Cell Phone Addiction – a post in a series about “Low Tech Life”

I can’t remember the day or year even off the cuff, but I think I got my first pager when I was 12. That was cool, getting messages from any location, and creating ad-hoc ways to spell out words without the use of letters enabled us to send short messages to each other, to communicate a meeting place, or news about something that had happened, before even picking up the phone to return the page and see what was up. It really instilled a sense of independence in me and my friends. I was someone with a pager. You could get ahold of me anywhere, communicate.

Around the time I turned 16 I got my first cell phone. The marketing campaign to get the world onto cell phones was a big push by Sprint PCS, up to that time the only cell phones people had were luncky, the size of a blow dryer. You rarely saw anyone using them except rich guys in their Porsche or Zack Morris on Saved By The Bell. A cell phone was a luxury item, Sprint was changing that.

Since that first Sprint PCS up until now, I have had a mobile phone. They got smaller, they started to use the internet, eventually even being able to check email, and then with iPhones the whole idea of a phone changed. Smart Phones allowed people to leave their computer behind and do just about anything they could on their computers, on their phones. With stiff competition from phone companies, the access to mobile networks improved, no more dropped calls (at least less common) while driving down Olympic Boulevard, as my boss in LA used to say when calling Verizon to complain about his crappy cell service.

No one has pagers anymore. Maybe some Doctors, or something but, I couldn’t even tell you where to buy one. The service must be dirt cheap though. In the US nearly everyone has an iPhone or Android smart phone. When I moved to Europe I saw that still many people were not on smart phones, but even that was changing. But the one thing that I’ve seen all over the world while traveling was that everyone has phones and they use them all the time.

On a trip to Paris last week, while dining in a great tapas restaurant in the Operá district, a well dressed couple was eating together, enjoying champagne and small extravagant dishes, couples like this, who speak french to each other, and look like models are fascinating to me. Collectively I’ve spent a good chunk of time learning that while beautiful people tend to be the icon of perfection, not everyone looks like them, they didn’t choose to look that way, their lives have problems too, and we’re all capable of being beautiful people. Still, when you’re sitting one table over from them, it’s hard not to be aware of their presence, after all many parts of popular culture is driven by making us feel inadequate, and selling us things with the belief we can be closer to them.

Anyways, I was studying the couple, looking at their shoes, hearing their elegant french accents, thinking about their choice of champagne before white wine. It all was perfect, but one thing was off. One thing that without speaking to them, I already felt tipped their whole ensemble in the wrong not so beautiful direction. They had their phones out on the table, and both of them –especially the gentleman– were frequently checking their phones. At two separate occasions, the man took phone calls, and talked for 4, 5, maybe up to 10 minutes, while his date sat patiently – not using her phone probably on purpose to make a point – waiting for him to get off the line. And that’s when the truth of the matter came out, this couple did have their problems. But people have this kind of phone addiction all over the world. And to say this couple was an exception would be a gross mis-statement. The truth is, whether you’re on an airplane, at a cafe, riding the subway, or sitting in a waiting room, in just about any situation where strangers are together for a period of time, one thing stands out, they are all using their phones.

I think it’s not sustainable. I think there will be a cultural whiplash of sorts. At some point the popularity of using our phones, will be come unpopular. It’s the nature of things. It has to be. The thought of anything otherwise makes me sad. It’s not the world I want to live in.

Just a brain dump for now, definitely more to say.

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