Pediatrician Sees Three-Year-Old on Cell Phone

“The three-year-old just walked right past me,” the Santa Rosa, CA, pediatrician reported, “talking into a cell phone.” That stark image of toddler attached to machine has troubled me. “I was amused at first,” the physician continued. “Then I felt sad. She was learning how to relate to people through a machine. It was so mechanical. Cell phones can connect people, but they also speed things up.” Must we rush even toddlers into machines?

“Half of British children aged 5 to 9 own a mobile phone. Some Experts are Unhappy,” headlines a June 23, 2009 article in the UK’s daily “The Times.” It reports that “Lawrie Challies, an emeritus professor of physics who has led the Government’s mobile-phone safety research, says that parents should not give children phones before secondary school.”1 University of Melbourne pediatrics professor Michael Carr-Gregg, a leading Australian psychologist, “is worried about the power of mobile phones to distract and overexcite” and “says that no children should be allowed a mobile phone until the age of 12.” The French Government bans sales of mobile phones to children under 6.
The long-term consequences of young children already taking their gaze away from living people and constantly-changing nature to look down into and be captured by static machines concerns me. Who benefits and what is lost? What is appropriate technology use? What induces obsessive/compulsive/addictive behavior?

Though I sometimes use a cell phone, with moderation, I am concerned about the unconscious and excessive use of them, like while driving or talking so loud in a restaurant that one disturbs the peaceful meals of others. The issue is how we use technology, rather than abuse it. Some people seem always on call, slaves to their cell phones, willing to drop a live person in favor of talking into that tiny machine. The disadvantages of cell phones, including texting, warrant attention, including unintended consequences and collateral damage.

At issue is when and where and what the consequences might be at certain ages and in certain situations. What might be appropriate cell phone and texting etiquette for young people at different ages? My goal is to encourage people to engage in critical thinking about consequences before placing pulsating plastic to hand then ear, rather than using more primitive and holistic communication methods, like face-to-face.

Cell phones can be good for emergencies, convenient, functional, practical, and have some advantages, as demonstrated by the global communication from the recent twittering from Iran. They can enable even a young person to speak to a distant relative or a parent who is out of town. However, walking around in the streets texting while looking down is sometimes dangerous and at least rude.

As with Petaluma, CA, artist Sally Krah, I am concerned about “the health risks of cell phones.” She uses hers “carefully and infrequently,” so that “it doesn’t rule my life. It’s a blessing if used in moderation.”

The immediacy of cell phones and their push-button control can increase impatience with slower things, like the development of deep human relationships, lasting love, growing plants, and caring for animals. Cybertime creates unnatural time pressures, heightening stress and anxiety. The tools and technologies that we use are not neutral; they help shape who we become.

The addiction to technological progress has heightened in recent years, especially with respect to telecommunications and cybernetics. This growth further exhausts fossil fuels. The development, manufacture and maintenance of high technology tools and weapons depend upon ample cheap energy from fossil fuels. As oil supplies decline and the pace of life quickens even more rapidly, the demand for more coal extraction will increase, which will heighten pollution and speed-up global climate chaos.

“Every single machine in the nation runs on lubrication,” notes David Frindley, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This includes electrical and wireless tools that require crude oil byproducts. He was quoted in a recent article about Transition Towns in the weekly “North Bay Bohemian,” where he purchased a small farm in Sonoma County. Frindley is a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, based in small town Sebastopol, Northern California.

CAUGHT IN THE CELL PHONE SNARE

Alas, I have also been caught in the cell phone snare. While speaking to my Sonoma State University students one day, mine went off, much to their delight, giggles, and snickers, as well as my embarrassment.

We may have a social epidemic on our hands. Studies reveal that American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages a month in the fourth quarter of 2008. One person reported that his 13-year-old exchanged 14,528 texts in one month.
The number of text messages rose to about 75 billion earlier this year and is going up. Downsides include declines in spelling, word choice and writing complexit and an inability to focus. Text-bullying and sending naked photos have become problematic, resulting in at least one documented suicide.

I invited a SSU freshman class off-campus for a film and dinner. The first thing that some of these teens did at the restaurant was to put their cell phones on the dinner table. Some of their little gadgets promptly vibrated, buzzed, and made a variety of demanding sounds.

My dinner guests were soon miles away texting, having what sounded like one-way conversations intruding into our dinner, and playing phone games, ignoring the rest of us at the table in front of them. What happened to old-fashioned connective meal-time conversations? When the primary relationship becomes with a talking machine, rather than with a multi-dimensional person with whom to have spontaneous, life-deepening and life-changing dialogue, something is lost.

As they multi-tasked on so-called “smartphones,” I felt annoyed and alone—a slow dinosaur at a table with fast-moving butterflies with short attention spans flickering away into cyberspace, their consciousnesses split. They are masters at quick scans of screens, rather than reading entire books. I must admit that I am old-fashioned and prefer home-made music and food to the factory-made stuff. I prefer live story-telling and the oral tradition of recited poetry to television. I resist being drawn into the need-it-yesterday world.

But I didn’t say anything to my students, though I did later circulate an article on the downsides of texting to initiate discussion. The students were defensive, but it was a good experience in critical thinking, which is what I teach and seek to practice here.
One of the students in that class, Sally-Anne Petit, helped me understand the use of cell phones from the perspective of her generation as follows: “Changes in our world have made us feel uncomfortable. Or even in danger of being without a mobile technological device. We use these devices to hide us from scary things in this world. It provides shelter, or even a friend. This is important because part of growing up is defending yourself and learning how to act in awkward, or uncomfortable, perhaps even dangerous situations.”

“Its not about the technology so much as it is how the technology is used,” added one of my Teaching Assistants, social worker Victoria Fleming, M.S.W. “It calls for a new etiquette. It is harder for us as we get older to find relevance in young technology and this creates a rift between generations. This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is accelerated by the pace of emerging technology.”

I later walked on SSU’s beautiful redwood-lined campus. Many students had their faces buried in that consumptive machine, missing the redwoods and other humans passing by, as well as the birds above calling to them. I’ve even seen two people walking along talking to each other—on their cells phones. Those with bluetooths in their ears reminded me of the part-machine, part-human race called Borgs in Star Trek.

Some SSU students understand the downsides of texting and related phenomenon. “Digital Communication: The Death of Verbal Communication in our Society” was recently published by the campus newspaper. Brian Evans contends that “we as a society have been spoiled by the luxuries of Internet, cellular communication, iPhones, Blackberries, etc.” He laments that they have “diminished the personalization of communicating” and “texting has limited our laughter to Lol.”

The sound-bite, minimalist approach that texting and twittering employ can contract the soul and imagination, rather than expand them; they narrow the range of emotions that can be expressed. The frequency with which some fiddle with their phones, eyes down, makes it more difficult to make eye contact with them.

“TECHNO-ADDICTION”

“Techo-addiction” is how some psychologists describe this phenomenon, which includes other recent developments, such as Facebook, My Space, You Tube, and Twitter. An indication that addiction is an appropriate description is when you see someone walk across a busy street, not in the crosswalk, texting, instead of looking, thus risking their life. Texting and twittering also seem to shorten the attention span and heighten one’s vulnerability to distraction, rather than focus and concentration.

New technologies can promise a lot, and then entangle users in a growing web of products, often quite expensive. Cell phones expand the consumer culture of instant messaging and instant gratification, thus reducing the time for embodied human relations and dialogue that leads beyond data and information to depth and textured wisdom.

It is illegal to hold cell phones to one’s ear while driving in California, though I notice many violators, who thus threaten the rest of us with more accidents. Plane, train, and ship accidents have been documented to have happened while or just after pilots’ attentions were diverted while texting.

In contrast to the three-year-old with cell phone, I recently visited friends with a five-month-old bundled onto her mother’s chest, eyes locked, occasionally smiling at the rest of us, returning to absorb her mother’s warm intimacy. It comforted me. I have also been delighted to hang out with a neighbor’s seventeen-month-old, so full of vitality, splashing in water, beginning to form words. He inspires me. I worry about what is in store for these children in this high-tech, sped-up digital world.

I watch with delight as youngsters interact with chickens on my small farm, look up with awe into the giant redwoods, feel their powerful dance partner the wind, and see the birds above. My seventeen-month-old friend eagerly stuffs his mouth with berries, whose purple color ring his wide smile.

At a library, I recently also saw a small girl, probably under three, fixated on a computer screen. She skillfully moved the “mouse” around and watched the machine respond promptly. Screens radiate light, which looking at directly can be harmful, especially to young eyes and brains. Sonoma State University psychology graduate student Julie Perkins is writing her thesis partly on “the gaze” and reports that she “is concerned with the use of machines and the deleterious effect of gazing on a screen in the digital world.” This trend of children absorbed by machines rather than living beings or even picture books concerns me.

On the other hand, I’ve heard of toddlers who throw cell phones into toilets. Good for them! This could be a direct way of communicating “Pay attention to me!” Such spontaneous play is a healthy alternative to the beginning of consumerism. Technophiles seek to protect their expensive hand-held devices, whereas I am more concerned to protect children from pre-mature technology and the addiction to a cell phone culture that is not age appropriate. One toddler’s mother explained that cell phones can have a candy-like appeal, which can lead to a child wanting to consume too much, unless appropriate limits are discerned and established.

THE FLICKERING MIND

The Flickering Mind titles a book by award-winning journalist Todd Oppenheimer, sub-titled The False Promises of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved. Though published in, what some now consider long ago, 2003, its nearly 500 pages document the downsides of computers in education long before texting became so popular and disruptive. His chapters include “Hidden Troubles,” “Bulldozing the Imagination,” and “The Human Touch.”

“Time poverty is now a recognized psychological and social stressor,” according to psychotherapist Linda Buzzell, co-editor of the new Sierra Club Book’s Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind. She adds, “We struggle with diminishing success to adapt to the strange mechanical and disembodied world we have created,” including “endless 24/7 online communications… constantly rushing to keep up as we inevitably fall further behind.” In that machine-driven process “we find ourselves destroying not only our own health, but our habitat and the habitat of the people, plants and animals with whom we share the planet.”

My college students tend to be sweet and open-hearted. They also have more trouble reading entire books and sustaining attention than they did even a few years ago; they appear more distant and distracted. Their emails have gotten briefer and are not always in standard English; they employ abbreviations that I do not understand. They seem to have less patience for ambiguity and paradox, preferring a machine-like yes and no and making overstatements like “always” and “never.”

I do not allow cell phones to be on during class. The tapping while texting can be as annoying as cross-talking and insulting to whoever is speaking. However, I still sometimes hear them vibrate and know that some students are so addicted that they are adept at concealing these tools—which can become almost like armor or weapons–under their clothes and desks the way earlier generations of youth would carefully conceal cigarette smoking.

It took a long time to make cigarette smoking illegal in certain public places, though the dangers had been clearly documented for decades. I hope that it does not take as long to make cell phones illegal in some places, especially moving vehicles, as well as elsewhere. Cell phones can be powerful forces in expanding the consumer culture and reducing embodied human relations and deep communication with others that involves texture, emotion, and nuances.

The critique of soulless machines implicit in this article echoes a tradition reaching back more than a century that includes British novelist D.H. Lawrence, German-speaking poet Rilke, German-American psychologist Erich Fromm, American gardeners Scott and Helen Nearing, and French sociologist Jacques Ellul. Contemporary American advocates of this tradition include psychotherapist Chellis Glendinning (When Technology Wounds), public relations expert Jerry Mander (In the Absence of the Sacred), and farmer Wendell Berry (In the Presence of Fear).

The three-year-old witnessed by the pediatrician was being conditioned for an adult life of consumption with an early onset cell phone addiction. Instead of speeding up to follow the commands of goal-oriented machines such as cell phones, we humans could benefit from slowing down to nature’s meandering pace, especially here in the gorgeous Redwood Empire.

  1. Mobile phones for children: a boon or a peril?Times Online – UK []

Shepherd Bliss (3sb@comcast.net) teaches college part-time and farms. Read other articles by Shepherd, or visit Shepherd's website.

25 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. brian said on July 6th, 2009 at 8:56am #

    its also very dangerous, as these machines can cause brain cancer:

    http://www.mast-victims.org/

    http://www.mast-victims.org/index.php?content=news&action=view&type=newsitem&id=4148

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7100914024546507856
    etc

  2. Linda Buzzell said on July 6th, 2009 at 1:47pm #

    This is such an important topic — thanks for raising it, Shepherd. We naively allow even our very young and most vulnerable children to become enmeshed in the high-tech machine that is modern society without thought of the long-term consequences of a truly unnatural way of life.

  3. Jeff said on July 6th, 2009 at 3:55pm #

    Well, art does imitate the human ‘want’ to exist. Everyone, rummage through the video archive and watch “Terminator” again.
    Enough to say right now.
    WAKE UP!!!!!
    The forests are dying, so then you all finally can see!!!!!! nothing!!!!!!

  4. lichen said on July 6th, 2009 at 8:41pm #

    Yes, cell-phones are bad for your health, and it is sad that society conspires to put you at a disadvantage if you aren’t walking around with one in your pocket. But this is no a phenomena of 3 year olds; it is an adult one, stemming from an invention probably made by baby boomers; acting like it is somehow the fault of the very young is a misnomer. Just because younger generations have a different culture and context (generaly created out of whatever world you, the old person left for them) doesn’t mean they are somehow lesser or that there is supposedly some big ‘degeneration.’

  5. Melissa said on July 6th, 2009 at 9:42pm #

    “society conspires to put you at a disadvantage if you aren’t walking around with one in your pocket” -lichen

    How?

    No, it does not mean younger generations are degenerates. It just means they are impressionable and an easy sell. That’s not any different than any generation that came before. But, you recognize that, so you didn’t buy into it . . . right?

    It strikes me that we should not blame the technology . . . rather we would see the dysfunctional families and culture that allow individuals to resort to these crutches and distractions, these hold-you-at-arms-length norms.

    That said, I continue to meet young people that seem to balance the technology with face to face social skills really beautifully. There will always be extremes, let’s not pretend the phones or the technology are the source or an extreme exacerbation of the “love deficit.” Just another vice.

    Peace,
    Melissa

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 7th, 2009 at 1:31am #

    As brian notes, these things will cause an epidemic of intra-cerebral malignancy. We know that will be so with absolute certainty because the liars of business and their hired stooges deny it. These unnecessities of life are an abomination, but they represent money, the accumulation of which is now the sole rationale for Western civilization. And don’t forget, brain tumours are a boon to business. Neurosurgeons, Big Pharma, palliative care specialists, private hospitals and health insurance and finally, inevitably within months with glioblastomas, undertakers, all reap the fruits of these business opportunities. Getting glioblastosis is perhaps one of the greatest contributions one could make to the economy.
    And we ought not forget that the solitary nature of these technologies serves the masters well. An atomised society of self-obsessed, inward-looking, egotists is probably the ideal growing medium for a culture of radical inequality, with a few big ‘winners’ taking it all, and masses of ‘losers’, hopefully stupefied with the soma of Brzezinski’s ‘titietainment’, that mindless ocean of inconsequential pap that drowns out all contemplation not only of humanity’s multiple crises and failings, but of all those higher levels of human capability that people used to aspire to. Not to mention their malign capacity as agents of subversion , black propaganda and the incitement of youthful hysteria in the ignorant and greedy fraction of enemy states of the US Reich, as we have just seen in Iran.

  7. Melissa said on July 7th, 2009 at 6:18am #

    Right on, Mulga. Especially informed regarding glios. I am watching the process of that in a family member currently. It is frustrating to watch them pump poison after poison. The “state of the art” doctors have NEVER asked about cell-phone use, nor diet, nor the case of diet Coke he has consumed daily for over a decade.

    Disgusting what is seen as a bump for the GDP!

    Run for the cure? That foundation rakes in tons of money for more pharma and symptom chasing. How about we address what we know are causes?
    How might that affect the GDP?

    Peace,
    Melissa

  8. Mad poet said on July 7th, 2009 at 9:15am #

    A few notes:
    Several years back, an old, dear friend and collegue, Elisabeth Targ, was doing research on the effects of “intenionality” and tumors, particularly glioblastomas. Ironically, she was diagnosed with one and very soon thereafter died before she was 43.

    I mention this because she was convinced that her cell phone usage contributed directly to her brain tumor. Now I very reluctantly accepted one as a gift and use it incredibly sparingly, but to see people drive with them, ride horses with them, jog, go to the movies, gather with others while all are on them is to see not some innocent new use of technology, but to witness an entire culture forget what it means to relate to each other except through this medium. Which will probably help cause some diseases and make somebody a lot of money.

    But the message here is simple: even the “debates” had here on DV are part of the problem, where people “gather” in cyberspace to rant over events that have no relationship to their lives, about people they will never see, to people they will never meet… while next to them, in their neighborhoods, churches, unions, and workplaces are dozens of “real” people they could get together with and create all that change they scream about here. But they don´t.

  9. lichen said on July 7th, 2009 at 2:30pm #

    Melissa, I have experienced difficulties with proffessors and other students in carrying out group projects as a result of not having a cell-phone, as well as similar issues with work and even finding an apartment.

    Mulga, it is funny how people who did not have their individual rights, personalities, or even rights to their body and mind recognized still managed to have a radically unequal society without cell phones, the internet, or electricity in virtually all of history before the 20th century. Indeed, the most equal societies in the world right now are not free from cellphones. I’m sure you do think that the political movements of the young are somehow ignorant and greedy; but we shall see which generation really believes more in equality.

  10. Melissa said on July 7th, 2009 at 3:12pm #

    Lichen, I see what you mean. I have heard from my daughter’s friends plenty of frustration that teachers assume that every kid should have access to the internet for projects, research, communication. This is one of the issues that suburbanites that commute to our schools to teach have with relating to urban kids’ reality. It is uncomfortable for young people to have to remind the teacher again and again about this . . . classism is one of the core subjects in schooling, methinks.

    Good point about inequality existing regardless of technology. -and YES! Who’s fault could it be to model greed and perpetual immaturity? We so-called adults often don’t like the mirror that youth holds up in front of us. So, we shift the blame . . . and repeat the phrase every generation before has: “kids these days!”

    Peace,
    Melissa

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 7th, 2009 at 4:40pm #

    Lichen, I only think that the ersatz ‘political movements of the young’ confected by the US to promote ‘regime changes’ as we have seen in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and attempted in China and Iran, are fraudulent. Where young people gather to strive for greater equality, and real human ‘freedom’ ie freedom from economic exploitation which is far more rampant across the Yankee dominated planet than political persecution, I greatly admire them. The rulers of the planet prefer the type we saw ‘twittering’ in Iran. The well-to-do, the greedy, that odious stratum that sees the US, with its grotesque materialism married to a sanctimonious and hypocritical religiosity that turns a blind eye to mass murder and suffering around the world, as some sort of paragon.

  12. Kaye said on July 7th, 2009 at 5:10pm #

    I just found your site through Stumble. As I am a member of the younger generation, I thought that responding to this would provide the comments with a bit more balance.

    People choose methods of communication for convenience, and cellular phones/instant messaging technology provide a means for us to catch up with friends. Statistically speaking, one could find individuals with similar likes and differences in the same community … but what about when people relocate? Should we discard our college best friends because they graduate and move to Japan while we’re stuck stateside? While handwritten letters are nice, E-mail, text messaging, and phone conversations prove the more reliable communication methods. What about people of minority faiths who move somewhere that has no local community? Unlike 200 years ago, we have ways to stay in contact and make the distance more manageable.

    Granted, I think that cell phones do not belong in many settings, so that’s not entirely a generational issue. To put it bluntly … the majority of people in this world are rude and obnoxious. In the 1980s, the hip way to be obnoxious involved getting on public transit with a boom box. Now, rude people talk on their cell phones in restaurants. In 2030, they will annoy everyone by jacking into virtual reality ports during funerals.

  13. Don Hawkins said on July 7th, 2009 at 6:06pm #

    Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
    Carl Sagan

    But they don’t? on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam we human’s have been pushing pushing pushing and now we are about to get pushed back how far is the question.

  14. David said on July 8th, 2009 at 7:50am #

    And the difference between posting a response on DV and yakking on a cell phone is…cancer?

  15. Melissa said on July 8th, 2009 at 8:13am #

    Mad Poet,

    Do not assume. Some of us do much more than rant in cyberspace.

    But I know what you are saying. I have yet to see a conversation that is organizing anything, doing anything productive. In fact, what I see is that people cling to their baggage and identity related issues and refuse to unite under any umbrella.

    The focus seems to be on highlighting differences, drawing lines in the sand, and focussing on issues that are far away. I am in the USA and I my country really needs to unite to put governing back into We THe People’s hands. But, it is more popular to decry the constitution and Declaration as a tool of the elite than to own it, and exercise it. But, it’s the biggest tool we have to hold others accountable, because everything our leaders are doing is a violation of constitution, and the focus is on denouncing it as part of the problem.

    Big irony that many posters would vote for Nader and McKinney, both of whom are adamant about Constitution and restoring its integrity.

    Peace, Resistance, Hope,
    Melissa

  16. Phone World — Pediatrician Shocked to See 3-Year-Old on Cell Phone said on July 8th, 2009 at 6:26pm #

    [...] blog post written up by The Huffington Post from Sonoma State University college professor and ecotherapist [...]

  17. Jen said on July 9th, 2009 at 11:12am #

    Very informative article.

    My sister and I were getting ready to watch the fireworks during a local 4th of July celebration, when we (sadly) spotted a lady walking at a hurried pace, clutching her baby in one hand, and her phone in the other. She was giving more attention to the phone than the child, whose young head (which should have been adequately supported, at that young age) was bouncing all over the place. The woman was totally oblivious with all attention on her device.

  18. Logan said on July 10th, 2009 at 12:37am #

    Solitude is disappearing. Not just the solitude of some mountain getaway. Even the simple daily solitude, moments of self without escape easily available. The reliance upon fear of solitude,dis-connection, etc…has been transposed over the need for such things. Kids sold out to the newest toy, an idea.

    Although uncomfortable at times, moments of being by one’s self(whether in a crowded room or on a mountain) are an essential part of growth. Marketeers would love to pull every single string. Let’s hope that some of the new and next generations of us earthlings is wise and a step up.

  19. mary said on July 10th, 2009 at 4:21am #

    Yes I was wondering as there have no new posts for a a few days.

    Does anyone else get this message when getting up the link to the site instead of the list of articles for the month and the number of comments in brackets? It is meaningless to me.

    Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 94371840 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 16 bytes) in /home/.pookahontas/dvoice07/dissidentvoice.org/wp-includes/post.php on line 3246

  20. mary said on July 10th, 2009 at 4:21am #

    Yes I was wondering as there have been no new posts for a a few days.

    Does anyone else get this message when getting up the link to the site instead of the list of articles for the month and the number of comments in brackets? It is meaningless to me.

    Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 94371840 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 16 bytes) in /home/.pookahontas/dvoice07/dissidentvoice.org/wp-includes/post.php on line 3246

  21. Maxwell Black said on July 10th, 2009 at 10:54pm #

    Hey, why was my comment deleted? It wasn’t in any way controversial or even provocative. Its not the end of the world, it just seems odd.

  22. Theophilus said on July 11th, 2009 at 5:38am #

    With all due respect, this article seems completely at odds with my own personal experience. I have a mobile phone, and have done since the age of 14. I use my phone every day. I have 600 text messages and 300 minutes every month, and whilst I rarely go over that limit, I’m often close to it.

    Am I a slave to my phone? No. The very idea is nonsensical. I always carry it, and it’s always on (although usually on silent). What does that mean in practice? It means that I am never uninformed as to any social opportunity that might present itself. Party? Trip to the park? Poker game? Clubbing, art exhibition, cinema? I know what and when, and I’ll be on time.

    I have been a student in two different towns in the UK in the past few years, and I grew up in another, different city. I have good friends scattered throughout the country, and I cannot afford train or bus fares to go and visit them all anywhere near as often as I would like. But they are always just a phone call away. If it weren’t for my phone, I would imagine that plenty of these relationships would have fallen apart. Writing a letter or an email is all very well and good, but it does not compare to hearing the voice of people you care about, and having a real conversation, in real time.

    If there is an emergency, then there is no delay in calling an ambulance, or calling the cops. Thankfully, it’s rare I find myself in this position, but it seems undeniable that mobile phones save lives.

    I always have a dictaphone in my pocket. I always have a camera in my pocket. I always have a guitar tuner, a calendar, a stopwatch and a torch in my pocket. They are all in my phone. These are incredibly useful tools for my day-to-day life.

    You talk of people being chained to their machines, as if it was a one-way relationship, but the point is that there is someone else on the other end of that line. There is someone else replying to those texts. It is a social tool, before anything else. It enables conversations that couldn’t otherwise take place. It streamlines the making of social arrangements. Perhaps 50% of my mobile phone use is spent organising meeting up with people in the real world. It is a means to that end. The bulk of the rest is spent talking to people who, for whatever reason, I am unable to meet up with in the real world. The reality for most young people nowadays is that it is cheaper to own a mobile phone than to own a landline, even before convenience is taken into account.

    No offence, but this article really does read as if it is written by someone who is not just a little old-fashioned, but has been completely left behind by a short spell of technological progress. If people are using their phones in a rude manner, that’s because they are inconsiderate people. If children are spending all day in front of a screen, that’s because no-one has shown them any other way to spend their time. The problem is never the technology, it is how people choose to use it.

    And if I ever want to disconnect from the network, the manufacturers were kind enough to include an ‘off’ button.

  23. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2009 at 6:03am #

    It’s like the pre-World War II calm in Britain when I was a young man. No one did anything until bombs began to fall. We really don’t notice climate change; it seems theoretical to most of us. When the first great climate disaster strikes, I hope we will all pull together just as if our nation was being invaded. James Lovelock

    For that three year old a lot of good a cell phone will do at the age of twenty three as the you know what is hitting the fan. Anyway microwaveing your brain doesn’t seem like the answer.

  24. Damien said on July 13th, 2009 at 1:14pm #

    @Theophilus, you owned! The comments were so gloomy and negative I almost switched my phone off! Now I can hold my head up high again.

    Seriously, though, you said what I wanted to so damn well I can only say amen!

  25. Kevan said on July 14th, 2009 at 2:06am #

    Technology is the means by which humans evolve. It has been since we could walk upright and we have used it as a tool to survive for centuries. There is nothing unnatural about technology. Such ideals have their roots in religious dogma, i.e. not allowing women to take anesthetics before childbirth because it would eliminate the punishment God placed on all women for the sin of Eve.

    Without advocating the progression and integration of technology into our lives, the greatest mind our species has ever seen would be silent: Stephen Hawking.

    If a child were born with a heart disease and it’s heart failed, would you not give it an ICD (Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator)? Or would you let the child die? I’m sure that any sane, moral person would choose the former option.

    We are now beginning to integrate technology into our very bodies. It is and always has been an inevitable step in our evolution. We will become more than human, just as we became more than apes.