A Time for Cellphones

January 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

As we resolve to lead healthy, more active, kinder lives in 2014, I sit here in St Croix gazing out at the waves breaking beyond Protestant Cay, the white caps active this morning as the trade winds scurry squalls across the bay, and I soak in the quiet. The human kind of quiet – the cockerel is still heralding a dawn long since past, the palm fronds are still whispering and there is a dog offering an occasional whoof. But I cannot hear a single cell phone. Mine is on silent mode which invariable irritates my children across an ocean, and a husband, who all ask why I bother to have one if I never answer it? “Emergencies,” I reply, “and I always call back.” And then I remind them of a friend who, despite a life spent travelling for research and writing refuses to carry a cell phone and manages to conduct his affairs, and remain a happily married man.

There has been a lot in the press recently about cell phone usage on planes. The naysayers talking of distress and air rage at the yabbering neighbour squashed elbow to pointed elbow in crowded rows. The protagonists countering with the desperate need to stay connected, particularly when in the air for hours as they traverse the skies in the name of business, and pleasure.

I wonder are we using cell phones to stay connected to those far away at the expense of those close by?

There are very few of us who need to be in constant contact, or contactable, at all moments of the day. Transplant surgeons and emergency responders may be given special dispensation. I realise I raise the blood pressure of some by being more off line than on, but friends and family know they are loved and thought about, and that I will always return a call. I work under the assumption if an unknown someone really wants to speak to me they’ll call the landline, or leave a message.

New Year’s Eve was spent in the company of dear friends and a spouse of many years, but as we enjoyed dinner, and conversation, to the syncopated rhythms of steel drums it was difficult not to hear babbling chats from fellow diners, directed not at table partners but into the small oblong object held to their ears. The practice either raised the decibels around the table as people struggled to overtalk the one-sided conversation, or it left dining companions gazing down at their own phones or sitting ignored. A strange phenomenon when supposedly everyone was out to enjoy each other’s company and see in a bright and hopeful new year.

I watch as mothers push strollers with babies and infants but who instead of talking to their progeny are rambling into cell phones, seemingly oblivious to the language used in front of eager upturned faces. Or a woman kneeling in a department store shoving her recalcitrant toddler’s foot into a shoe with increasing roughness, and voicing her irritation at her son’s inflexible foot and grizzly unhelpfulness into the cell phone tucked into her neck. An unhappy experience for mother and child it would seem.

But there is hope!

Even if it comes from a country far away, perhaps the idea will take hold nearer to home. Restaurant owner, Jawdat Ibrahim, is single-handedly attempting to turn the dining experience of his customers into a pleasant exchange of conversation and companionship. Abu Ghosh, a restaurant in a village of the same name, outside Jerusalem has banned the use the cell phones.

And Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the entity charged with making the decision as to whether to allow cell phone conversations while in the air, is himself against the proposal. United Airlines have stated, “Our customers have expressed concern about how the use of cellphones in-flight will impact their experience onboard.” That is of course no guarantee, but it’s hopeful.

Many countries, and some states in the US, have said ‘no’ to using hand held cellular devices whilst driving. Texas, under the leadership of Governor Perry, has of course declined to issue the same edict in the name of stepping on our civil liberties, even with regard to texting. The seatbelt must be clicked, because it saves lives. But the cell phone may remain glued to its users palm, even though it has been proven to cause deaths.

The squall has passed and I watch the sun filter through the fretwork on the gallery, motes dancing in the breeze, and think of those doughty travellers of yore sitting on steamer chairs as they inched along the Suez Canal heading to Africa or the Orient. Too many months would pass before news either to or from home would be received and I cannot imagine the despair, and sometimes loneliness, that must have been felt at not knowing the fate of family or friends, but life did continue. They had time to watch the landscape change, time to absorb a sunrise without having to rely on a cellphone camera to remind them of its beauty, time to recalibrate their thought processes to that of where they were heading. All without the constant interruption of whatever chime chosen to alert the carrier of an incoming call, text or message – for the most part of trivial, or no importance.

Time to think. A resolution worth working on, I think!



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