heard of the disease? But you are already infected by it. It's
all around you and with you. In fact if it isn't with you it
is against you. Yes, quite a contradiction in terms: it's a
blessing, it's a nuisance; it interrupts your life, it helps
it flow more smoothly; it tracks down your friends and family,
it reveals your position; it keeps you in touch with those in
the distance yet glazes your eyes to the person in front.
is the plague of our times, the virus none of us can escape,
even if we wanted to. But who would wish to be immune to this
friendly or over-friendly societal malady? No, cellularitis
is here to stay and we have to learn to accept it. What we should
not accept, however, and ought indeed to fight against are some
of its dire, anti-social and disruptive side effects. More about
that as soon as the ringing in my ear subsides... is it my...
or is it yours... its mine... hullo?... er... excuse me readers,
I'll be with you in a second... hullo, listen can I get back
to you, I'm in the middle of my column? Click. Okay, So where
were we? Damn! There we go again... hullo? sorry, readers, its
my editor... No, no, its not finished yet, I've actually just
started, but will send it in by today. It's called 'The Menace
of Cellularitis.' What's it about? Listen, I can't talk now,
I'm between the lines of my page right now, okay? Bye. Sorry,
where were we?
anyone remember life in the uninterrupted B.C era? I mean, of
course, Before Cell phones. Whatever did we do during the dark
ages before the advent of these miraculous gadgets? I shudder
to imagine the shroud of silence enveloping our lives: no ones
handbags rang out melodiously in the middle of a conference
with the theme from Dr. Zhivago, no one was zapped in his pocket
with a Xylephonic rendering of Beethoven's Fifth just as he
bent down to kiss his lady love; milads, funerals, weddings,
break-ups, making-up after break-ups, family reunions, fights,
banquets, candle-lit dinners, official meetings, political sittings,
dental surgery, mental breakdowns, all were conducted in unmitigated,
un-phone ringing silence! Worse! While loitering in the aisles
of Agora, the lobby of hotels, auditoriums, airports, travel
agencies and banks, or while negotiating busy streets, crowded
rooms and lifts or sitting at the hairdressers, restaurants
or waiting rooms, the world at large missed the opportunity
to know about your busy and fascinating social life, your business
contacts or your complex personal problems, the name of your
maid ("Ayee Shefali, has the driver gone to baby's school?
NOT YET?) or your brutal side (a string of abuses levelled at
afore-mentioned Shefali ending with a just-wait-till-I get-home).
Boring? But peaceful, and polite and civilized and as social
life should be--unpunctuated by the insistently rude interruptions
of the cellular menace.
is my main complaint against my little big mobile friend. But
I feel some rules of conduct must be put into action as we continue
to make the cell phone an intrinsic part of our daily lives.
I really believe that as in airlines and auditoriums, also in
some social situations the cell should be switched off and not
used as doctors on call use a pager. Every now and then, one
may excuse oneself from company and check ones calls but unobtrusively
as one checks ones makeup or picks ones teeth, discreetly. It
is as rude to drift away from the present company to chat on
the phone, as is reading a book at a table or in the drawing
room during a social call. Its like watching TV while talking.
People are still indulgent about cell phone interruptions but
we should not be. Every situation is not an emergency. Isn't
it ironic that emergency situations where you must absolutely
be contacted seem to have risen dramatically since the not so
distant days when you could not be reached? Accessibility has
created urgency! Needless to say, life has become easier and
our movements more easily and efficiently coordinated because
of cell connection. But I am talking about the excesses that
violate private space and show disrespect for the importance
of a moment when the phone simply should not ring. We should
know when to switch it off, be it momentary.
moment of bereavement, of parent-child bonding, of romance,
of official importance, of prayer, visiting the sick, or dining
together. My pet peeve is when in a small group one member goes
of on a tangent conversing on his cell phone loud and long enough
to affect the rest of the group. The other peeve is the SMS
text message addict. This social offender is constantly sending
or checking text messages publicly. Seldom is it an exchange
of significant messages but of jokes that are doing the current
rounds. The concentration or smile on the face of your companion
or friend as you lose his attention while he or she plays with
the toy is something I find irritating. There is nothing wrong
with exchanging jokes and notes, but why publicly?
love my cell phone and would feel unconnected to the world if
I left my mobile behind, but it is only a gadget which is necessary,
even indispensable but not ineluctably inescapable, insuperable,
and it doesn't have to be insufferably inportant, I mean important
(time to throw away my dictionary open on words starting with
'in'). In fact and indeed, I normally berate my rare friends
or family who still don't own cell phones and make YOUR life
complicated. I mean its okay to not want to be accessible all
the time, but not to be accessible at all is plain irresponsible.
Case in point. The day my husband and I were leaving Rome for
Dhaka, we were dropped at the airport by a friend who adamantly
refuses to own a cell phone. We climbed out of his car with
our luggage and waved him goodbye. As soon as his car disappeared
we realized to our horror that we had left the laptop on the
back seat. Had he a phone we would have called him even before
he left the airport premises, but now there was no way to stop
him midway so he could bring the laptop back. How we eventually
managed is another story.
there is my brother, who after losing his mobile decided he
liked being untraceable. For a year he managed without it, but
his friends and relatives tore their hair. So on his recent
birthday, I went to Grameen Phone for his surprise birthday
gift. "What is it?" he asked. The wrapped box rang
out as his brother-in-law called from the next room. "A
musical box, just what I wanted" he sighed ironically,
trapped again into the web of telephonic connections and erosion
of privacy. My heart bleeds for him, as I grin. Another mortal
gets the cellular bug.
seriously, Cellularitis, at least the flagrant and advance cases
where the cell phone becomes a person's physical and social
appendage, need not be a hopeless terminal case, it need not
take over our lives. We all have to make a concerted effort
to contain the disease so that the strident, disruptive and
'DIS' part is reduced to enhance the EASE aspects of this technology.
Now, if my readers don't mind, I'll go to the other room and
answer my missed call since my phone rang silently a while ago
on vibration mode. Oops! Its from my editor. Delete.
(The writer's book of collected columns 'An Abiding City: Ruminations
from Rome' is available at Etcetra, Omni and Arong.)