Life before the mobile phone

Saturday, 31 December 2011 - 9:00am IST | Agency: DNA
If you own a mobile phone and use it voraciously — in other words, if you are a human being greater than six years of age — you are probably an ardent, diehard fan of the instrument.

If you own a mobile phone and use it voraciously — in other words, if you are a human being greater than six years of age — you are probably an ardent, diehard fan of the instrument.

I can almost hear you, as I’ve heard several of your brothers and sisters, rave about how the mobile phone has improved your life immeasurably.

Without my asking you, you will start to explain its unmatched usefulness, citing examples of how it helps you keep track of your children, receive people at the railway station (‘I’m standing at Higginbothams; where are you?’) and make calls from wherever you are, whenever you like, to whoever you fancy talking with. And, as if this sickening eulogy of an instrument with buttons on it is not enough, you will end with this refrain: “How did I ever live my life without the mobile phone?”

Well, let me tell you:
You kept track of your children by looking out of the window — in those days, children played outdoors, indulging in archaic activities like running and kicking a ball — or calling the home of the friend they were visiting. If they went for a movie, you would wait for them to come back instead of calling them while they’re watching (‘Haan Beta, how is the movie? Are you wearing a sweater? The theatre must be cold.’)

If you had to receive someone at the railway station, even in those days you would meet at Higginbothams, but you’d arrange this beforehand, instead of calling them when their train pulls into the platform.

And, of course, you would not make calls to anyone at any time from wherever you were. I grant you that this is a convenience you did not have. But it’s a convenience that has so mesmerised you today, you’ve forgotten that it brings with a rather nasty inconvenience: getting calls from any one at any time.

Recently my wife answered my mobile phone and told my friend I was in the bathroom.

“Is he bathing?” my friend wanted to know.

“No,” said my wife.


“He is…er… otherwise engaged,” she said.

“Then please quickly ask him if he recommended I watch Aarakshan or Bodyguard? I’ve forgotten which and am approaching the ticket counter now.”

Throw your mind back to a couple of decades ago and imagine this very real scenario: you wanted a well-deserved break from the rigours of the job and you wanted to obtain it in a smooth, cultured way. It didn’t matter if your boss belonged to that difficult breed of managers who insist on a good reason for any application of casual leave and have a narrow idea of what constitutes ‘good’.  You would simply explain to him that your aunt has suddenly been admitted in hospital. You would then ask your wife to answer all calls to home and if your manager called (because this breed, in addition to tracking the reason for your leave, also believes in tracking you during your leave), to tell him you were at the bedside of your aunt, while you lazed languidly in front of the television set.

Now let’s fast forward to today and replay the same scenario. But this time, let’s say your aunt is really admitted in hospital and you’ve taken casual leave to genuinely visit her. Your manager will not call your home and speak to your wife. He will simply call you: on your wretched cell phone.

“Hi, Ashutosh,” he will say, assuming for the sake of the argument that your name is Ashutosh, “Where are you?”

“I’m in the hospital beside the bed of my ailing aunt,” you reply.

“Anyone next to you?” he asks.

“Yes Peter, since I’m next to her, my aunt is also next to me.”

“And can she listen to this?”

“No, she was involved in a major accident. She’s in coma.”

“Good, great... excellent, actually!” he says, “I can speak freely. Take this down: for the bid on the chainsaw project, I would like you to…”

You see my point: very convenient for the manager, but not so convenient for you. Or your aunt.  So the next time you start blabbering about the usefulness of the mobile phone, stop. Think about this article… then throw the phone into the gutter.

Paddy Rangappa is a freelance writer based in Singapore. Read more on his blog:

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