Sunday, April 15, 2007

contra cell phones

I make no secret of the fact that I hate cell phones and dislike talking on them. Part of this hatred is a function of my native control-freakishness: I'll interact with other people on my own terms, thank you. Don't call me; I'll call you. Part of this is also my native introversion: it disturbs my wa (as my buddy Mike would say; the Sino-Korean pronunciation is "hwa") to know that people can track me down no matter where I am.

The old counsel to "just turn your cell phone off!"-- advice given me by cell phone enthusiasts as a way of saying Yes, you DO have options!-- is rather hypocritical: those same enthusiasts get upset when they suddenly can't reach me. In their heart of hearts, they don't actually believe I should ever turn my cell phone off.

Another reason I dislike cell phones is related to why I dislike phones in general: a person talking on the phone is physically there, but not mentally there. I don't like looking at people while they're on the phone; they seem distracted-- and in fact, they are. Mindfulness goes out the window. What's not in front of your nose becomes more important than what is.

There's also some debate about how safe cell phones are. Overall, the impression I get is that the science is inconclusive: studies point to possible dangers, but no universally agreed-upon link has been established between, say, cell phone use and brain tumors. Now, however, we read that cell phone signals may be interfering with honeybees' ability to navigate, driving them away from their home colonies, scattering them in the wild where they die lonely, insectile deaths, and potentially dooming us all to starvation as crops worldwide go unpollinated.

While I doubt we should be sounding the alarm about this right away, I'm glad to see another strike against cell phones. I watch my students and mentally sigh as they click-clack away on their cell phones' tiny keyboards before and after class, texting furiously, minds miles away from the Here and Now. I wouldn't call myself the most mindful person on the planet-- in fact, I consider myself positively goofy-- but it saddens me to watch this cell phone addiction metastasize and take over humanity.

Maybe cell phones don't cause cancer. Maybe they are cancer.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Insightful post, Kevin. But I don't really understand your issue with the use of cell phones and concomitant lack of mindfulness. We human beings engage in a lot of activities that require us to focus on the thing in front of us and ignore the rest of the environment.

Sitting here tapping away at my keyboard, I'm much less aware of the weather outside, the noises my wife makes as she moves around the house, and so on. Is that lack of awareness a problem in your book?

I remember reading a book by a monk (Thich Nhat Hanh) who told us to be more mindful. He said we should try not to multitask all the time; for instance, we should eat slowly and savor our food. I find, though, that because I'm a highly anxious person I can't afford to be too mindful of what I'm doing, especially when I'm eating. My thoughts tend to wander, and they can get unpleasant. When I am eating by myself, I invariably watch TV shows or movies, because I don't like it when I have to sit there, think, and chew. I'll get too mindful, asking myself, for example, why I have to eat meat and telling myself that I should feel guilty about eating cow, chicken, or pig.

Sometimes, we want to be mindful. We should listen to people carefully when they speak. We should be mindful while having sex. I think it's asinine to drive while talking on your phone.

But I don't think mindfulness is always desirable. Sometimes the human soul requires distraction.