I am standing in the Atlanta airport. It is 11 o'clock in the morning and I am sober. But I am hearing voices.
At first this fact doesn't alarm me. After all, many people routed through this airport for no apparent geographical reason have been known to hear voices. Most of the voices are saying things like, "Why, Lord, do I have to go through Atlanta to get from Memphis, Tenn., to Lexington, Ky.?"
But these are not my own personal voices. These are public ones. From the ceiling high above my head, a well-bred, well-modulated alto, speaking in tones decidedly un-southern, is giving me advice.
I am to stand to the right on the moving sidewalk. I am to walk on the left. I may take the train to Terminal A.
She-it repeats these directions calmly, over and over, never losing patience. I do what she-it says.
Aboard the train, another voice, this time a baritone, tells me that the next stop will be Terminal A and I must prepare to disembark. I do what he-it says. I almost, but not quite, tell him-it to have a nice day.
It is only later, after the disembodied voices are silenced and I am seat-belted onto the next flight, that I start to giggle. Why was the airport talking to me?
I realize that this was not some isolated event, some certifiably crazy Wizard of Oz sending orders out of a programmed loud-speaker. It isn't unusual at all. We live in a world in which more and more things are telling us what to do.
This is the age of the spoken word, the era of ear pollution. From cradle to grave we are at the mercy of talking elevators, streetcars, telephones, toys and computers.
A small friend of mine has a Baby Beans doll that demands "play pattycake." She obeys. This same delightful child has a barnyard sound-effects machine that will quiz her on what the piggie, doggy, kitty says.
A slightly taller friend has a teaching computer that gives her spelling tests in a thick Texas accent. It asks her to spell a word. If she types it correctly, the machines drawls, "That's right. Now spell 'witch.'"
These two children find nothing unusual about this. But then, children have come a long way from the time, 15 years ago, when my nephew looked up at the voice coming from the intercom in his bedroom and said suspiciously, "What do you want, wall?"
Today the kids think this is normal.
As for the games grown-ups play, there is a new car-the Datsun 810 Maxima -- that comes equipped with a female voice. This voice reminds the owner politely, and in English, "Please turn out the lights."
There is also an epidemic of elevator voices in department stores that tell, without ever being asked, precisely what you will find on any given floor. And if that isn't bossy enough, the banks are now devising money machines that will litterally tell you when to place your card in the hole and when to take your money out.
Even if we manage to avoid the din of daily life, we aren't immune. They now have voices that can follow us to the graveyard. There is a company in California making talking gravestone. Press the button and zappo! The last words, last instructions, last guilt-trips come soaring out over the head of the dearly beloved gathered together.
I am sure that the proliferation of these talkies has something to do with automation or illiteracy or both. Voices don't have pension plans and disability payments. Nor do people have to read them.
But I don't like it. I want to arrest the elevator for invasion of privacy. I want to tell the built-in nag in the dashboard that it's none of her business if I leave my lights on. I want to tell the know-it-all in the toy that piggies don't really say oink-oink anyway. t
What I want is a real live person. Tell me, ceiling, is that to much to ask for?