When Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876, he unleashed the greatest calamity ever visited upon civilization, and that includes the Black Plague, nuclear weapons, and sitcoms with laugh tracks.
I hate phones. These days I don’t even answer the phone because despite installing junk call stoppers, the junk still gets through. Inevitably, it’s some exuberant robo-voice (sometimes named Melissa) offering to lower my interest rates, fix my mortgage, or ease my chronic pain.
When I was young, the telephone as a source of recreation was the domain of teenage girls who tied up the line for hours irritating the rest of the family. In those days of innocence, there was only a single phone per household. Nowadays, of course, every member of the family has a phone, including small children and dogs.
How terrible are phones? To begin with, they alienate people from one another and from their surroundings. Dining in a restaurant, once an obvious site for convivial interaction, is now just the opposite. Recently, I watched a family of five at a nearby table with every member on the phone. When the food arrived, the kids stopped their games and began to eat. The parents continued texting or social mediating or checking out porn. (Who were the grownups here?) At another table, two friends were having dinner but not with each other. Each was on the phone.
A few months back while I was strolling through midtown Manhattan, a man in front of me walked into a No Parking sign and ended up parked flat on the sidewalk. Somewhat embarrassed, he looked up at the indifferent passersby and said, “I guess I shouldn’t walk and look at my phone.” Of course, he got off light since an increasing number of similarly distracted phone-gazers get run over by buses, trucks, taxis and elephants.
Couples walk down the street side-by-side, each on the phone. Don’t they have anything to say to their companion? Why bother getting together at all?
Even in the wilderness, nature lovers amble down the piney paths oblivious to the vernal splendor around them while yelling into the rectangle in their hands.
For the supreme obnoxious experience, get on NJ Transit at Princeton Junction and, for the whole rail journey, listen to some guy breaking up with his honey or someone else arguing with the plumber, or a third person negotiating with the spouse on what to have for dinner. Even more offensive are the passengers wearing earbuds who have the volume turned way up so they can share with the whole car “The Best of Tuvan Throat Singing” or “Shrillest Sopranos of the 20th Century” or “Disco, Disco, Disco.” Sure, there’s a quiet car, but just try to find a seat.
I used to take comfort in knowing that people who walked down the street talking to themselves were run-of-the-mill schizophrenics. Now, you can’t tell the psychotics from people just talking on their phones.
Beyond the fact that phones encourage alienation, they also portend the total destruction of human intellect. Ask any educator about the intrusion of phones in the classroom. In the nascent days of cell phones, I used to tell my students, “If your phone goes off, you fail—agreed?” a line which I delivered in my most terrifying voice accompanied by a ghastly death-stare. One morning, a phone went off, and the student wet his pants.
Other instructors employ embarrassment rather than fear to discourage the mind-blocking phone addiction, “If I see you fumbling in your lap under your desk, there are only two things that you could be doing …”
But the catastrophic impact on learning goes beyond the classroom, and it is cosmic in its scope. With the omnipresence of phones, there is no need to know anything anymore. Think of all the vital questions needing to be answered ranging from the
International: “Name the studio musicians on the Beatles’ White Album,” to the
National: “Since assuming office, how many lies have been told by the Tweeter-in-Chief (aka the Head Twit)?” to the
Local: “What is the origin of the slogan ‘Trenton Makes the World Takes’ emblazoned on the Trenton Makes Bridge? (which begs the question, “When was the last time Trenton made anything that the world took?”)
Don’t know the answers? Pick up your phone. It’s all there. There is no need to know anything, no need to feign knowledge or deliver an educated guess with authoritative certitude.
Currently, phones are as good as embedded in most everyone’s left hand. Those hands will be freed up once phones are implanted in the brain.
Confession: After intense pressure from my immediate family, I acquired a flip phone. No smart phone for me—I’m holding out for the brain implant.
Robin Schore lives in Titusville.