The spell of the cell
The ring of mobile phones may leave you annoyed, but the fact is they are here to stay.
People these days have developed a great attachment for their ears. Literally, that is. On the roads, in cars, on bikes and at work places, it is not uncommon to find people going about their business with head inclined and one hand curled over the ear, as if to check if it is in place or to protect it from the evil eye.
Has the `Year of the Ear' dawned? Not really, for if you observe carefully, these people also seem to be talking to themselves. Those who are not driving or riding, waggle their hands about and smile, laugh, scowl or snarl at nobody in particular. Just when you think they might stick straws in their hair or burst into a crazy song, you espy the tell-tale instrument nestling close to the ear. Yes, it is a mobile phone they are talking into and the mystery of curious postures and odd behaviour is cleared.
Mobile phones or cell phones have reached every corner of the world with the efficacy of a determined epidemic. Kerala, quick to enter any status enhancing the rat race, has joined the cell race with a vengeance. Malappuram is the first district to have more cell phones than landlines. Slick advertising and smart marketing tactics have given a fillip to the belief that there is no method like the cell phone method for connecting people. Who knows, the image of a new born baby's gurgle being heard by its father a continent away may have inspired many a sentimental youth to acquire a mobile phone, get married and put a great distance between his wife and himself. Distance is said to make the heart fonder and in this case, speak louder and clearer. The mobile phone lost no time in becoming a status symbol. To a question like, "I have a mobile phone. Do you?" the answer could well be a nonchalant example of one-upmanship: "Everyone at home has a mobile, servant included." People, puffed with self-importance, look proudly around before answering their mobiles in shops, markets, theatres, libraries, at lectures, concerts, meetings, weddings and even funerals.
Lekshmi Nair, Consultant in Education with a multinational says, "Till I possessed a cell, I used to be irritated with those who sported one and kept showing it off. But now my reservations are all gone and I can't do without one." .
So how necessary has a cell phone become? There are certain professions that have benefited tremendously from it. Mobiles have become indispensable to doctors, businessmen, bureaucrats, executives and journalists, among others. The mobile has cut across economic barriers and is used by people of all income groups. Raju, an auto driver who is very proud to possess one, says, "It's a great blessing. It helps my regular customers contact me and ensures some business everyday."
S. R. Thulasi, a carpenter from Sreenarayanapuram near Pothencode who often works in Thiruvananthapuram city, however, has mixed feelings after using one for three months. While conceding that it has its merits, he observed, "Neither the costs nor the conditions appear to be what I thought they were when I subscribed."
People cite other occasions when the mobile has proved handy. It eases the lives of harried organisers, facilitates the quick relaying of news and is useful in tracing errant husbands. No longer does the hungry, angry wife have to wait endlessly for her husband while dinner is getting stone cold. Now the smart woman gives her husband a mobile phone on his birthday. "Happy birthday. Many happy returns," she says. The poor chap knows instinctively that it is the end of happiness for him. He has lost his independence! The returns for the investment in the mobile are happy indeed for the wife. (In these days of feminism, the roles may well be reversed.) She keeps the electronic noose tightly around his neck and keeps track of his movements. The mobile has, ironically, put an end to his mobility. She will not hear of him switching off his mobile and reminds him, while he is at an important official meeting, to bring home vegetables, provisions, and stationery for his children.
If wives have become bossier, bosses have become as smart as wives. They also give their employees mobile phones and keep them on the cordless leash. Commodore R. U. Nair says, "The mobile has ensured accountability." Employees can no longer disappear at will. Now they are on call. They also grumble that their employers press more work on them after working hours. They succumb to a bout of St. Vitus's dance every time their mobile rings in the privacy of their homes. Easy accessibility has thus become a boon or a bane, depending on whose side you are on.
Prabha Nair, a homemaker says, "I find the mobile phone extremely useful, especially its SMS facility. I can SMS my friends and my children who are in England any time I please." She adds, turning to her husband who is not looking too pleased, "Of course, he takes care of the bills." SMS has changed the modus operandi of courtship. In campuses and workplaces, lovelorn maidens and youths tire their button happy fingers sending short and telling love messages, little realising that their private messages must have become public property. Many other facilities are now available to cell phone users. The glib sales promoter holds you enthralled as he reels off the merits of the latest mobile. You can watch movies, news, play games and listen to songs. The world is at your fingertips. You can even take photographs with it. It is practically your secretary; you can organise appointments, access your e-mail. You ask meekly, "Can I also talk on the mobile phone?"
Let us not forget the high nuisance value of the cell phone and its possible dangers. In theatres, at music concerts, meetings or lectures, the sacrilegious intrusion of a mobile phone's ring is, next to an off-key performance or a boring speaker, the most dreaded. Chronic cell phone users are at grave risk of holding their heads permanently at an angle. Use of a mobile while driving or riding can be positively dangerous. Accidents are known to have been caused by drivers who were talking on mobiles. If reports are to be believed, constant use of the mobile could be a factor in the early onset of Parkinson's Disease.
Dr. Esther Jayanthi, Principal of All Saints College, Thiruvananthapuram, who has sensibly banned the use of cell phones by students within the campus, says that while mobiles have their uses in extraordinary situations, among students in general they "encourage casual, pointless conversation. Parents should not indulge children and give them mobiles, which make the children fritter away precious time."
Life was leisurely, adventurous and free in the good old pre-mobile days. For all the talk about connecting people, the mobile has reduced real intimacy and person-to-person communication. Manju Vasudevan, a researcher in Ecology, says that she has nothing good to say about the mobile. "I would like to guard my privacy. We can do without it."
But the truth unfortunately is that once technology has taken us a step forward it is almost impossible to reverse the change. Mobile phones have come to stay. You can SMS this message to your friends.
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