Cell Phone Culture

There is no longer any argument that the universally ubiquitous cell phone has become as indispensable to our daily lives as clothes and pizza. Indeed, the cell has virtually acquired the dimensions of an extra limb, impossible to discard even if one wanted to. Isn’t technology wonderful? Well, not entirely.

The versatile gadget that comes in myriad shapes and sizes is becoming increasingly addictive with every new innovation. No self respecting 21st Century denizen would do without one, or admit to using it just to make and receive phone calls. It is used to watch television, share banal videos and text messages and arranging clandestine trysts. Moreover, it allows you to be constantly available.

And therein lays the rub. Why would we want to be instantly reachable at all times? What happened to quality alone time? Have we suddenly become so important that if a friend or relative is unable to contact us for an hour or two, it will signal the beginning of the apocalypse?

According to a recent study, the frequency of texting among Indian teenagers is rising alarmingly; and a third of teenagers with cell phones send over 100 text messages a day. Just think of the implications of this modern phenomenon. And please don’t mistake this for the technological version of passing notes in class. How many notes a day did we pass around; five maybe?

Apart from the obvious fact that it cuts significantly into the time spent on homework, social and extra-curricular activity, it is altering the very mindset and thought processes of our young people. One obvious casualty is quality; when one’s mind is programmed to send out a message every few minutes, it is a given that the majority of the texts will be perfectly banal. Then there is the stealth factor. Unlike old-fashioned phone calls to “unsuitable” members of the opposite sex, clandestine conversations can be carried on right under the noses of parents. And there is more sinister fallout to this. When it becomes a social compulsion to “say something” almost non-stop, indiscretions are almost inevitable. Family secrets, things told in strict confidence; tend to come tumbling out because, hey, you have to text about something.

There is nothing parents and teachers can do about this, of course, but grumble. As they have learnt to their cost, banning or restricting something only leads to it being used surreptitiously or, sometimes, open defiance.  After all, the ingenuity of kids, when they are determined to thwart authority, is legendary.

Some schools have ingeniously decided to adopt the old maxim, if you can’t beat them, join them. The Washington Times quoted a story about a school in Florida, where a Spanish teacher starts her class by asking the students to take out their cell phones. She then proceeds to send them text messages in Spanish. These could be simple tasks, like go the cafeteria, find something green and take a picture. You can call it a sort of treasure hunt. The messages gradually become more complex questions requiring answers to be texted back to the teachers. This innovative method has made her classes so popular that students are making an active effort to learn the language.

Others schools are taking advantage of the rapid increase in cell phone technology. Schools with budgets not large enough to provide individual computers for all students are encouraging them to use the new generation phones as computers to research stuff on the internet. When you consider that over 50 percent of teenagers today have cell phones, this gives them a tremendous reach.

But why blame the kids alone? Adults are equally addicted to the infernal machines. One of my pet hates is the self-important cretin who just has to answer his cell during a private dinner party; and then looks condescendingly on the rest of us inferior mortals without whom the universe can survive for a few hours.

To end on a lighter note, here is a static that is guaranteed to dampen the legendary male ego. A survey conducted a couple of years ago showed that – given a choice between giving up their cell phones and abstaining from cohabiting with men for a month – a quarter of the women asked plumped for the former. Face it guys. We’ve been demoted.

Garima Obrah