There is this look I get – I would describe it as ‘confusion mixed with suspicion’ – whenever the following realization rises through the opposite person: I do not own a cellphone. The idea seems to require some processing. Sometimes, it even unnerves them, and that’s understandable. If most users had their iPhony Siamese twins removed on Monday, they’d be shaving their bodies and doing naked, screaming rain dances on the front lawn by Tuesday lunch.
I do not believe that cellphones are of themselves bad things. We have progressed a great way from the era of the telegraph and mail via horseback, and I see no reason to return to either. Cells provide increased safety and convenience. Business is more easily done. Conversation is essential, but not always possible face to face or when at home. I must also give humanity points for creating such a staggering amount of communication. There is even some hope that what is being communicated is of some value. Perhaps we ought also be grateful that texting has streamlined the alphabet, which for too long has been cluttered with such nonsense as vowels and potential for expressing meaningful thought.
No, my ire is not raised by cellphones themselves, but rather by too many of their users. The self-absorbed addicted. The smartphone stupid, who number with the 43 percent of iPhone users who would go without shoes rather than give up their phones, or the teenagers who suffer physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when they’ve been separated from theirs, or the junkies who start to hear phantom ringing, become jittery and get headaches when deprived of their technological dumb-tit (all according to a U.S. wide survey done in August). To steal a marvelous line from my friend Lynn, “People who are addicted to their cellphones ought to be whanged in the face with a rotary phone, preferably one that’s olive green and weighs as much as a fat kindergartener.”
Allow me to offer some examples.
The special people
I stand at the Rawlin’s Cross intersection awaiting the walk signal, and note that half of the cars passing through are being semi-controlled by people blithely yakking on their phones. Or – yet more astounding – texting. A parade of distraction needing only an errant child, heavyfooted brake user or muscle spasm to come screeching to a tragic halt. These are the ‘special people’. The exceptions to the rule. They transcend we mere humans who must actually pay attention to what we’re doing in order to do it properly. These winners would try to land a helicopter, run a crane with wrecking ball and/or perform surgery with their Apple Crackpipes tucked precariously under their chins. Apparently, dead certain that their focus and reflexes are unaffected or, better, improved by having a miracle of modern technology firing neuron-exciting emissions into their brains.
Well, in 2009, an experiment with a Car and Driver editor was held at a deserted air strip. It demonstrated that texting while driving had a bigger negative impact on driver safety than being drunk. At 70 mph, being drunk added 4 feet to his stopping distance, reading an e-mail added 36 feet, and sending a text added 70 feet.
Distraction behind the wheel caused the 2008 Chatsworth train collision, which killed 25 passengers. The engineer had sent 45 text messages while operating, including several right before he pulled the world’s biggest rail fail. And a teenaged boy in Massachusetts is presently doing prison time for running down a minding-his-own-business grandfather; teenaged boy was texting at the time, in case it needed to be said.
I see five people sitting together in a bar, all without exception face-and-eyes into their respective phones. Heads bowed in reverent group isolation. Confined to their cells. When a conversation finally does start, it’s about – grab your hats, folks – their phones.
The Cult of Apple and the Black(berry)heads ought, by law, only be permitted to associate with fellow disciples. They can compare models, stroke one another’s keypads, text one another from across the couch, giggle over the latest apps, and generally be a contentedly closed congregation. Like a group of potheads, except potheads are at least often amusing.
If I might address specifically those described above: believe it or not, there exists a segment of the population which could not care less – truly, if caring had a temperature, we’d be at absolute zero – about your cellphone apps. No doubt some perform useful functions which improve your life. Something like a ‘cellphone addiction’ app, perhaps. Or maybe an app that pretends it’s your friends and sends you inane and whiny texts when they’re not available.
You know why the birds are angry? Because they’re stuck in your phone, having to listen to you go on about your boyfriend, how much your life sucks and your fucking apps.
I get to enjoy the delicious schadenfreude of witnessing two cosmically self-absorbed, texting while mobile teenaged girls face-planting one another in the middle of a busy sidewalk. We all fall on our asses. Me from laughing. I could conclude that the residual pain and embarrassment might have caused some behavioural modification in these cell-blinkered and near-concussed phone-junkies, but I suspect otherwise.
These are the members of ‘Generation Text’, those who have grown up with cell phones from a young age. A Pew research stat indicates that one third of teens send at least three thousand (3000!) texts per month. How are famine, cancer, and Middle East peace all not filed away under ‘solved’ with that much dialogue occurring? At the very least, they must have cracked the whole ‘meaning of existence’ nut by now.
In fairness, it strikes me that many people, teens especially, aren’t so much addicted to their phones as to the relationships their phones facilitate. I am, however, unconvinced that those relationships are as substantive as they could or should be, and we ought as a society look at the nature of relationships in the digital age. Perhaps a quality over quantity lesson is in order. Perhaps the distinction between consistent and constant contact needs to be made.
I am having a conversation with an acquaintance when he stops me in mid-sentence, holds up a finger, and without further ceremony takes a phone call. And, minutes later, does exactly the same again to return a text. That time, I smile, also hold up a finger (yes), then turn and walk away. Life’s too short. To assume that the person in front of you will step humbly into the shadows when your phone jingles is bad enough. That most people seem willing to suffer the insult is worse, and merely encourages such behaviour.
I happen to be a great fan of conversation, and can vouch that thanks to the Smartphone there is plenty of it occurring, in every office, lineup, store and on every street corner. I’ve heard many of these conversations, most often unwillingly. There’s no bloody escaping them. Private detectives can now just follow their subjects down the street with a pencil and notepad. Yes, work gets done, deals get made, eggs get bought on the way home, ‘love yous’ exchanged, but the majority of these calls and texts are utterly banal. Chat for chat’s sake. Who are all these people who cannot bear to never be out of touch with other people, any other people? Are they afraid they’ll fade, become insubstantial, lose their identities without constant outside reinforcement?
According to Douglas Adams’ ever reliable ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, the Belcerebons of the planet Kakrafoon Kappa were a serenely quiet civilization, until they were all cursed with telepathy, because the rest of the galaxy was disgusted by their peaceful contemplation. The only way the Belcerebons could stop transmitting every thought to everyone else was to mask their brain activity by talking endlessly about utter trivia.
I wonder if perhaps the Hitchhiker’s Guide mixed up the entries for Kakrafoon Kappa and Earth. And if the Belcerebons invented the Smartphone.
How many metaphors can he mix in one paragraph?
We are morphing into a bubble-enclosed species enamoured of brief bursts of info, barely enough to orient, evaluate, and categorize. A just-the-facts society that limits those facts to the stripped bare and ankle deep. We’ve created a locust horde of texts and chats, with less thought than ever being exchanged. We’re becoming oblivious to all but the technological Pavlovian dog that itself rings the bell, setting our synapses to salivating, even while it keeps us on the leash.