Cell phones are quickly becoming the bane of our existence. They consume us. We feel lost without them. God forbid that something happens to them. Admit it, we tend to feel that when our phone breaks, a part of US breaks along with it.
Just for giggles, I conducted an experiment driving home from the gym a few weeks ago. It was around 9am on a weekday. The experiment was simple: Look into the next four cars that pass. How many drivers are fiddling with their phones?
The results were not all that surprising. The first car passed and the driver held a cell phone at eye level over the steering wheel rapidly pressing the keypad with their thumb. Okay, 1 for 1. Next…
The second car passed, and yet again, their cell phone diverted their attention. It looked like this person was scrolling through an email, or perhaps down a list of inbox messages. Great. 2 for 2.
The third driver passed and, to my surprise, no cell phone! Perfect…at least someone was focused on their driving responsibility rather than keeping up to date with email or text. The fourth person, sadly, failed. Cell phone in hand, slowing creeping into my lane. A chirp of my horn did the trick.
The results of my completely random and unscientific survey found three of the four drivers I observed that morning were distracted while behind the wheel of their cars. Par for the course.
Cell phones have their place
Though I enjoy bashing the very concept of mobile communication, our cell phones aren’t all bad. They enable potentially life-saving communication when we are out and about. If our car breaks down, we aren’t hoofin’ it to a gas station or flagging down any random Joe for help. Instead, we call for a tow truck. If we witness a crime, we can easily phone the police.
Cell phones also provide a reliable safety mechanism for our loved ones. Parents can discretely track their kids using cellular technology. Mapping applications get us to where we need to go without asking for directions or utilizing the lost art of map reading.
Some of us use our cell phones as a replacement for those time-keeping devices that we used to wear around our wrist. “Watches”, I think? I suppose the Apple Watch aims at reversing that trend.
However, I fear that cell phones are becoming a giant technological crutch for our society.
Cell phones crush life skills
Unfortunately, our reliance on cell phones removes essential skills that we humans used to possess. I’m sure we’ve all seen some shmuck walk directly into a stationary object (or person) while using their cell phone. Cell phones make us unaware of our surroundings. If danger looms, many of us simply have no idea unless we’re literally dragged out of harm’s way.
We also feel lost without our cellular lifeline, don’t we?
Remember that time you forgot your cell phone at home? You felt…different, didn’t you? I’ve felt that same feeling. We all have. “What if someone calls”? “I’m waiting for an important email!” “What if something happens and I need to make a call or text?”
And, what happens if we escape the familiar boundaries of cell coverage by, for example, driving into the fresh and crisp air of the mountains? Sure, we escape city life for a while, but then nobody can text us. We can’t talk on the phone. Our connection with the “real world” has been severed!
How did business EVER get done before cell phones? The devices that keep us connected are also ruining what could be a relaxing, stress-free existence.
How cell phones ruin lives
Cell phones provide much too easy of a distraction for far too many of us. When an inanimate object becomes our lives, we’ve quickly ruined something that should be our very top priority!
They are a popularity contest
Technology never stays the same. Year after year, there’s always an upgrade available. New phones. New plans. Unlimited data. 4G speeds. We will never be happy with the one that we have. Ka-ching!
They completely distract us, and we don’t care
When we prioritize our cell phone over our driving privileges, we not only endanger our own lives, but also the lives of those around us. We’re bad enough drivers when we ARE paying attention.
The statistics on distracted driving are startling. At this very second, 660,000 drivers are using their phones while driving. Yearly, these devices cause 1.6 million crashes. Nearly 25% of crashes in the U.S. are caused by drivers on phones.
In the United States, ad campaigns encourage us to put our phones down while driving. Websites provide the gruesome details of distracted driving. Safety videos are all over the place. Billboards remind us not to text and drive. Sometimes, they even try to be humorous (see above!).
But yet, most of us don’t care. We feel like we can handle it, so we do it anyway. After all, “It’s an important email”.
Our companies expect us to be available
Businesses know that we are all connected at the hip. From top-level executives to grocery store baggers, the large majority of us have cell phones. The more senior you become, the greater the expectation that you’ll see and respond to email – at any time of day.
My company, for instance, “encourages” people to check their email while on vacation…you know, just in case. Taking phone calls are no big deal, they argue. We’re glued to our phones and the businesses we work for exploit that fact. If you don’t respond to an important email over the weekend, are you “uncommitted” to your company?
Unless you don’t have signal, you’re getting email. If you don’t respond, you choose not to respond. How dare you!
What say you? What role does your cell phone – if you have one – play in your life? If you forget your phone, do you feel like a part of you is missing?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.