In two columns, I elegantly described the modern-day disease: addiction to the mobile phone. But, on reading an article by Martin Lindstrom in The New York Times recently, I realise the disease is much worse: it is love.
Mr Lindstrom, along with MindSign Neuromarketing, subjected eight men and women to complicated fMRI experiments — which, in the interest of not boring you, I will not detail — and found a frenzied level of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, associated with feelings of love and compassion. In other words, these subjects responded to the sound and vibration of their mobile phones in much the same way as we respond to an affectionately loved one. They actually “heard” their mobile phones even when it was only vibrating and “saw” it when it was only ringing. This is similar to looking at your one-year-old baby’s picture and “hearing” her prattle, or passing a big log of wood in the park and “seeing” your husband snoring next to you at night. And when deprived of their beloved instrument, they exhibit the same anxiety a mother displays when she can’t locate her child in the supermarket.
The article must have made a deep impression on me because I had a vivid dream that night. My colleague was looking very distressed as he searched his desk, lifting papers and ransacking drawers.
“What happened, Joe?” I asked with concern. “You are looking ashen and pale.”
“My presentation to management is beginning in 15 minutes,” he said, “And I can’t find…”
“… your presentation!?” I cried. “This is terrible! Was it on a USB stick? Don’t you have a copy on your computer?”
“Of course I have a copy of my presentation,” he said. “It’s my cell phone I can’t find.”
I was puzzled. “Why do you need your phone? Surely, you can’t play Solitaire when you are actually presenting?”
“I never play Solitaire with Sheila!” he snapped. “That’s rude.” Then his face took on a wistful look. “But we do play Scrabble together sometimes… she’s really good, you know.”
My mind began to churn. I knew his wife Helen. Who was Sheila and did Helen know?
“Sheila! Where are you?” he cried in anguish, throwing the papers from his drawer to the floor. Then I got it: the goof was referring to his phone.
“Here,” I said, offering him my phone. “Why don’t you call it — I mean her?”
“I have tried. She refuses to answer. I think I left her at my bedside this morning. My god! What must she be thinking? This has NEVER happened before. What do I do?”
“Fetch her during lunch,” I said.
“But I need her now!” he cried. “I have never made a presentation without her in my pocket. When I am asked a tough question, I need to feel her vibrations — even when she is still — encouraging me. And when I’m explaining complicated charts, I need to hear her sweet ring tone — ‘Piano Riff’, by the way — telling me I’m doing fine.”
He said it with a straight face, but I cringed in embarrassment and looked around me hastily to ensure that others were not overhearing me listening to this drivel.
“Can you please fetch her for me?” He took my hand and looked beseechingly into my eyes. “You can interrupt the meeting and give it to me. Please? Here, take my car. And here are my house keys. And I’ll buy you a drink after work today.”
“But will she come with me?” I asked. “We have never met.”
The sarcasm backfired.
“Good point!” he said. “Here, take my photo ID with you. And to be safe, wear my jacket. She always feels comfortable in its pocket.”
“No, no,” I said in panic — his jacket was a deep shade of maroon that I preferred not be seen near, let alone inside — “The ID should be enough.”
“No!” he said. “Do I know Sheila or do you?”
He took off his jacket and manhandled me into it. As I tried to slink quietly through the office, my phone rang and people looked up. I tried to answer it, but it only rang louder and louder. Everyone was staring at me. That’s when I woke up and realised my phone was ringing — on my bedside.
It was Joe, asking for help on his upcoming presentation to management.
Paddy Rangappa is a freelance writer based in Singapore. Read more on his blog: http://theflip-side.blogspot.com