When I tell people I hate cell phones, they generally respond with wide eyes, asking me why. With passion, they describe the ways cell phones have made their lives so much better. “They are so convenient.” “I’m never at home, this way people can reach me.” “I have it in case of an emergency.” I have heard them all. My first response is maybe you should spend some more time at home, or appreciate the time when you can’t be reached as your time uninterrupted. Or if it’s only for emergencies, why are you always on it? I personally cherish the times I cannot be reached as time just for me. I think about the supposed convenience, which is payed for by giving up some of the best things humans have going for us, not to mention the exploitation of resources, poor folks and animals.
Col-tan (columbite tantalite) is a mineral essential for the manufacture of cell phones. Companies in the US pay from $100 – $200,000 a ton for it, depending on the market. Col-tan is plentiful in the Congo in Africa, where it is a major source of potential income for the local population. Different factions involved in a long-running war in the Congo fight to control mines so they can use col-tan profits to buy weapons. Thus, the U.S. demand for col-tan fans the flames of a conflict that has been plaguing the Congo. Impoverished and hungry Congolese miners, removed from their homes and usual food sources to work in the mines, have been slaughtering and eating elephants and gorillas who happen to live around the mines. It’s the same story of the US exploiting a poor country that has the natural resources we want, to make us faster, bigger, stronger and more hungry for natural resources. The above summary is a very simplified version of the complexities of the Congo, but the truth is that people and animals are dying and land is being destroyed in order for people in the United States to have convenience. It is about speed and accessibility and profit, and to hell with the rest.
But cell phones aren’t just problematic socially and environmentally — they’re degrading our very nature, our culture and our communities. Cell phones don’t always work. People become dependent on a believed sense of security. Many people seem to believe that nothing bad can really happen if they have this little device, but it ain’t so. Cell phones do likely get people out of a jam here and there, but we have to remember that babies were born and people found the house they were trying to visit, or got help when the car broke down, before this invention. Somehow we made it through without them. Cell phones may get some people out of a difficult spot, but so have good sense or the kindness of another person.
Who will be better off if we lose those things in ourselves? Cell phones only serve to separate us (humans) more. How small would your world be if you never met any strangers? What if you didn’t have to ask for directions on the street or at a corner market. Who might have you missed out on meeting? If we lose our ability to be creative solution finders, what happens when the cell phone goes kerplooey. What happens to our sense of security and autonomy if it’s all based on a piece of technology, and the hope that it will work? And what happens if the damn thing breaks and there aren’t any pay phones left?
Having to figure out “how am I going to hook up with this person,” actually stretches the mind. You used to have to think about it, invent a plan that would make your paths cross if you weren’t at home. Now people don’t prepare as much, and assume more. There is an expectation of immediacy, as if we have the right to reach any person whenever we want.
And whatever happened to talking to the person you are with? I can’t even count the times I’ve observed one person sitting next to their companion, as their companion talks on the phone completely ignoring them. People don’t talk to the person they stand in line with, instead they exhibit potentially schizophrenic tendencies, looking like they are talking to themselves until you see the petroleum/col-tan appendage stuck to their heads. I even witnessed an outrageously obnoxious man telling his phone companion how awful and stupid the service was right in front of the poor clerk making minimum wage ringing him up. My friend who just returned from a lovely hot springs visit told me about the person who sat in the hot spring in the wilderness talking on the blasted thing. Arrogant! Obnoxious! Is consideration out the door with creativity and adventure and good sense? We are in trouble!
The phone companies are in on the scam too. Has anyone noticed pay phones disappearing, or the price now at 50 cents. (You notice if you don’t have a cell phone!) I know that people of all classes have cell phones, but there are those who can’t afford them (besides those of us who just choose not to). What do we do? I’ve heard tale of walking block after block in search of a pay phone, to no avail
This appears to be another front in the war against the poor. The best reason I can think of to have a cell phone is if you do not have a home. Cell phones could be a great boon to the grueling homeless life of travel from line to line, trying to reach people when you can’t be reached, trying to find a job . . . But if you are homeless or poor and you don’t have a cell phone (maybe your credit wasn’t good enough) then how do you take care of business at 50 cents a pop? At least there are still some drop in centers with phones to help.
Clearly demand for pay phones has dropped. There are 600,000 fewer pay phones now than there were in 1998, and the US government believes there are over five and a half million households that have no regular telephone at all. Ouch, I see both of these figures getting worse.
You may notice that I haven’t listed car accidents and brain cancer in my tirade. The research I did showed that neither risk is proven, although one study did say that mice couldn’t find their way out of a tank of water onto a ladder when they were surrounded by cell phone frequencies. I don’t need those reasons to hate cell phones, but they could make it on someone’s list.
Let me recap here what we are potentially giving up for this so called convenience: good sense, kindness, adventure, problem solving skills, connection, Congolese, gorillas, elephants, the ability to have solitude, real security as opposed to imagined.
And this may be the clincher: I read an article that says there has been a drastic decrease in ghost sightings over the last 15 years, where there had been a fairly constant number for the last several hundred years. This decrease is associated with the increase in electromagnetic activity of our technological utopia. So after all of this, are we going to give up our connection to the dead as well? I don’t see how any of it is worth the convenience.
Sometimes I go too far with this cell phone thing. I’ve thrown people out of my house and my room for using them. As a high school teacher, I threaten to destroy them on a daily basis when I see them in my classroom. But I am serious when I say that cell phones are leading us down a path from which we may not recover. It’s the same path that so many other “scientific breakthroughs” have put us on — in a really personal and daily way, cell phones are undermining community. We’re engaging in selective breeding — several generations in the future, people will be less spontaneous, have a harder time making decisions, and have less common sense. Or maybe we’ll just get cell phones implanted into our heads along with the computer chips that contain all our medical information.