When your cell phone owns you, a look at an obsessed culture

Freeze–put down your cell phone.

I’ll be the first to admit, I rarely go a full day without my cell phone. It’s like a third limb. Attached in a way that makes us feel like an amputee in its absence. Does that sound like a good thing to you? Because to me it sounds terrifying.

I have a lot of beef with cell phones. Not only could they potentially be putting us all at risk for cancer (the World Health Organization found evidence that mobile phone users are at a greater risk for brain cancer), they are often designed with “planned obsolescence” (meaning they break, wear down or become obsolete in an intentional amount of time so that consumers will have to discard the product and buy a new one) creating a pile of e-waste 500 million cell phones high just this past year. But bigger than health or environmental risks, lies the undeniable fact that cell phones are changing who we are.

We’re changing childhoods. My generation of 20-somethings, having grown up before the era of the cell phone explosion, still has a decent grasp on how to live our lives unplugged. Whether or not we put that idea into practice is another thing, but I think we at least understand the value of hitting “power off” every once in awhile.

What scares me are the kids born into this era of massive digital and communication consumption. The average kid in the UK, for example, has their hands on their first cell phone by the time they are eight years old. And according to the Pew Internet Survey, the age for kids getting their first cell becomes less and less in America every year.

When I was eight I played outsideand laughed out loud, not lol-ed while playing Temple Run. Sure, some parents only provide their kids with phones for “in case of an emergency” situations, but if we look where the trend is going, it’s likely that cell phones for elementary school kids, used for all sorts of functions, is on the way to being the norm.

We don’t know how to talk to each other. Yeah, people talk face-to-face every day, it’s kind of essential to humanity (at least right now), but start observing more closely. How many people have an ear glued to the phone walking across campus? Or sitting alone, eyes glued to a cell phone screen? Or my favorite, hanging out with friends eyes glued to a cell phone screen? I once heard someone say, “We’ve never been more plugged in, yet less connected,” and I couldn’t agree more. With 7 trillion text messages sent in 2011, we should consider the value society today puts on direct, face-to-face communication.

We let our phones define and validate who we are. Smart phones make the instantaneous sharing of information possible 24/7. Whether it’s an app for Twitter, Facebook or the like, so many cell phone users today (especially my generation of 20-somethings who are thriving social media elitists) are quick to snap photos and make status updates about everything that happens to them. Hang out with friends? Get invited to a party? Buy a new top? Make a turkey sandwich? Cell phone culture has created a desire to constantly tell others what we are up to, and also a strange sensation that if it isn’t recorded online, liked, commented on or retweeted, it didn’t matter. Why do we constantly feel the need to tell others what we are doing as if we need affirmation from our social networks that our lives have value?

We assume cell phones are inherent to who (and where) we are. There have been recent scares at Elon University concerning missing students. In certain incidents an Elon student, or Elon alum was reported missing when in fact, the students just weren’t answering their phones. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be concerned if you can’t get a hold of a friend, but we should take a step back and analyze a culture that depends so heavily on cell phone connection that turning yours off for 24 hours to just get away from the world nearly gets your face slapped on a milk carton.

Another thing that gets me: Apple’s “Find Your Friends” app. This application allows -iPhone users users to pin point the exact location of other users on a map. Beyond creepy. Some say it’s useful for making sure your friends get places safely. My response? Did they have this 50 years ago (10 years ago even)? No. And did they survive? Yes. The app has however, helped one man in New York catch his cheating wife. That’s pretty useful I guess.

While all of the things I mentioned have legitimate arguments for their functionalities and existence, I think the bigger question we need to ask ourselves is a question of ownership: do we own our cell phones, or do our cell phones own us?

In the words of Andrew Keen, who recently wrote an article for CNN called “How our mobiles became Frankenstein’s monster,” we need to take a step back and remind our cell phones who’s boss.

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