Can You Hear Me Now?



For every new technology, there is some­one to say it’s the most important, revolu­tionizing invention of all time, and some­one to say that it will be the downfall of all civilization. But there will always eventu­ally be a newer, better technology to revo­lutionize our lives and, so far, the world has kept turning through each invention.

Realistically, there are positives and negatives to each Next Big Thing. Railroads made it possible to cross a continent, but alienated workers from their families. Tele­visions brought visual entertain­ment into the home, but taught children violence. Today, it seems that every new technology brings greater convenience – and in­creased risk of cancer. Cell phones follow the same pattern.

It’s hard to imagine the mod­ern world without cell phones. Yes, people have spent far longer surviving without cell phones than surviving with them, yet today go­ing almost anywhere without a cell phone feels like asking to find yourself living out a horror movie. Some public safety measures have also declined with the advent of the cell phone. Many payphones have been torn down, and plenty that remain are permanently out of order. So stepping out into a world in which parents are afraid to let children play in the front yard without a cell phone seems like asking for trouble.

But at the same time that I like to know that my cell phone is alive and well in my bag, I wish I didn’t have to see other peo­ple’s cell phones so damn often. Somewhere along the line, cell phones stopped being a portable safety net and became a way to stay connected every single conscious moment of the day.

First it was texting. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been tempted to ask some­one, “who’s the third wheel here, me or your phone?” I could pay off my student loans. Texting is definitely more convenient than calling when you have a quick, simple ques­tion or are trying to communicate with someone in a noisy bar, but texting has be­come the far more prevalent form of com­munication among college students. Some people even seem to find it odd if you decide to call them.

And now data plans have taken over. I see more people with Blackberrys, iPhones and Droids than anything else. For more and more people, cell phones are becoming tiny computers. Data plan users can check their email or their Facebook any moment of the day.

But the more connected we are capable of being, the more dragged down we are by how connected we are expected to be. In this fast-paced, high-tech world, you can’t just check your email once a day and think that you are being diligent to your respon­sibilities outside of yourself. Twenty-four hours can make a big difference in the world of emails.

One anecdote has stuck with me from the Maroon-News pre-orientation this year. One night we left our office temporarily to go to into another room for dinner. We were all seated for a few minutes before the food arrived, and when we got up to serve ourselves, I noticed that every person at my table had left their cell phone at their place. We were leaving the office for maybe 30 minutes and we were on campus before school started, in the same room as a majori­ty of the other people we knew who were on campus, and yet we needed our cell phones for that small window of time while we ate.

I find it disturbingly fitting how recent commercials have personified com­puters. We all remember the Apple commercials in which the “Mac” was played by nerdy-but-cool Justin Long and the “PC” was a sad, in­ept geek. Then Microsoft had their “I’m a PC” series, in which people would describe how they’d person­alized their computers, and then say, “I’m so-and-so, and I’m a PC.” These commercials seemed to say that people literally are their com­puters – and at times, this doesn’t seem so far from the truth.

Cell phones are becoming an extension of the hand. As time goes on, people use the Internet more and more for socializing and expressing themselves. With data plans on cell phones, people find that they can utilize the internet in this way at any given moment, and so our cell phones are becoming the sun our lives orbit. It’s hard to resist such an instant connection to the world around us.

But I think sometimes people are so involved in their Facebook newsfeed, that they forget the real live person sitting next to them, the enjoyment in face-to-face con­versation or even the relief of step­ping away from instant communi­cation for an hour or two. I don’t think cell phones will be the height of progress, and I don’t think they will be the destruction of society, either. But I hope that people don’t forget the world right in front of them in their eagerness to connect to whole wide world at once.