Most cars I pass on the road contain humans with an electric device glued to the side of their head. Tables at restaurants are cluttered with these devices; they silently flash and entice the onlookers away from their culinary experience. Students in school have them hidden in the depths of their pockets to avoid discovery and confiscation; they sneak glimpses while the teacher isn’t looking. Shoppers press them in the crook of their necks as they browse shelves, carrying on a continuous dialogue as if they were in a sound-proof bubble. And don’t even get me started on the annoying people at the gym who talk non-stop while I’m trying to quietly read on the stationary bike!
I am marinating in cell phone waves. I am drenched in electromagnetic radiation. And so are you, most likely. Check out the 40+ countries in the world with a cell phone use penetration greater than the total population.
Hong Kong must have a particular buzz about it, with a ratio of 236.8 cell phones per 100 people. Unimaginable to me …. what are they doing with all these cell phones!? Do they have one for each ear? The global estimate is 97/100, so unless you are escaping to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you probably will have a hard time getting away from them.
I’m less worried about the physical impacts. There’s much debate and disagreement regarding the health impacts that have been the object of many studies. I won’t even attempt to dive into that sticky mess. The only thing I wonder about is whether we will some-day, some-how, ‘discover’, as we did with tobacco, that in fact the cell phone does present a significant health hazard. We are just too married to it socially, culturally and economically at this point in time, to truly seek data that might constrain rampant propagation.
I’m more concerned about the psychological impacts. We are not ‘present’ to conversations with someone sitting next to us. We watch our phones instead of our kid’s soccer game. We feel untethered and naked if we misplace it, or leave it at home. The insidious creeping usage of these devices intended to keep us plugged in and connected is turning into an addiction that leaves us feeling less content and in the end less connected.
Anyone starting to think about this, might be wedging in an oasis of cell-free time into their routines. Innovative ideas for creating the cell-free experiences are starting to pop up — like the agreement to place all phones in the center of the restaurant table and the first one to touch theirs has to pick up the bill. It’s going to take intention, discomfort and the risk of being unpopular to create these mini technology-free oases.
I love this technology, the zippy instantaneous-ness, the anywhere-anytime connectivity. I am an enthusiastic user. However, I’m taking a real hard look at myself. I’m the first to react to a new text, answer a phone call, grab the phone to look up something in Google, or try a new cool app. What is the price I’m paying for this? How can I lower the burner on this, without it becoming yet another area I need to impose discipline? Ugh. Don’t eat too much of this or that. Don’t sit too much. Don’t drink more than such-and-such amount. Don’t go outside without sunscreen… and-on-and-on… Ugh.
It’s always something. But this seems worthy of serious consideration.