Cell phone censure

by Roopinder Singh

ONE of the first decisive acts of new British Prime Minister David Cameron was to censure the use of mobile phones, including Blackberries, in Cabinet meetings. His “Not, now. Not here, please” strikes a sixer for cell phone civility, which has been absent from the world in recent days as much as cricket is from Twenty20.

Even as the British Cabinet was meeting to discuss ways to get away from the exertions of forming the Cabinet to being the Cabinet, there were two distracting phone calls and a text, which led to the ban. Ironically, at the same time, back in a country which was once the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, I was sitting in a place where by convention cell phones should not be used – in a place of worship.

We were all there to pay our respects to a wonderful man, a surgeon and a scholar, who had departed us a few months before his 100th birthday. The psalms were soothing, the atmosphere sombre and serene. Till your glance went to someone who was busy texting, or another one who actually took a call!

No doubt, cell phones or mobiles liberate us in many ways. They have revolutionised the way we communicate, and are ubiquitous in their spread. In India, a recent study found out that we have more cell phones than toilets! Not that we need the latter. He who hasn’t seen the sight of a grown-up man (why does it always have to be men?) standing by the roadside, peeing while carrying on a conversation on his mobile simultaneously, ain’t seen nothing yet.

Who hasn’t been embarrassed at hearing in a crowded public place what should obviously be a private conversation? Which social gathering or meeting hasn’t been interrupted with a rude, incongruous sound of a caller tune that reveals the immaturity and fantasies of the mobile owner even as it irritates. I have always called my cell phone an electronic leash that allows me limited freedom at the cost of being available to all and sundry at even unearthly hours and inconvenient times.

As German philosopher Immanuel Kant said, while formulating his Categorical Imperative, “Nothing is good in itself, except good will.” Cell phones have given us liberty, but they should not take away our life with their intrusions. We have to take charge of our lives. Somehow, people assume that cell phone recipients must always be available. Well, they will learn that this is not so, simply if you are not available to them. Cameron has made the right call.

I sincerely hope that it catches up and we can cut ourselves from the tyranny that cell phones impose on us. When I acquired my first cell phone, it resembled a small Nanakshahi brick. It occupied pride of place in a holster on my belt. I guess at sometime or the other, Wild West fantasies played in my mind, and I definitely felt as empowered as any cowboy wearing his six shooter.

It rang one day while I was sitting with an American scholar friend. As my hand moved towards the phone “like greased lightning,” as they say in Sudden books, she gasped: “Your aren’t going to take the call, are you?” For her it was inconsiderate, impolites and a personal affront that I would take a call in the midst of our discussion.

The sharpness and horror in her voice was enough to freeze the hand and make it cut the call, instead of taking it, as originally intended. I had learnt a valuable lesson.

This middle was published in The Tribune on 19 May, 2010

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