Freedom, or Digital Slavery?
By Jim Bray
to the promise of cellular telephones?
Remember those golden
days of technology when cellphones were still big enough that they couldnt
slip into your pocket? Having a phone that you could take with you anywhere
had lots of promise; it would empower businesspeople, it would set them
free. Having a cell phone let you keep in touch wherever you were, letting
you do business on the beach, or on the golf course. It gave you security
because if your car broke down on the roadside, or you were in any kind
of trouble anywhere, you had a lifeline with no line.
We were promised it
would be communications heaven.
to that promise?
Ill tell you
what happened. It came to pass exactly as advertised and
it was only the beginning of the revolution.
But at what cost?
phones are more than just yakking machines. They can bring you e-mail,
voice mail, stock quotes. I wouldnt be surprised if, within a few
years, theyll be able to project a holographic image of you back
to the person at the other end, so your kid will be able to actually see
mom or dad, the high powered big shot, as you call to explain why you
arent home for the birthday party.
Thatll set us
free even more.
While it may not sound
like it from the tone of this rant, I really like the freedom cell phones
have wrought. As with most, if not all, technology, the machinery itself
is benign; what worries me is how people are allowing themselves to get
sucked into the cellular phone trap.
Im not only
talking about the boors of the world, the thoughtless oafs who allow their
cell phones to ring in movie theatres or people who have a great
deal of difficulty (if not a complete lack of skill at) driving a vehicle
at the best of times, yet who feel obliged to yak with one hand while
inflicting themselves on our highways and byways with the other.
No, cell phone etiquette
and/or the lack of it is bad enough, but its only part of my concern.
The thing that really
concerns me is how, with our new found freedom, were actually losing
our freedom, giving it up willingly as the technology allows others to
take away from us our control of our own lives.
I was in a
well, it was a lounge recently and every few minutes the cell phone
belonging to a guy at a neighboring table would ring and hed jump
up obediently and run out to the lobby, presumably because it was quieter
or because if he got away from the sounds of clinking mugs and satellite
TV no one would know he was in a bar.
In effect, the phone
would say jump and hed say how high?
Rather than empowering
him, his cell phone had made him a slave. This poor guy, who probably
got the phone because of its promise of freedom and flexibility, couldnt
even keep away from the thing long enough to have a quick lunch or a beer.
It was nearly as pathetic
to see as those kids who wear their cell phones on their belts like six
shooters, then perch them proudly on their school desk to ensure that
all who pass know they have their own phone and are therefore Someone
As a confirmed gadget
freak, I applaud the technology and its wonderful potential. These technological
tools really can set us free, and I wont even attempt to argue that
life since the cell phones introduction isnt as good as in
the good old days.
But theres one
basic feature on every cell phone that many people havent yet figured
out how to use.
The solution? Most
cell phones can now offer voice mail and as much as I hate voice
mail this is one instance in which its wholly appropriate.
People will understand
if you dont answer your cell phone. You might be on the road, or
in the bathroom. Or you might not be. No one needs to know its
your business. And thats the freedom that cellular
So shut the thing
off once in a while and let it take messages. Lifes too short.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.