Friday, April 28, 2017
Death Valley, California
More than ever in human history, people walk the streets shouting. Wires hang from their ears. They hold the wires to their mouths. They talk to themselves, gesticulating wildly. They behave like persons with psychoses. Viewed from the outside, they act precisely like persons responding to auditory hallucinations.
The bizarre, rude, and narcissistic behavior takes many forms.
Why is it so irksome?
Because they talk into their phones loudly. Or, they engage in a one-sided conversations. Because you can only hear their side, their mono-dialogues are more distracting than if you overheard a two-sided discussion.
Another variation consists of humans walking while looking at their phones. They read articles, study maps, or review emails or texts. I observed a fellow holding his iPad to his lips in a manner which looked rather sexual, like he was performing techno-fellatio.
It’s a miracle more haven’t died from tripping.
More certainly will.
Yet another variety occurs in public transport–on airplanes, buses, Uber rides, carpools. The degree of interpersonal inconsideration is staggering. Even though they may be seated right next to you, these mobile narcissists continue their conversations. You wonder,
Are they talking to their girlfriend or wife?
Is it their boss or employee?
Do they see me?
United Airlines would better serve the public by dragging mobile narcissists off airplanes.
Yet another variation occurs on elevators. I found it particularly disheartening when, just the other day, I entered the elevator in my office building, riding from the fourth to the first floor. The doors opened, and three other persons in the elevator car were all talking on their cell phones. They acted like they were alone. It felt sad. It felt lonely.
It was a study in absurdity.
Despite widespread knowledge of its lethality, people continue to text while driving their cars. How many more deaths it will take before governments set harsher penalties for such behavior? If talking on phones is empirically problematic, texting must be exponentially worse.
But that one’s obvious.
Less obvious is why people would bother to talk on the cell phones while hiking.
If you feel compelled to finish your conversation with your boyfriend, or complain to your mother, then why head into the wilderness? You expect to encounter inconsiderateness on streets, airplanes, and elevators. Not on a hike.
Finally, shamefully, and secretly, many people utilize their mobiles while defecating, urinating, or otherwise sitting on the toilet. No wonder the cell phone companies preclude coverage for water damage. They understand what humans do with their phones.
These examples of insensitive, dangerous, mischievous, or unsanitary mobile phone utilization show the decline of liberal humanism. As corporations and governments have grown in size, the family and the community has diminished. With it, the capacity for empathy has dropped.
On the one hand, these post-Enlightenment changes brought more freedom of the individual. Arranged marriages fell into disfavor. Persons were free to choose what they studied, where they worked, and where they lived. They decided how to live their lives.
On the other hand, individuality has its downsides. People forget about others. They believe they exist within an invisible bubble. They fail to realize you might be thinking:
Did it occur to you, mobile maniac, I want to read while sitting next to you on a plane?
Political philosopher John Stuart Mill believed individual freedom ended at the tip of your neighbor’s nose. He distinguished between offensive and harmful ethical behaviors. In other words, smoking in the quiet of your backyard may be fine. However, doing so inside a car clearly affects others. Your passengers have no choice but to breathe your smoke. In the same vein, shouting into cell phones on elevators, in airplanes, or even while walking on the street shows a blatant disregard for others.
An entirely different angle on mobile insensitivity relates to its effect on presence, being, mindfulness. When asked to describe enlightenment, a Buddhist master replied:
When asked to elaborate so listeners or readers could fully appreciate the concept of Nirvana, the master said:
Few pay attention.
Look around as you read this post.
Particularly if you are in a public place, you’ll see most of those around you staring intently into their cell phone screens. They may be talking. They may be reading the news. They may be texting or emailing. They are not making conversation with others. They are not even noticing them. They are definitely not paying attention to what’s happening around them.
Further, they forget Mills’ basic sense of liberty. They ignore that we humans exist in an interpersonal field, like fish in a pond. We swim in schools. Even if driving alone to San Francisco late at night, you still affect other drivers. Whether walking along a street, traveling in public transport, or entering an elevator, others exist. You affect them; they affect you.
Here’s why mobile maniacs deserve forgiveness:
First, the global mobile phone market employs genius-level advertisers who constantly remind them of new apps, or new levels of contact — of texting, facetiming, whatsapping, or whatever people need to stay attached to their phones. Grabbing your attention, these firms expose folks to further advertising. They follow every transaction.
Second, we humans — regardless of living in schools and groups and communities and organizations and nations and states — are an immensely lonely species. We can barely stand it. The quiet of the bus at rest, of the plane at the gate, of the car before ignition, terrifies us.
So we pick up the phone.
Are you there?
An endless, strange loop results. Irritated at their neighbor, the person calls a friend or a spouse or a relative, seeking comfort. The phone call irritates and distracts their neighbor who, in turn, picks up her mobile phone to make a call, or check the news, or find solace.
It never ends.
It’s so sad.
Mill, J.S. (1959). On Liberty. London: J. Parker.
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