This is something I wrote when I was still a student, and I find it interesting to go back and read about the influence mobile phones had on me just a few (ok, 5) years ago. Consider how far we’ve come, so that now it’s more than just talking with phones that we’re addicted to – our entire lives and communication via Internet are also hooking us on to the new, ‘smart phone addiction’.
I like this sentence, it is soooo 2006, don’t you think? :)
That’s not to mention all the other things we have come to expect on our cell phones, like an alarm clock, calendar, address book or calculator.
This essay was originally written in May, 2006 for SFU course CMNS 253 – Introduction to Information Technology: The New Media. It was titled ‘The addiction of the cellular phone.’
My earliest memory of a mobile phone was when I was a child, though I cannot remember my age at the time. I was standing beside my dad outside of a light blue building on a cloudy day. I remember staring up at him as he spoke into a large, black block. In our house we still had not yet experienced the cordless phone, so this was an amazing phenomenon to me, but I’m sure more so to my dad, since he must have paid an arm and a leg to have it. The second memory I have of that large, black block was in my house. It lay on the coffee table, idle. By then my dad must have had the newer, gray block – somewhat smaller, but its receiving microphone flipped out, so that’s what probably made the switchover so enticing. One was a memory of it alive, vibrant and new. In the other it was dead, old and good for nothing. We see the same cycle in almost every technology: something new and miraculous is invented and we love it, can’t wait to have it and will pay anything for it. Then the technology gets upgraded, and we find our original copy of it no longer adequate. We must have a new one.
The cellular (cell) phone today is one of the most advanced communication devices, combining a vast array of message-sending and conveying capabilities, and has become available to virtually anyone (at least in the Western, capitalized world). This essay-by drawing on my own experience with the cell phone and observation of others’-will argue that cell phones are addictive. It will expose our new attitude toward communication as being something that must be ‘here and now,’ plus the common idea that cell phones are necessary. I chose the cell phone for insight not only because of my unique experience with it, but also because of its increasing ability to contain more and more communicative features that 10, 15 or 20 years ago would probably not have been imagined, even by the engineers who created them.
My first major experience with mobile phones was in winter 2004, when I was offered a job selling Telus Mobility plans in retail outlets over the Christmas shopping season. I was not before then impressed by cell phones. In fact, I did not even want one to begin with; my parents made me have one so they could keep track of me. As long as my phone could make calls, I was satisfied.
I might have remained that way if it were not for one of the perks at the new Telus job: free, unlimited use of Telus’s newest handset, the LG 6190. Its name (and not all handsets get named) was the Fastap and it possessed, among other things, a first-of-its-kind in the world feature: letter keys. No longer was it necessary to press 2-2-2 to get the letter ‘c’ on your colour LCD screen; you could now do it with the touch of a single button at the same speed as you would on a full-sized keyboard yet within a fraction of the space. So the love of text messaging began.
But the Fastap was equipped with more than just letter keys. A 0.3 megapixel camera with built in flash and zoom, the option of a black or orange faceplate and, best of all (next to letter keys), speakerphone and voice-activated dialing. As I stood in a London Drugs that season explaining to people all the wonderful and essential reasons they should buy a cell phone, my ‘old,’ no-feature Nokia began to look bleak. The hook was in: within a month after the program I had a new cell phone (though not the Fastap, and not with Telus, sad to admit).
Eight months after obtaining my new cell phone I moved out of my parents’ home and the device became even more necessary to my survival – it was my only instantaneous way of getting in touch with the outside world, apart from being there in person. But my phoning patterns changed. I now rarely make lengthy calls during the weekdays because my plan allows me to talk for free after 8:00 p.m. and on weekends. Text messaging has also become the norm since I get 100 of those each month. Sometimes I make entire plans for an evening via text messaging. What I find SO utterly annoying is when I need to text message somebody who DOESN’T HAVE A CELL PHONE!!! Arrrggh. I don’t know how I would remember some things if my phone’s calendar were not there to alarm me every time I need to go somewhere, or buy something, or speak to someone at a certain time. It even reminds me of someone’s birthday so I am able to picture message them an icon of a birthday cake! It’s just as good as a card. This behaviour has become so spontaneous sometimes I do these things while I’m driving and barely have to look at the keys I’m pressing. My phone has a camera and a video camera but I rarely use those. Though I do have memories stored onto my phone’s “Media” database. My phone is never off. It wakes me up in the morning. I no longer need a paper and pen to write down someone’s phone number (or address for that matter), I simply enter it into my phone and search its database when I want to call them. Memorizing phone numbers is an activity I can barely perform anymore.
But what I find most amazing is that I can never not have my phone with me. This became a stark reality when I once left my house for a wedding and realized my phone did not leave with me. This was enough for me to stop the car, get out and run down a hill to my apartment to get it. Then I ran back up the hill to my car where I had left it on the side of the road. I was late for a wedding because of a cell phone. I lived the majority of my life without one, yet now it seems it might as well be attached to my body. I have become dependant on this interactive communication technology.
I should feel comforted though, that I have not become as obsessed as others. I once, while working at Starbucks, had a hooded man approach me. Instead of ordering a latte, he began having a conversation with himself. I was bewildered. ‘Am I standing in front of a crazy man? Should I call security?’ were my thoughts. It was not long before I realized he was on the phone. But this could not be identified so easily because his wireless headset was covered beneath his hood and his phone was nowhere in plain sight. This has happened to me on more than one occasion.
Most people I know do not have all the gadgets that can now come with cell phones. But they have all, except for one, become addicted (and even he has probably caved in by now and gotten a new cell phone after explaining to me how much he hates people interrupting his personal life). One lady I know – and this is a common experience according to my Telus trainers – vowed that she only got a cell phone for “emergencies.” But, she said, “there are a lot of emergencies.”
I find cell phones also taking over traditional landlines. This first took off when Fido advertised their unlimited, $40 calling plan. I remember what a sacred thing it was to have a landline before that and what a big decision it was for my dad to only have a cell phone. My friends did the same. Their $100 invoices were greatly reduced. Today it is the norm to have only a cell phone. I know married couples who each have their own mobile and no landline. My roommate and I operate the same way. I once had a manager who used her cell phone to make long distance calls back East because the rate was so good (yes, the rate plan of her mobile carrier, not the rate of a calling card!).
But, cell phones are no longer only about making calls. I went back for another season of Telus promoting in 2005 and was in awe at all that could now be done in the palm of one’s hand. My trainer, after commenting on a power point list showing all the features one could have on their cell phone, said “I remember when you could get call waiting on your cell phone…we don’t even mention that anymore.” It’s true, call waiting is nothing compared to being able to send an e-mail, surf the net, take, print and/or send a 1.3 megapixel photo, video tape memories, download data (or transfer it with Bluetooth), listen to MP3 music and watch TV. That’s not to mention all the other things we have come to expect on our cell phones, like an alarm clock, calendar, address book or calculator. Now we can even talk to people with our PDAs!
Many of these features are not necessarily social per se. However, they have made the cell phone, certainly a social software, not only attractive, but addictive. Once it gets into someone’s hands there is no turning back. My own testimony is evidence of this. This addiction has had other effects on our society’s way of thinking. We expect people to have a cell phone. It is probably easier (at least in North America) to count the number of people who don’t own cell phones as opposed to those who do. The people who do not even like cell phones eventually get a cell phone (myself included, along with a friend who formerly claimed they were “rude”). It has become ingrained in our culture. My friend asked for someone’s cell number without even asking if she had a cell!
I remember when it was considered rude to call someone at the dinner hour. Now I see people take calls in the middle of a meeting, or while having a conversation with someone else. Cell phones have made it so that we expect to be able to speak to someone at any time, in any place, and it would be improper for the receiver to do otherwise because of this new expectation. In our minds it seems communication must be instant. Our (Western) society has become addicted to the cell phone.