My husband, Paul, and I were traveling south on Interstate 295 when we saw a car crawling in the breakdown lane. Was the driver in trouble? Drunk? Disoriented? Paul pulled into the left lane, as far away as possible.

As we passed this slow-motion vehicle, I glanced at the person at the wheel. He was a middle-aged man who was talking intently on his cell- phone.

What in the world could be so important that he couldn’t stop, or wait to get off at the next exit, park his vehicle and carry on his conversation safely? Did he have a clue that creeping along in the emergency lane was not only unsafe, but illegal?

How, I wondered, had this guy, who had spent at least two-thirds of his life with limited telephone access, come to this?

I suppose these questions are rather foolish. Our obsession with talking and texting have nothing to do with need or common sense anymore. We do what we do because we can.

Since people talking on cellphones in public tend to speak loudly, I can tell you they have nothing important to say. What’s even worse is that they completely forget they have an audience.

Take the woman I ran into several times while shopping at a department store. “I don’t care what the f— you do with the money,” she proclaimed, while scanning a display of Vitamin Water.

I nearly jumped out of my boots. Wait a minute — didn’t she have a kid with her a minute ago? I sidled down the aisle and saw that she was yapping away into a Bluetooth device. Luckily, the kid was elsewhere.

Talky continued her one-sided conversation right through the checkout line — ignoring the sales associate, of course. When there was an apparent gap in her conversation, she pulled out an iPhone and scanned it for messages.

I suppose I should give her credit for using a hands-free device. Paul noticed a woman trying to talk on her cellphone while steering an overflowing grocery cart. “It’s almost impossible to turn corners with one hand,” he drolly noted.

There’s yet another woman I’ve seen twice — twice! — while shopping who is cranky, combative and foul-mouthed. Amazingly, she comes from a generation that grew up wearing white gloves and hats to church. The first time I saw her, she was in the middle of a screed about Christmas. “We always made a big deal about it, but the kids don’t give a (expletives deleted).” Whoa. Happy holidays to you, too.

Someday, one of these belligerent chatterboxes is going to cause a panic. I feel a twinge of fear when I hear one person shouting at another in the next aisle. Is a fight about to break out? Let me out of here! Oh — it’s just some guy’s adult child asking for money again — from Wyoming. Nothing to see here.

Recently, I watched a fellow gym member yak his way through a workout (in violation of the rules, by the way). A woman in a restaurant caught my attention as she talked on the phone as she and her husband waited for their food, while they ate their lunch, and as he cleared their places.

He looked so resigned to this state of affairs, I knew this must be typical behavior for her. Perhaps he was relieved she had somebody else’s ear to burn.

This woman was at least as old as me, which meant she probably grew up with one stationary, five-pound rotary phone that sat in the hallway and the whole family was expected to share. In the early years, it was a party line, split with the Bouchards and O’Malleys of the neighborhood.

A petite Princess Trimline phone might have appeared in her bedroom by her teen years, if she was lucky. But whenever she left the house, she had to make sure to have change, just in case she got stuck somewhere and needed a ride home. Pay phones would have been her only option.

I marvel that I was able to survive traveling in the British Isles as a young woman. To call home, I had to drop pound coins into clunky phones until I could dial. Then the phone would beep after a few minutes, telling me to feed it more money.

If my family wanted to reach me, they had to leave messages at the hostels where I stayed.

These were invariably staffed by Australians and South Africans, and something always seemed to get lost in the translation among the variations of English.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed the security of a cellphone, but I wonder if I would have spent more time on the train texting than people watching. Would I have sent so many postcards home, recounting my adventures?

No, I would have been just another noisy natterer, my ramblings, as Shakespeare would say, “signifying nothing.”

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

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