"would Beard's nervous American man be recognizable today? Yes and no...that nervous man on the run would have a very different sense of now from the now we live under today -- or did one moment ago. It's quite possible this gentleman had a phone in his home, but after shutting his front door and stepping onto the elevated subway, he would effectively have been in a communication blackout until he reached work."
Beard's nervous American is a classic guy watching his watch and very anxious about it all the time.
It's really impossible to imagine that Beard's nervous American was in any meaningful kind of communication blackout. First and foremost, he's not on the road alone and he's not on the elevated alone -- he could well be nodding and talking to people he sees regularly on the train, some of whom he may do business with. Second, this book is in many ways about _written_ communication: a history of postal services, the development of telegraphy, etc. Beard's nervous American may well bring a newspaper on the elevated and read it on the way (assuming he isn't like me and prone to motion sickness).
Not really a blackout. Just away from the phone for a little while. Which Freeman could have said explicitly, only Freeman lacks the capacity to use the English language with either precision or accuracy (if he could, he wouldn't refer to a railroad "grid" in the US). This guy's an editor? Really?