Cell Phones, Isolation, and the Nature of Freedom
We live in an age of constant contact. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it allows us to communicate with other people all the time. It is a curse for the exact same reason.
The story of humanity is one of ever-developing technology. Communication is one of the best examples. Not long after the first words there were the first messages. The invention of writing was quickly followed by the invention of the letter. The discovery of electricity soon led to the telegraph, the telephone, and all the other wonderful forms of tele-communication.
Today we are in a golden age of talking to each other. It used to take days or even weeks to get a message to or from Grandma over the river and through the woods. Now we can do the same thing in an instant.
In times past, if you wanted to go to work you had to physically go to work. Now, we can receive constant updates and assignments whether we want to work or not. It used to be that we didn’t always know what everyone was doing. It was easy assume they weren’t doing anything. Sort of a, “tree falls in the forest,” kind of thing. If all your friends are out having fun without you, and you don’t know, does it really matter? We no longer have the luxury of that uncertainty.
The apotheosis of communication technology is the cell phone, and its offspring, the smart phone. When everyone has an instant communicator in their pockets, we no longer have the benefit ignorance. Thus arrives the curse of constant communication.
Information is sort of like a drug. It’s not something you really need to survive, but it can make your time more enjoyable if used properly. People love social information more than anything. That’s where gossip comes from. Humans derive pleasure from talking about other humans. But people gorge themselves and develop a tolerance for this social information, and then they suffer terrible withdrawals when it is unavailable.
Imagine for a moment that you have no idea where your cell phone is. You are getting calls and messages you can’t respond to. You are missing out on fun opportunities. Someone might be in trouble!
If imagining this situation makes you itch or squirm, then you might be addicted to information. Don’t fret, because you are in good company. I think it is normal for people to suffer from phone-separation-anxiety. Lucky for me, I am not normal. I do not suffer from this affliction.
Of course, I own a cell phone. I am no Luddite. Maybe in another life where I am more charismatic and less awkward I too would be afraid of being out of contact. But in this life, I know I am not sufficiently popular enough to be worried about missing anything.
I can go days without looking at my cell phone. And then I think, “I should check on that.” No missed calls. No unanswered messages. Sometimes I don’t notice my phone for so long that the battery actually runs out. When power is restored, the story is usually the same. No messages. Maybe a cut off voicemail from a telemarketer.
When I was younger, this used to make me sad. It still does sometimes. I am only human, whether I like it or not.
But it mostly doesn’t bother me that I am not in constant communication. I have friends and family that I hear from, and reach out to when I want. I am confident in my relationships. My phone is a tool. It is not a crutch.
As I get older, I realize most people don’t really know what freedom is. I am not sure myself. Right now I believe true freedom is not the opportunity to do everything. That sounds much more like pressure, or an addiction. How can a person ever be free if they are tied to opportunity? No, freedom is much more elusive than doing everything. True freedom is when you don’t have to do anything at all.