Potentially Caustic Effects of the Cell Phone on Society
by: Derick Ariyam

Instead of a pine horse filled with angry Greeks, it’s a synthetic-plastic box filled with phone numbers. Yet, both instruments, innocuous as they may first appear, have been over time revealed as something deadly. Like the unsuspecting Trojans, we’ve warmly embraced and welcomed this “gift” into our society, but who could have imagined all the harm it would cause? Naively, it was heralded as a lifesaving device and a convenience, but now, it has mostly outgrown its initial purpose, and has changed and harmed our society in more ways than we could have ever imagined.

The purpose of this is essay is to offer a suggestion that the Cell Phone’s high use and reliance can have a deleterious effect on our lives and our society. Although it is not an inherently dangerous object, it can be our overuse, our misuse, our surfeiting, and reliance that may cause an indelible stain on our humanity.

Of course, loud assertions of this nature against new technology have an all too familiar apocalyptic feel—the type of feel we hear, and immediately take lightly. In fact, instinctual reaction to anything having to do with “technology” is the immediate association with the word “progress”. However, I contend that this is one of the greatest deceptions of modern times: that technological progress is, well, progress.

The word itself, "technology", is so subtly coupled to connotative words of progression like "advancement", "enhancement”, “future”, that to say otherwise, to say that technology is not progress, often feels absurd and false by definition. However, once we divorce the word from the bias of connation, and once we objectively look at the end-result of technology, can we really call it progress? Granted, progress as a condition, appears in most cases of technology, but mostly, what we deem progress is not received without a just and equitable trade. We oftentimes give up something, whether that is our peace-of-mind, our time, our humanity, and we trade towards what we see as progress. As an example, consider the immersion of Electronic Mail (email). Although it has made communication on a larger scale, easier and faster, has it really assuaged all the stressors of modern life? Being able to communicate at work quicker and faster: has this unburdened us, or has it only raised employee expectation? Does the blackberry holstered to someone’s belt at home relieve stress or cause it?

These questions, although rhetorical, will hopefully reinforce the suggestion that perhaps technology does not always come with auspicious greetings. It oftentimes involves a sacrifice, and a step back before a step forward—and it is in the difference between the two steps, where we can measure anything akin to progress.

Once we’ve apprehended this notion of the paradox of progress, it is evident how this can be applied to Cell Phones. The Economist, a venerated journal on economics, did a research study on the saturation-level of the Cell Phone. The results were astounding. The article containing the research states that there is: “… almost one mobile phone for every person in much of the developed world…[approximately] 1.5 billion consumers own mobile phones” (Economist).  Although these statistics help to place the heavy saturation-level of this device, it only takes a bit of casual observance in any one public place, on the roadways, or the mall, to gather a sense of its ubiquity; not only is the device in heavy supply its use is as well. As you look around, more and more people are living less in their present, less aware of present surroundings, and are consumed with conversation with a distant “other”. You may be at a coffee shop waiting for your turn to order, but the person in front of you, rather then speaking in a clear articulate manner, is dividing their attention between the person on the other end of their cell phone, and the coffee shop employee. You might be a person required to carry the business cell phone, and you might think back nostalgically to a time when: the moment you walked away from the office, away from the landline telephone, you were no longer accessible—cell phones have changed such a luxury. And as we think more of these situations, and others just like it, it may help to give pause, and think seriously on what we may have sacrificed for the cell phone—what have we sacrificed for progress?

Considering how almost everyone has a cell phone, it is also just as true, that a majority of these same cell phone users employ little if any etiquette in its use. We’ve entered a society where people must be constantly reminded to turn off the cell phone in areas where a loud disruption would be inappropriate. And, although these admonishments are as ubiquitous as the cell phone itself, a ringing phone is still one of the leading distractions in places like theaters, churches, or live performances. In fact, the breaches to etiquette for cell phone users have become such a societal nuisance that many carriers are including “cell phone etiquette tips” along with their monthly statement. An article in C-net states: “Verizon Communications has a pamphlet called ‘Thou Shall Not Take Calls in Church’. In it, a cartoon character named Vern preaches the “do’s” and “don'ts” of cell phone calling” (C-Net). Other carriers have similar campaigns to educate cell phone users to etiquette. The cell phone maker Nokia, has teemed up some local cities, including San Diego, to create “No Cell Phone Zones”, where people are asked to turn off the cell phone (C-Net).

But apart from the audible annoyance of hearing a cell phone ring, or hearing one-half of a conversation from a loud-talker in a public place, there is also one other particular annoyance and breach of etiquette that often goes unrequited. It seems that many people have an irreformable proclivity to pick up a “ringing” phone. You could be having the most intimate of conversations which such a person, however, once the phone rings you are put on pause—or mute rather—and an anonymous caller immediately takes precedence over your present, yet humbled, existence. It is a repeated performance, and one that, for me, provokes the most exasperation.

Another area where cell phones have received a lot of negative publicity is in regards to automobile accidents. Medical News Today cites that “Cells phones contribute to about 60,000 auto accidents a year in the United States” (Medical News Today). Cell Phone usage has been implicated in so many automobile collisions that many cities and states are passing legislation to prohibit its use while operating a vehicle. As a comprise, states and cities permitted the use of “hands-free” devices, attachments to cell phones that allow the user to still keep both hands on a steering wheel. However, research has indicted that hands-free devices are still not an adequate solution to mitigate the elevated distraction of talking on a cell phone. The same journal articles from Medical News Today states that cell phones users are “four times more likely to have a serious crash and hands-free devices are no safer”.

The Cell Phone itself is not the culprit of increased automobile accidents, but rather, the heavy reliance we place on them as a society. Regarding Cell Phone etiquette: if people were more discretionary in their use, and if people were to extend natural human courtesy and good manners with their use of the cell phone, while restricting their reliance on it to just that, an extension, a convince, slights and rubbed elbows would greatly diminish. And as a product of modern technology, the cell phone needs to be juxtaposed with the notion of progress and looked at with a keen eye. Although there are many instances where the cell phone does present an advancement in our society, when overused and mishandled, we can find ourselves undoing any progress made. Unlike the Trojan horse, what the gift of the cell phone turns out to be depends on how we receive it. It might be a blessing, or it might be a curse.