When I was growing up, people did not have mobile phones for the most part. It was something that occasionally was depicted in films — like the character of Sandy using his car phone in the film Stardust Memories. It never occurred to me that years later I would have a phone in my pocket that could not only make phone calls but also play games, let me write correspondance and so much more. Yet I wonder if in some ways, mobile phones aren’t also making things worse for us.

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Think about how life was before everyone had a mobile phone. When you called someone and they answered, you always knew where they were and they most often knew where you were. If you didn’t reach your friend you either left a message if it were possible or you woud call back later. If someone tried to call you but you weren’t at home or at least in the vicinity of your phone, it was understood that you could not be reached.

Compare that to the world of today. If you call someone they could answer and a few minutes later make it painfully clear that they are using a public toilet. I have encountered countless people chatting to friends while using the toilet. Disgusting misuse of technology. The other issue is that the fact that the phone comes with you at all times means that you are expected to be available at all times to answer the phone. There have been times when my mother has called me a few times in a day, each time leaving more concerned messages and it turned out that my phone was just not working for some reason or I was unable to use it due to being at a confrence and not wanting to interrupt with my own private communication wants.

There is a school of thought that completely eschews this sort of thinking – that you have to have your mobile phone with you at all times. For example, my father has never owned a mobile phone and he never will own one. Not only that, but he absolutely refuses to have call waiting as a service on his phone line. His thinking is that if a person needs to get through to him, they will call back a few times until they do. Until then, he does not want to be interrupted from the phone call that is engaging him. I can’t tell you how many times my father has given me a good shout for sending a text message while talking with him. Actually, I can tell you exactly how many times it has happened — it happened exactly once and I made sure that it never happened again since then.

The funny thing is that people who try to avoid the cell phone technology are being increasingly pressured on all sides to adapt to it. What about if I really need to get ahold of you, they will say. What if there is an emergency, they will ask. Well, the answer often comes back, think of what your grandfather would have done in such an emergency and do exactly that. I’m not saying that you should send such a friend a singing telegram, but it might amuse them just a little bit if you told them that you were planning on doing so.

No Pen or Paper
I was talking on the phone with a friend and they told me that they needed me to take down a phone number and address. I asked him if he could just text me the information and he said that he did not have that ability nor did he have the interest in knowing how to acquire that ability. He then asked me why I didn’t just write it down on a piece of paper with a pen. The answer was that I was walking down a street in midtown Manhattan and I didn’t have either a pen nor a piece of paper available. All I had was my phone and I was using it to speak with him.

He didn’t say anything but I knew that he was thinking about how the people of my generation are spiled with our technology. I could have easily recorded a video of a man falling off of a bicycle and then uploaded it to places where it could be seen by millions within a few minutes of the accident — but I couldn’t take down a simple phone number while talking on the phone? How bad could it be that I don’t have a scrap of paper and a pen at all times?

I Just Can’t Recall
When I was a kid, you could name any of my good friends and I would be able to tell you without hesitation their full phone number including area code. At this very moment I am able to remember fewer than a dozen phone numbers and that number drops significantly if you don’t count the numbers that haven’t changed in ten years, or that I read out to people every day in my workplace.

I don’t know the phone number of a single one of my friends, nor do I know the phone number of my own father. I have to rely on my phone’s address book and printed lists at my mother’s house — the list gets updated every few weeks and yet it has misspelled Wallmart all along and Suncoast remains a presence even though my mother now uses NetFlix. I think it’s a little bit like people who use calculators their entire lives and then sadly say that they are bad at math. It’s not that you are bad at doing something, it’s that you have practically no experience doing it. I’m terrible at climbing mountains because I never do it.

Overall there are many ways in which having a mobile phone is better than not having one. It behooves one to be careful to make use of the phone in such a way that the phone is a tool to enhance life and not a shackle to weigh a person down.