Society too dependent on phones

Remember that scene from Dr. Dolittle 2 when the animal whisperer takes away his daughter’s cell phone? Probably not.

It’s all I remember from the movie, starring Eddie Murphy as the doctor and Raven Symoné as his daughter, Charisse. After Dr. Dolittle snatches the antiquated-looking cell phone, Charisse responds with a sharp retort: “What am I supposed to do without my cell phone?”

Writing out that line doesn’t do justice to Raven’s delivery. There’s quite a bit of emphasis on the words “cell phone.” But don’t fear, you can see it in all its glory on YouTube.

It was 2001. And the scene stuck with me so vividly because my brother, some friends and I used to repeat the line mockingly. How bratty the statement sounded then.

The film predated the iPhone by a good six years. And truth be told, the greatest noncommunication accessory that cell phones had going for them was the game Snake, which truly was (and remains) great. Back then, more often than not, the answer to, “What am I supposed to do without my cell phone?” might simply be: use the house phone.

But the rhetorical question today hardly sounds bratty. In fact, it’s unfortunately something I find myself asking all the time. What am I supposed to do without my cell phone?

Sorry, did I just write cell phone? I meant smartphone.

Whether I’m walking to class, exercising at the gym or driving (yes, even driving), this fear seems to surface. I meticulously calculate the time before my phone abruptly turns into the depressing black screen of energy lost. If I play one more song, I should be OK until the end of my workout. Heaven forbid my phone does in fact die and I’m left asking: “What am I supposed to do without my cell phone?”

Again, I meant smartphone. And it is smart. It is very smart.

This, of course, explains one reason why I’m inseparable from my phone. It does everything for me, from tasks as basic as checking email to jobs as complicated as depositing checks.

Another reason that I rarely let my cell phone go to black is that, to some extent, I feel expected to always be on the grid. In today’s world, people must be reachable and reachable quickly. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you are at work, at the movies or in bed.

No, that was not a typo. In fact, according to the 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits study, 9 percent of American smart phone users reported having used their mobile devices during sex. According to the same survey, 12 percent said they’ve used smart phones in the shower and 55 percent have used their devices while driving, which I suppose is unfortunately no surprise.

Communication can’t wait, when it comes to the smart phone. And in today’s world, Raven’s “What am I supposed to do without my cell phone?” doesn’t seem bratty at all.

Still, there is a more pernicious reason why I can’t live without my iPhone 4s, iOS 6 (I’ve held out on the update). In an interview with Conan O’Brien last week, comedian Louis C.K. accurately described this problem in a video that went viral.

On driving while using your phone, he says, “People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second.”

The interview is worth watching in full, but the primary reason he doesn’t want his children to have phones is summed up with one line at the end of the interview.

“You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product. And then you die,” he told O’Brien.

We use our smart phones, according to Louie C.K., to conceal the nervousness that comes with being alone.

It’s hard not to agree with this bleak take, at least to some degree. We’ve all seen it. When at dinner for two and left alone, even for a split second, one’s first reaction is to go for the cell phone. I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Instead of using the time to wait patiently and think, my knee-jerk reaction is to check Facebook (even though I don’t really have to) or Twitter (even though I don’t really have to).

Don’t get me wrong, smartphones are remarkable and have dramatically changed communication, mostly for the better. Still, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t benefit from using them a bit more judiciously. There are still things that should be done without a cell phone — such as thinking and feeling.

The phone line that Symoné uses in Dr. Dolittle 2, perhaps the question, “What am I supposed to do without my cell phone?” is outdated. Instead, we might benefit from asking “what am I supposed to do with my cell phone?”


Daniel Rothberg is a junior majoring in political science. His column “Twenty-First Century Fears” runs Thursdays.

 Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielRothberg 

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