During one of our heated arguments about God knows what, my friend’s cell phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Annoyed I finally told her to answer it. She stood up and answered her call.
“I hate this thing.” she said after finishing her call.
“Hate what?”I asked a bit confused.
“My stupid cell phone…….?”
It rang again before she could even finish her sentence. I only had to nod this time for her to get up again and answer another call. It was at that particular moment that I thought how life used to be before the cell phone consumed our free time with our friends.
Across the room from me was a couple on a date. The guy had his phone smashed up against his cheek like he was trying to merge with it, yammering about the night out he had with his friends while the girl across the table stared vacantly at her food.
When, at last, the call ended, the guy explained the conversation to his date as if she hadn’t just heard the whole thing. Then when he concluded his monologue, the phone rang again, and the same sequence repeated itself.
Cell phones have become such a crucial part of our daily lives that most folks rely on them more than the majority of organs in their bodies. In fact, you can get your spleen removed and continue living a normal existence, but the same cannot be said of a cell phone.
Before the advent of the cell phone, if you wanted to talk to someone, you had to either travel directly to his or her house or write a letter. Then, with landlines, at least people were not able to carry their phones with them when they left their homes, and so their lack of response could be attributed simply to having gone out.
The cell phone was introduced in Eritrea in the early 2000, with the infamous baby Nokia. Now we have the elaborated I-phones, and the Samsungs. And we rarely leave them out o f s i g h t . The phone clings to us with the unfaltering loyalty of a tapeworm, and it sucks us dry of our excuses. To not respond is nearly the same as plugging your ears and humming when someone asks you a question.
Cell phones have become cigarettes for the eyes. We’re so comfortable with them that necessity has replaced luxury, and our eyes feel naked and exposed without a screen to gaze upon.
Remember the Greek tale of Narcissus, who stared into a lake at his own reflection for so long that he shriveled up and vanished. Narcissus is back:
He walks down the block in skinny jeans, cursing the glare of the sun on his precious screen, yet unable to take his eyes off a reflective surface, until he once again disappears.
At least that first time around Narcissus was guilty only of ignoring the lover that chased after him in vain. Today’s Narcissus ignores the whole world.
Dammit, man, look up! Look up while you’ve still got a neck to do it! Your phone’s an exact replica of millions of others, but every set of eyes is unique!
What most of us don’t know is your cell phone is a bad friend, preventing you from making new, human ones with its constant demands on your attention. Cell phones are becoming one of the main hindrances to real interpersonal communication. Your cell phone may be helping you stay close to distant friends and family, but it is probably separating you from the person standing next to you. These days almost everybody has a cell phone, and it’s often carried in the hand — not even in a pocket. No one wants to be parted from it. It’s as if something terrible would happen if we didn’t answer the moment it rings or vibrates.
In our household most of us have cell phones except for the little ones. Most of us have to work through the week. So come every Sunday mum expects us to be home and spend time together. Almost every Eritrean household is the same. Sunday is family time. Lunch together, followed by the traditional coffee ceremony. It is a time meant for all of us to catch up on things we have done the past week. Here is where the problem lies, though. During the coffee ceremony, we all have our cell phones out, some of us reading, others playing games, most texting and the rest watching clips.
Now mum has set some new Sunday rules for cell phone usage. No Cell phone in the living room during coffee! And I’m happy to report that the world has not ended.
Moreover, having a cell phone is like carrying your friends with you everywhere you go. Say goodbye to contemplative moments on park benches, long walks with nothing to think about or even a bit of peace and quiet while you’re in the bathroom.
For centuries, that twice-daily bowel movement enjoyed on the porcelain throne was akin to a holy ceremony, for it was the one time of day you could be by yourself and be sure no one would interrupt. But no more: now for the first time ever, your friends can be there with you!
We’ve become so accustomed to this state of semi-being that the second our phones run out of battery, coldness sweeps over us and we feel ourselves teetering over an abyss of loneliness and despair, like when an addict is deprived of his vice.
Humans are social animals. It is normal to want to be surrounded by others; in fact, it’s necessary for our mental health. That’s why solitary confinement is the highest punishment.
What makes humans unique is not sociality, but our ability to self-reflect. That’s why we can recognize ourselves in the mirror when other animals can’t. That’s why we can construct tools from nature and imagine ways of improving them, or why we’ve invented art, music and science.
If we lose that time to be self-reflective, we will slowly see those things that make us human deteriorate. Along with it, our social lives will become increasingly shallow because without having time to find ourselves, there will be less about us that is actually worth sharing with others.
I acknowledge cell phones aren’t going anywhere, so don’t mistake this article for the ravings of an out-of-touch geezer shouting at speeding trains because, hey, I’m only 27.
It’s important to recognize that we are the first generation to become so obsessed with cell phones and other screen-based gadgets, and that makes us the guinea pigs. We won’t know the effects of any of these technologies on our bodies, minds and souls until it’s too late.
People used to drink mercury because they thought it was a medicine until they found out the hard way that it wasn’t. New is not the same as good, and so everything should be considered guilty until proven innocent.