Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cell Phones: The Enemy of Self Development

It was nobody's fault. I was standing in a parking lot and noticed a person I hadn't seen for awhile. He was wearing a BlueTooth headset with the spacey blue light blinking over his left ear. Like a lot of business types in Los Angeles, he was in the receiving mode.

We exchanged an awkward greeting for a few moments: "Hello! How are you? What are you doing these days?" Then he stopped dead in his tracks. A call was coming in . . . he had to take it. Business or pleasure, I'm not sure.

It did not matter. I was on my way to pick up a Soy Chai at Starbucks so when he picked up his call, we parted with a smile.

A little guilt inducing voice inside of me that sounded a lot like Larry David said, "You were glad his cell phone rang. You have too much to do and you were uncomfortable talking to him. What would you do without cell phones and those doggone Bluetooth head sets? You'd have to talk to him."

Of course, you wouldn't catch me wearing a BlueTooth headset. It's got "nerd" written all over it. I purchased one once and used it for two days. I felt like a a Star Trek dweeb in any store I beamed into. It actually felt Orwellian as the blue light blinked incessantly telling everyone I am one "plugged-in dude." I got rid of it.

But hold on. I still carry the Motorola Razor in my back pocket . . . on vibrate mode, of course. It's good for a brief rear end massage when a call comes in. Besides, if it is true (and it very may well be accurate) that the electomagnetic micro waves from our beloved cell phones will eventually afflict us with cancer, I figure I can handle butt cheek cancer as opposed to major brain cancer that will fall like the apocalypse on the wearers of the Blue Tooth headset.

Back to the conversation interruptus that that occurred this morning. It's getting harder and harder to complete a conversation these days. Perhaps the scene in Clueless depicting high school girls walking through the halls together speaking to one another on the cell phones is not that far off. We've placed a priority on receiving and making cell phone calls more than speaking to a live person.

In fact, according to a Psychology Today article "Mood Tools: High-Tech Tethers," flipping open the phone as soon as a bad mood strikes or a question comes to mind is "making you less independent, and unable to tap your inner resources and experience life's contrasts more fully."

Hans Geser of the University of Zurich calls cell phones "pacifiers for adults." At the tiniest glint of loneliness or insecurity, we whip out the cell and plop that digital binky up to our ear and "suck away."

We are removing all sense of longing and homesickness. While serving in Vietnam, I lived for the mail call. I would long to receive a letter from someone back home . . . my parents, my brother or step sister . . . even a "Dear John" letter was better than nothing. Today we have email and text messaging. Who can be homesick anymore? We'll go on iChat or Skype and talk or teleconference and sidestep any delayed gratification.

I really don't need to say "goodbye" to anybody anymore. I don't need to miss anyone. After I leave their presence, I can text them or call them from the road. Gone are the days when I would pull off the freeway to frantically look for a pay phone to check up on somebody and experience some anxious insecurity. Life is "less dramatic because we can always keep in touch ."

A lover waiting for his beloved at the train station is not the same as Hollywood once depicted such reunions in vintage films. The longing . . . the uncertainty . . . the anxiety that takes place when the two lovers finally embrace after not seeing each other for weeks or months is now diluted. Why should they miss one another? They've already been speaking to each other on their cell during the entire train ride and exchanged myriads of photos of each other using the camera on their cells.

Sure, I enjoy the convenience of having a cell phone. However, it is truly a high-tech tether that carries the potential to rob us of facing the frailty of being a creature made out of dust . . . a human who needs to experience his or her own inner resources in order to become more human. Face it, you and I are not made of binary numbers ("ones" and "zeros") but we've been put on this analog planet to remain as close to the dust as possible. It's the realization that we are dust here for a flash of time that drives us to seek an Eternal Creator who will never take another call while listening to us.


Paul said...

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I am Jenn said...

Technology (Cell phones) is the enemy of self development?? I find this one hard to agree with! The cancer thing- yes. Pacifier analogy? Absolutely! But harmful to our self development?

If you probably hadnt noticed, I am quite into my own self development and at the same time I am a cell phone addict. I have been connected for the last 14 years since I got my first email address. If I didnt have the instant (and long reaching) form of commuication this generation provides I would have merely become a product of my environment-a small town in South Carolina.

Thanks to the internet I learned about life in Singapore, South Africa and Germany from teens my age. Thanks to cell phones I can travel to different environments while maintaining a grounded connection to my own upbringings (family)..

Cell phones and these other forms of impersonal communication make it possible for us to have a global society that learns from each other through interaction not possible face to face.

Unless you are suggesting that self development can only be done in the confines of your immediate location .. I dont see how you can put our lost of self entirely on cell phones

And to people who prefer a cell phone conversation over a personal one.... well there are possibly deeper issues there. Nothing can replace true interaction. Yes they constantly talked on cell phones in clueless... but they hung up the cell phones and talked to each other when they were out of school. They are not on a cell phone the whole movie-- geez!

But I ramble.. when I write, in person, and on the cell phone.

Louis Lapides said...

Jenn: thanks for your comment. You made some excellent points. I still think multi-tasking conversations takes away from the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation. We lose out on reading each other's body language, eye contact and facial; expressions when making significant statements. One statistic i read says 30% of people who break up with a significant other do it over the cell phone. What's up with that? In a face-to-face you have a better opportunity to see how your words affect another; you can observe how you as a person are affecting another wherein is self development. I refuse to discuss important, deep issues over a cell phone. It takes away something from our humanity. Cell phones interference with spending time with one another as we are always getting calls, or wondering who's calling even if we don't pick it up. I am not speaking about development regarding global connections and discovering the world around us. I am speaking about staying in touch with the world within us. I remain confident that the Clueless referral, though a brief moment in a film, depicted something that has gone amuck with our high-tech society. I have a better way to stay in touch with our world: try reading and traveling. It's much more effective than speaking to a faceless voice in Singapore. Regardless, I loved what you had to say. I think we both make good points.

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