Thursday, 4 June 2009

Hang Up!!

Last night I went out to have dinner with a few friends. There we were, eating, chatting and generally having a good time. Except for one of us--who shall remain anonymous out of sheer generosity of spirit--who spent all his time checking his mobile phone messages and then typing out long replies, completely ignored Sejal who was sitting opposite him who was trying to conduct a conversation.

This man kept testing my patience for nearly an hour and when I couldn't resist keeping quiet and he began tapping out a message even as another friend was in the middle of telling an interesting story, I piped up indignantly, "I'm sorry, but clearly the people you are messaging are more interesting than all of us right here. Perhaps, you should be having dinner with them instead!" To his credit, the gentleman was suitably abashed at being called out on his bad behaviour. He turned a deep red, muttered unconvincingly about how it was his daughter on the phone. He then put his mobile phone away ostentatiously, promising that he would not check it again in the course of the evening. Yet, when he thought nobody was looking, I caught him checking out the display surreptitiously, to make sure that he hadn't missed on any calls or smses.

My irritation--and that of my friends--notwithstanding, in the cold light of day I have to admit that none of us can afford to be overly judgemental about these things. I am the first to confess that I am as much as sinned against as sinning. In fact, it was only a week ago that an old friend, whom I was catching up for lunch after nearly three years, accused me of being a mobile phone addict because I kept checking on the delivery of some urgent smses I had to send out with reference to "Sunehre Pal". So, I guess I shouldn't be holding forth about the trespasses of others. But you know something, I just cannot resist certain things.


Honestly, what is it about mobile phones and us? Why are we always looking at them anxiously, worried that we may have missed some important call during the nanosecond when we weren't looking? Why do we seem unable to ever disconnect? Why can we never switch off completely? Why have we developed such a symbiotic relationship with our phones that we appear unable to exist without them? Why are we so addicted to our phones that we suffer withdrawal symptoms on the rare occasions we are parted from them?


I still remember the feeling of utter helplessness that engulfed me a year ago when my phone crashed as it got wet in the rains. There was no network and the phone wasn't even in the range network. It felt as if I had been disconnected completely from life itself. Nobody knew how to get in touch with me for nearly a week. Going by the extinct concept of phone books, I didn't know how to call anyone. After casting about desperately, I was reduced to e-mailing people to send me their numbers. All the time, I was in agony, fretting about the fact that I didn't have access to the radio and all the important calls I was undoubtedly missing, convinced that there must be some work or family emergency just when I had been rendered incommunicado.

So, don't get me wrong. I understand just how important mobile phones are to all of us. You can call the airport from the car to check on the flight status. You can keep tabs on your kids no matter where they are. In a medical emergency or in case of an accident, you don't have to go around looking for a phone booth to summon help. Your elderly parents can get in touch with you at all times. And after a late night ouut as you take a taxi home, it is a reassuring feeling to have a mobile phone in your wallet or pocket so that you can call a friend if anything untoward happens.

I know all this, yet the tyranny of mobile phones is beginning to get me miffed. Is it really necessary to take calls when we are in the midst of an important business meeting? Do you have to have a loud conversation on the mobile in a restaurant where everyone else is trying to have a quiet meal? Must the loud ring of your phone disturb everyone else in cinemas, at the theatre or a book reading session? Can you not switch off your phone even when you are visiting a sick friend in the hospital?

Surely, life went on even before the mobile phone was invented? We managed to catch flights on time, make restaurant reservations, keep in touch with family and friends, even check our e-mails, long before the mobile became an essential tool of modern life. So why do people act as if they can't figure out how we ever coped in its absence? After all, it was only a decade ago we managed perfectly well without it. Could we really have become so dependent in this short passage of time?

I guess the short answer to that is yes. But sometimes it makes sense to do without something you feel is essential to your life---if only to prove to yourself that that you can. So maybe it is time to ditch the mobile phone---one hour at a time. I'm sorry, but I'm not ready to go cold turkey just yet. I'm guessing that nor are you. What say?

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