that are affecting our lives right now, and a
suggestion for you  to consider in the years  that wait for you.
     When I was a young child,  about 50 years or so years  ago,
I spent many of  my weekends  and much of my summer vacation  at
my grandparent's farmhouse.   Located way out in the country and
surrounded  by open, grassy fields,   the home provided  me with
wonderful experiences and left me with fond memories.     Let me
share one of those memories with you.
     At the time, my grandparents   did not have a telephone nor
did any other home   in the local community.   In fact, the only
telephone  in the  country setting was  located on the wall next
to the front doors right inside Pop Horn's General Store.    Pop
Horn's store   was the  village centerpiece,  as  all  community
activity seemed to occur there.    The store had everything that
anyone needed and  if it did not old Pop  Horn would find it for
you. Everything imaginable -- at least in the eyes of a ten-year
old boy --was piled from the ceiling to the floor and crammed on
shelves separated by four narrow aisles.   It was our mall as it
was  the only place for youngsters  and everyone  else  for that
matter to gather, meet, talk, and visit.  The elders were always
there  sitting  on  the front porch  greeting  everyone as  they
walked up from the dusty road onto the wooden porch.   We always
felt welcomed there.
     Occasionally,   I used  the  telephone  to call some  of my
childhood friends who  were fortunate  enough to have telephones
in their home. To make a call I had to stand on a small stool to
reach  the old wooden telephone.  It was a crank-up type --  the
kind where you had to lift the hearing piece off its hook,  turn
the  handle rapidly a few  times,  and then speak  loudly into a
separate black mouthpiece.  After I would crank up the telephone
my  Aunt Millie,  the sole village operator,  would  come on the
line and asked for the number I wanted to call. 
     One  day I remember asking her  to connect me with 354  and
she said, "Well, Joseph, that's the Campbell house and if you're
trying to get hold of Willie,  he's not home today as the family
went over  to the Bordeaux house for a visit.  Do you want me to
call  over there?"   I asked her if  she would  please do  that.
Minutes later  I was talking to Willie  and Aunt Millie no doubt
listened  in as she always did when she was  not busy connecting
folks to other telephones.   Aunt Millie was the eyes, ears, and
conscience of the village.  She heard just about everything that
went on over the  telephone lines and hence most folks were very
careful with the content of their conversations. We all knew she
listened in. 
     She was  a very  kind,  generous woman and everyone in  the
village respected her and liked her.    In addition, we all knew
that  she was related to  everyone in some form or another so we
had to mind our manners when we were around her.
     Aunt Millie  passed away many years ago.  In some ways, her
passing  symbolically   signaled   the  end  of  a user-friendly
telephone system.   Along with the passing of the old system, an
end  came to the friendly, helpful voice on the other end of the
telephone.    Aunt Millie's friendly voice now has been replaced
with digitized sounds  configured to sound like  a human voice--
it  does  not work for me!    Instead  of  dialing  up names and
numbers,  we now dial in strings of numbers.   If we make credit
card calls,  we could punch in  as many as 40 separate  numbers.
Now  many of us  know  what happens  when  we finally  reach the
number  and no one answers.    We are electronically directed to
another voice that tells us to pay attention to yet another list
of numbers.    We then hear something like the following from an
emotionally flat voice:   press 1 for this and that,  or press 2
for  something else,  or press  3 for another  feature  and  the
number  of options goes on until we decide what to do.  Usually,
after we decide what to do, we are asked to press another number
on  the touch-tone  pad to make sure  we did what  we thought we
wanted to do.
     Occasionally  we  make  phone  calls  to  obtain  directory
assistance,  order  something  from  a mail  order  catalog,  or
request  assistance concerning some  problem with our computers.
After  punching  in a series  of  numbers,   we hear a digitized
voice  asking  us yet again for  more numbers.   Our patience is
tested as  we  are asked to  select  from an  array of numerical
combinations and  punch in what we hope is the right sequence of
numbers.  Sometimes the voice will ask us for the numerical code
on the back of the catalog -- our names will not do as they just
want the number code outlined in "light blue."    Then following
that we are asked to provide them with our postal code -- all of
the numbers,  please,   and then the voice asks us if we live in
Bellingham, Washington.  Of course I do, all the while wondering
what  would have happen  if I gave  the voice  the  wrong number
sequence.   Often, another digitized voice will come on line and
inform us that the call may be  monitored for quality assurance.
Now Aunt Millie would love that line.    Once the voice asked me
what my number was then corrected itself by saying,     "Oops, I
apologize  as I really meant to  ask you for your name."   After
providing my name,  the voice said that my name's number was so-
and-so.   Often when calling someone we are routed to voice mail
and  we hear another voice  indicating that so-and-so is busy so
please leave a message.  Have you ever noticed?   Every time you
return the calls on your answering machine, you get an answering
     Not too long ago, when we called someone we received a busy
signal and  we  knew what that  meant or no one answered  and we
knew  what  that  meant,  too.  Pretty simple.   With all of the
numbers  swirling about concerning  our personal lives,   I sure
hope they spell my number correctly and I would hope that is the
case for you, too.
     Indeed,  we now live in world of "number clutter"  where it
seems  that  every   piece  of  personal  information  has  been
digitized and  carefully organized  to fit a numerical sequence.
The emergence of "number cluttering" can be directly laid at the
feet  of  the mushrooming,  ever-present  computer industry.  In
fact,   the   entire  telecommunications  industry   is  totally
dependent on numbers -- digital mania surrounds us, consumes, and
directs most of our daily lives.
     About a month ago,   I boarded a flight in Seattle en route
to Washington, DC, a trip I make several times a year. After the
big Boeing 757 took off through the rain clouds I observed some-
thing  I hadn't seen before  and  I believe  it's  connected  to
"number creep"  and "digital mania."   No sooner  had the flight
attendant announced that it was OK to turn on laptop computers I
noticed that almost everyone around me reached under their seats
for their small computers and  almost in unison  I heard a caco-
phony  of beeps and  the corresponding  clicking and chirping of
keyboard sounds.    The man next to me grabbed the airphone from
the middle seat, plugged it into his computer, and in an instant
was connected  to his office.   He looked at me  with a sheepish
grin and said that he wouldn't dare go anywhere without his lap-
top, printer, fax machine, cellular telephone, and pager, all of
which were proudly displayed on his tray table.   "I'm connected
to the world," he said with a smirk. I nodded and wondered if he
had a family or close friends and  if the only thing they talked
about was their electronic gadgets.  When the plane leveled off,
I  decided  to stroll  down  the aisle and  count the  number of
passengers who were  engrossed in  their laptops -   much  to my
amazement most were.
     The growing obsession  with the computer and numbers is not
restricted  to  airline  passengers.     I  know  several  close
colleagues who get out of bed at about 5:00 AM, fix themselves a
strong  cup of one  of  Seattle's many coffee blends,  and  then
spend the  next two to three  hours in front of the blinking eye
on the computer screen. Then they dress and drive to their other
office on  campus and spend  most  of the day in  front of their
office computers.   Then they drive home and  after dinner  they
settle in front of the screen again and continue whatever it was
they doing earlier in the day.    Moreover, they tell me they do
this seven days a week.
     The  computer  industry  and  some  of  my  social  science
colleagues  have been  examining computer use  practices at home
and in the office.   I am told that the typical worker now works
48  hours a  week in the office.   Many workers also report that
they spend considerable  time at home working on their computers
so the  48-hour week  is likely  considerably longer.   The data
suggest that what was once a 9 to 5 economy has expanded to 24 -
7 -- 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.   Quitting time seemingly
does  not  exist  anymore.   When business and industry close up
their doors at 5:00 pm we now can go home, log on, and spend  as
much time as we  want "on the computer" as just about everything
is seemingly available to us through the Internet.   We can even
log on  to "chat rooms"  and  discuss  all sorts  of topics with
folks from the  Four Corners of the planet.   Apart from what is
called "Internet wait"  and the limits of modem  speeds, we have
almost  instantaneous access to people, places  and  things.  An
"office"  is  anywhere you  want  it to  be as  long as there is
access to a telephone connection or a satellite. 
     For those wedded to the use of pagers, cellular telephones,
and computers,  life has become  considerably more  complex  and
engaging.   Everyone seems to be busy, too,  and I am reasonably
certain   that  the  telecommunication  industry  is   partially
responsible for it.   I have noticed that when  I ask someone on
campus or in the halls  "How are you doing these days?"  instead
of saying something like  "fine"  or "fair to midland,"  or "not
too well,  today" colleagues  and friends  now quickly say  "I'm
really busy." Sometimes I'll hear colleagues say to others, "I'm
busy, too." We are busy, as the reply to such questions seems to
suggest  that one is so  busy that  they do not have the time to
stop and chat.   Until recently  I rarely heard someone complain
about  having too much to do in their daily lives and using that
as  an excuse to run back to their office to spend  more time in
front of their computers.
     I  can understand some   of what is going on.   Before  the
advent of email,  I received about 12 or  so long distance calls
a day now I probably receive 2 or 3 a week.  Actually, I am more
involved in national and international professional affairs then
I was ten years ago so I could expect to receive more calls.  My
telephone calls now have been replaced with email messages and I
get  about 100 or so of them a day      and a good half  of the
messages ask  for something  or other and  the sender  wants  an
answer immediately. Many of them just have to wait.
     Not too long ago many North Americans were preoccupied with
"keeping up with the Jones's"  and now we must  keep up with the
Ishiwaras,  Kims,  McAlesters,   Brochauses,  Guerreros,  Yangs,
Milicics,  Luigis,  and Amundsons fueled by  our need to keep up
with the pace of the computer  and telecommunication industries.
The pace has picked  up in recent  years and many people are not
real  certain what their boundaries  are as  some  actually push
themselves to fatigue. Not too long ago one of my colleagues was
found  fast  asleep at  6:00 AM  in  his  office with  his  face
resting on the keyboard. His nose was resting on the "L" key and
his computer screen was printing out an endless stream of "L's."
As  many more people  worldwide become  immersed in the computer
world and their communication tools they are unwittingly cutting
themselves off   from  physical contact  with  others  including
friends and family. Sitting in front of the screen is a solitary
experience.   Many simply do not want to have  any one around to
annoy  or disturb them.    "Can't you see I'm on the computer so
leave  me alone right  now"  is  becoming a common household and
office phrase.  I am deeply concerned about this development, as
I believe  it does not promote  healthy relationships with one's
friends,  colleagues,  partners,  spouses,  and  family members.
There appears to be a "disconnect" going on in our relationships
with others.
     For almost 30 years,   I have  been  interested in  psycho-
logical well-being and  how it influences the choices we make in
our lives.  Much of my work has been dedicated to the choices we
make  that negatively  affect  our sense  of  well-being and our
health.    Some  of my  colleagues  recently  made  a  startling
discovery concerning  the importance  and  influence of personal
relationships  and   well-being.    In  a  series  of  carefully
controlled  studies  they   found that the  mental and  physical
health  of certain  individuals  was  substantially improved  by
merely having someone physically around to talk to. In fact, the
researchers found that the mere presence  of others can actually
improve  the  body's  immune  system.  Moreover, they found that
laughter  alone played a  major role in  regulating  the  body's
     I  know  that it  is tempting  to be  consumed  by the many
advantages provided by computers and  all of  their attachments.
They  are indeed the wonders of the decade and they serve a very
useful  service.    Nonetheless,  I want to  leave you with this
suggestion.   Set aside  some time  during  the  day to actually
physically visit  with friends and colleagues  to laugh, discuss
world  events,  tell stories,  or you could  even talk about how
much rain we get in the Pacific Northwest of the United  States.
In addition,  when you do, please leave your pager  and cellular
phone somewhere else and turn off your computer.    The messages
will be there when you return.

Joseph E. Trimble, Ph.D., is professor at the Center for 
Cross-Cultural Research and the Department of Psychology
of Western Washington University. He is also current president
of the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority 
Issues, Division 45 of the American Psychological Association.
In September 2000, he will begin an appointment as a fellow
at Harvard University, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Email: trimble@cc.wwu.edu 
(after 15 September 2000: trimble@radcliffe.edu)