Thursday, February 09, 2006

The problem with cell phones

I recommend Lauren Winner's article on the problem with cell phones to all Christians, especially those who use the things:
The problem is the approach to time that cell phones foster. Cell phones tell us that time is something to be used, maximized. We are to squeeze into a single hour, a single moment, as much as we possibly can. Even the verbs we use for time are telling; we use time, spend time, maximize time, save time — all metaphors drawn from finance! In the 19th century, people didn't speak of spending or maximizing time; they spoke of passing the time. . . .

What I'm getting at is this: cell phones, for all their benefits, have distorted both how we inhabit time and how we go about being embodied people.
Ms. Winner gives a telling illustration of what she's talking about:
About a year ago, I was standing in line at the drugstore. The gal in front of me was talking on her cell phone. I (naively) assumed that when she got to the front of the line, she would hang up, or at least put her cell phone down. I was wrong. Where her turn came, Cell Phone Gal stayed stuck to her cell phone, paying for her gum, magazines, and lip gloss without so much as a hello to the cashier. It occurred to me that our gal was treating the person, the cashier, like a machine, and treating the machine like a person.
That's something to think about (Hat tip: The Christian Mind).


Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I agree with this "timely" assessment - har har - only I would say that the problem is not cell phones, per se... this issue has been around for a LONG time... "Time" has been a commodity for a while now - probably since we eased into "The Information Age" as we know it...
I've actually had to create a pre-service slide that says "Shhhh, please silence your cell phones during the service." It just amazes me that people would not seem to notice that their sudden burst of "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-Dee-Ay" just MIGHT be a distraction during the moving of the Holy Spirit during the service... ugh...

12:56 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Yep. Cell phones are simply one of the latest in a long line of "time saving" devices that cause us to be ever more harried.

2:13 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Jeff_R said...

I don't agree that cellphones cause us to be harried or to treat each other less politely.

They, do, as the article suggests, allow us to expand the experience of "disembodied" relationship. Of course, this began with cave drawings, smoke signals, the written word, and later technological innovations that allowed us to "live beyond" our physical bodies in terms of our relations to other humans.

Cellphones don't do anything unique or innovative, in that sense, but are merely the next predictable evolutionary step in that movement.

There are abusers of the tools and users of the tools. The cellphone has allowed me, for example, to be somewhat more free to live my life in the spaces I find most enriching without failing to maintain vital work and personal relationships.

The lady who was rude to the check out clerk was just rude - not the victim of cellphone dehumanization. The assumption is that had there been no cellphone, the clerk would've been treated more humanely. In all likelihood, this wouldn't have happened or the lady would've been disingenuous at best.

Technology - the creative process itself - is a gift from God. What we do with the resources such technology frees up is a question of character.

5:19 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

You haven't convinced me, Jeff, that cell phones don't encourage rude and hurried behavior, but you certainly make a strong case against it. Thanks for joining the conversation with solid and well stated reasoning.

7:56 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I got to thinking... I spend a lot of time writing and reading blogs... hmmmmm - that's a bit of a time stealer as well... dang, and I thought I'd make it through the day without ANY convictions!!

10:43 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Alexander M. Jordan said...

The idea that cell phones are being used to "maximize the time" is ironic, since my observation of people with cell phones is that they idle away time conversing about things unnecessarily, just because the cell phone makes it possible.

Though I agree with CJR that cell phones are a tool that may be abused or used well, I also think that the piece you have highlighted here presents great reflections about the negatives of cell phone use, especially her thoughts about we may use them to continually distract themselves, preventing thoughtful or spiritual reflection.

I have been riding the NYC subway for years and observe that cell phones and ipods allow riders to constantly be plugged in-- it strikes me as their way of shutting out the rest of the world. I can understand wanting to do that sometimes-- but it does seems symbolic of the "disembodiment" thesis Lauren write about.

10:44 PM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

AMJ: Good observations. You've expressed very well the problems cell phones encourage--of plugging into our own private media and tuning out those actually nearby.

I've read that in NT times workers in the Roman empire worked pretty much from dawn to dusk. Then, when suppertime came, families and friends ate together and then lounged around and talked till bedtime--2, 3, 4 hours. In that environment you would build relationships that probably make 14-hour workdays bearable.

Thanks for joining the conversation. We've had some really good comments on this one.

6:53 AM, February 10, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Blogs sure do take up time, don't they, Dan? I justify the amount of time I spend by calling it a hobby. Peace.

6:55 AM, February 10, 2006  
Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I was thinking about this time waster thing called "blogging" today... I like your take on it as a hobby... I mean, there are those who spend their time online with LESS noble "hobbies" (I'm being nice! ha!) So, I guess it could be a lot worse for me... Also, I really have come to enjoy doing research on these blogs... doing searches on various topics and just seeing what people are saying out there... some of it, of course, is junk. But sometimes you stumble upon a real jewell - which is really cool!

Wait, my phone's ringing...........

4:31 PM, February 10, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Dan, as one who's made a point of researching what's out there, your being a frequent visitor to this blog is a real honor.

5:12 PM, February 10, 2006  

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