I don’t own a cell phone. I’ll pause for a moment while you appreciate that fact. To be honest, there has been a time or two when one would have come in handy, but for the most part I am glad I don’t have one. It is a choice on my part, after all. I don’t feel obligated to have one just because everyone else does. Nor do I feel the need to have one just so people can contact me whenever they wish. I often feel that a cell phone is similar to what a prisoner out on bail must wear when he is on house arrest. Of course, whenever I try to call someone who I always see playing on their phone, it seems like I have to hire a bail bondsman to track them down.
I watch people with their cell phones and I am reminded of my former addiction to cigarettes. I see people as they sneak looks at it when they know they shouldn’t be. I see them texting or chatting when they’re driving and I feel less safe as a result. I see them unable to concentrate for any length of time on any one thing because of the compulsion to take another hit off of their phone. I see them ignore those around them as they become absorbed in a conversation that reads something like: “really? Lol.” I see it in a way they do not because I am not a user myself. I see it in a family gathered together for a holiday meal, each of them in their own little world.
But I see it in them because I too have the same compulsion. When on the computer, I often find myself slavishly clicking to the Window where Facebook is the second I hear the ding. I don’t salivate, but I do respond. I find myself checking various accounts and sites over and over again, experiencing the diminishing highs, doing it more and enjoying it less. I’ve felt that feeling before, while sitting in front of a slot machine. True, when immersed in my little online realm I’m not losing money, but I am losing time I will never get back again.
People are cautious by nature, unwilling to deviate too far from what they see as normal so long as they are on their own. But put them in a crowd and they’re quite willing to go off on an extreme tangent together. If cell phones were a rarity and you only had one friend who was constantly pawing at one like Gollum with his precious, it would be pretty easy to say his behavior was abnormal. But now that everyone is doing it, nobody seems to have the courage to point out this new addiction that has spread like a plague in the last few years. I see mothers ignoring their children as they eat dinner at a restaurant, taking pictures of their lunch to share on Facebook with friends whom they have never met. I see people walking their dogs, completely oblivious of the joys that a walk outdoors can provide, or the cuteness that a dog exhibits in a hundred different ways in the course of a mile stroll.
Over 200 years ago, William Wordsworth said: “The world is too much with us.” I can only imagine what his reaction to life today would be. We are never free of the things, and so are never able to truly relax, never able to get to the mental state that provides us with the true feeling of being comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings. We are in a constant state of expectation, always dealing with the immediate, never having time to deal with anything in any depth. Our very consciousness is being altered. Not to sound old-fashioned or conservative or anything like that, but shouldn’t that give us pause? Shouldn’t we worry just a little bit when our ability to think at any kind of deeper level is being compromised? But of course, you say, I can function just fine. I don’t need my cell phone, I just like to have it with me at all times. Change the word “alcohol” with “cell phone” and see if your argument still stands. Or better yet, “my precious”.
I began writing this post yesterday and didn’t get around to finishing it (I was doing important stuff on Facebook). I arrived at work this morning to discover that a friend and coworker of mine had been fired because of his repeated abuse of the no-cell phone policy at my work. This father of two will not be able to provide his family with the kind of Christmas he had hoped to because of his need to share what was most likely a meme with his larger social network. Had he not been fired, perhaps the prior paragraph I wrote might have been different, but I suspect not by too much. Somehow, somebody put forward the notion that technological “progress” is inevitable and that it is futile to stand in its way and we all accepted it. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, but let Him also give me the courage to change the things I can. Prevailing wisdom states that every advance in technology is not only inevitable but for the better. But maybe, just maybe that’s not true. Perhaps it is just the constant propaganda of the cell phone manufacturers, who are only interested in pushing their next-gen phone. At the very least, we should be mindful of the changes that technology brings, cautious of what we lose in the exchange of old for new.