The Cell Phone Reflects our Connected Society

In my wiki, I have stressed practicality as being of utmost importance for invented worlds or inventions. What inventions enable us to live happier lives? The cellular phone is an example of an extremely practical technology which provides us with many conveniences. The cell phone is a constantly changing technology and newest versions, like the iphone, combine the functions of many different electronics, such as a computer, an MP3 player, a camera, and a dvd player, and a television. In essence, the cell phone provides a constant tie to society so much so that we’re never alone. This limitless access and connectedness is both a luxury which can save us in an emergency and a burden which can restrict individuality. A cell phone could have saved Chris McCandless and Robert Maitland, but would have been a bother to Ignatius J. Reilly and Henry David Thoreau. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, cell phone technology will continue to transform our lifestyle and dictate the types of invented worlds we can create.

Phones of Yesterday
Behold the iphone!

The latest cell phone technology symbolizes the connectedness of our society, and gives us convenient access to information. We don’t have to worry about getting ending up like McCandless who died alone in the wilderness because he was unable to “call for help.” We don’t have to look at a map to plan our route, we can just type in the location of where we want to go and our phone will tell us. We can keep in touch with our friends and family even if we’re on opposite sides of the world. Within our social communities, cell phones enable busy people to communicate easily and keep tabs on each other. Basically, owning a cell phone means you’re never alone.

Some Pitfalls of Cell Phone Dependence

While it provides us with extreme convenience, the cell phone has become a requisite for full participation in mainstream American society. This technology enables people to be accessible at all times, and so we are expected to be just that. Not owning a cell phone is a social handicap which to overcome. It can also make us less self-reliant. Constantly being able to “phone a friend” to solve our problems, we can become overly dependent on others, or on the phone in general.

Cell Phones Have Become one of our "Necessities"

This past summer, I attended the Bonnaroo Music Festival, which is an invented world of its own. 80,000 people descended on rural Manchester, Tennessee for four days in what could be described as an well-planned Woodstock. Everything was well organized except for one thing: no one could get cell phone reception because their signals were crossed. Had I known of this phenomenon in advance I would have prepared myself for it, but I had already made plans to meet friends at Bonnaroo. This surreal event mirrored that of Maitland in Concrete Island. Both Maitland and I were stranded in the middle of human civilization. While Maitland was physically stranded by the highway, I was stranded by this lack of communication. This experience revealed my own dependence on technology.

Bonnaroo: An Invented World...
Where Cell Phones Go to Die

Words of Caution

Cell phones allow us to invent more structured, organized world for ourselves.
In helping us create neat, organized lives, cell phones can shelter us from new experiences. On campus at Richmond, this technology allows us to meet the same friends every day for lunch at D-hall, or to call someone on a walk across campus rather than interact with those around us. There is nothing inherently bad about these abilities, but we need to be aware that overuse of this technology makes it even easier for us to be creatures of habit, and to detach ourselves from our immediate experience.

Cell Phones Can Isolate Us From One Another
Discouraging Distracted Driving

Consulting Thoreau

Thoreau would see the cell phone as the modern embodiment of his railroad:
Cell Phones: Convenient, but also Busy

If we do not get out the sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. (87)

In this passage, Thoreau describes an important dilemma surrounding technology. Helping us move faster than
ever before, cell phones enable us to “get to heaven in season.” In return, however, we must move faster ourselves to match the pace of our technology. It is in this way that the cell phone is like the railroad that “rides upon us.”

One way to lessen dependence: cultivate Thoreauvian simplicity

Wisdom of the Surfer Musician

In his song, “Breakdown,” Jack Johnson provides a social commentary which relates to Thoreau’s mistrust of the railroad:

Johnson: why can't this old train just break down?

Johnson elicits the same “stay and home and mind our business” response as Thoreau, singing “I got no time / that I got to get to / where I don’t need to be.” Johnson champions the "take it easy" approach to life, and makes that outlook a reality. Granted, we can't all be professional surfer/star musicians like Jack, but we can follow his alternative vision of happiness outside the mainstream.

Food for Thought

How do we reduce the impact of technology without entirely removing ourselves from society? We certainly can’t survive living like McCandless, who exits human society and invents a wilderness in Alaska. Even McCandless learned that “happiness is only real when shared.” We also can’t afford to live like Ignatius, who places himself at the center of the world he invents in his head. Ignatius can hardly believe even his own invention, and constantly flirts with insanity. In seeking to strike a balance between total immersion in the mainstream with complete withdrawal, Thoreau and Johnson choose their battles. Thoreau bemoans the railroad and surrounds himself with nature but does enough work to make a living. Johnson, too, expresses regret at the speed of life, but finds he can support his lifestyle simply by surfing and playing the guitar. In order to live fulfilling lives, we should reflect upon whether we want to go where this technology is taking us. If not, we need to negotiate a balance in our day-to-day lives, and thus “live deliberately.”

Without a cell phone in Europe, I was free to appreciate my surroundings
Find your own balance between technology and simplity

Works Cited:

Ballard, J.G. Concrete Island. New York: Picador, 1973.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1997.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1989.

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Louisiana State University Press, 1980.</span></span></span></span></span>

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