I was upset. She was upset. We missed each other. It had been almost 50 years to the month since we had seen each other. We had been in a wedding party together in July, 1964.
But I didn’t have a cell phone, and the only pay phone in town had a one way connection. “Hello … Hello … Helllo!!” She couldn’t hear me respond. No one, apparently has responsibility for pay phone maintenance any more.
This was the kind of situation for which cell phones were invented. I was traveling and she had complications in her life that made it difficult to make prior arrangements. So why didn’t have I a cell phone – even one of the one-time $40 phones?
The big picture is that I don’t think our civilization is headed in the right direction. And let me say at the outset that I am caught up in the civilization as much as anyone, so I know that actions, like not having a cell phone, are pretty insignificant. And there was a negative consequence to my decision that impacted others as well as me. But let me continue.
It seems very obvious to me that our human world is headed over a cliff, or some similar metahorical danger. World population growth, global warming, limited fossil-fuel supplies with increasingly disastrous pollution consequences of obtaining the remaining upplies, just to name some of the issues, are very real problems that are hard to ignore, but harder to face. It is a big story: a huge story, and unsolvable story, in all likelihood involving great suffering. So any step-on-the-brakes action is at least an attempt to look at the situation. But why this particular stance.?
Cell phones are not neutral. They require certain valuable minerals that represent human lives. Coltan is needed for EVERY cell phone. 80% of the world’s coltan is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Around 2000, because of the meteoric rise in the demand for mobile phones and the mass production of Sony Playstation II, the price of Coltan went from $30 per pound to $380 per pound. Students ,farmers and shepherds left their duties and started artisanal mining. It didn’t take long for local militia to take over the mines and local communities, ruling them with violence. The toll on human life has been enormous: 5.4 million lives: the highest death toll of any conflict in the world since World War II. Half of those killed have been children.
When I first learned of this, I didn’t have a cell phone and vowed never to purchase one. It was an arbitrary decision. I had a computer and later l learned that coltan was in the laptop that a friend had given me. But I had drawn the line, and it is important to me that I try to keep my commitments.
But there is another reason I am more determined than ever not to own a cellphone.
Cellphones have changed the way people behave, and not for the better.
I recently wanted to set up a lunch date with a friend. It took four conversations. There was nothing that happened during the period of these conversations that had any impact on the decision of when and where to meet. It was simply the habit that, with cell phones, one doesn’t need to plan in advance – one doesn’t need to make commitments. Something may come up and adjustments can be made on the fly. “Call me when you get close.” “Call me the day before.”
By way of contrast, two years ago I travelled the perimeter of the US, 9,000: miles. For one stop visiting an old friend, I wrote, I’ll be there around 10:00 AM on Jul y 29th. I wrote that 3 months in advance. She wrote back, “Great.” That was the end of the conversation. I showed up at 10:00 AM on the 29th and she was expecting me. Somehow that doesn’t happen any more. Now I set up a meeting two weeks in advance and if I don’t call, it is assumed that the meeting is off. People have changed the way they interact.
And the change is not only the way they make commitments, but they have lost their ability to plan – to make judgments.
I look at maps. I like to understand the lay of the land. Do you know where the water falling on your roof enters the ocean? Do you even know which way the water at the curb of your sidewalk flows? Do you know which way north is? Did you used to know? Can you tell someone “I’ll meet you in the north-east corner of the parking lot? – or – “It’s on the first street inside the confluence of the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers. It is this kind of basic awareness of life and life sytems that allows us to plan and make commitments.
And then there’s the money. How much money is automatically withdrawn from your bank account for your telephone, cell phone, TV, cable, internet, for this “connected” electronic world? And how often have you upgraded? Try to add up the cost of the purchases of your electronic items; all your upgrades over the last 10 years. Divide that number by 120 and add that number to your monthly costs of being connected. That’s what it costs you every month to be in this world of electronic connections. If you feel the cost is worth the service you receive, fine.
But if you feel trapped in this life – if your monthly costs are keeping you enslaved to a job you don’t love. And if part of this trap is that you would feel lost without your cell phone, you should look back at how you used to live, and know you could recover some skills and habits that would help you escape from your trap.
The question isn’t what you would do if you lost your cellphone. The question is what you have lost by becoming dependent on a cellphone.
I think we, as a society have lost much, and what we have lost are precisely the skills and habits we may need in the future to survive and help the less fortunate when we face the consequences of our profligate ways.
For myself, I will do without a cell phone.