January 05, 2005

Handphones: right up there with oxygen

Handphones are the hottest things ever to hit planet earth since glow-in-the-dark underwear. Everyone is strutting around with their trusty handphones permanently attached to their palms, dialing fingers all ready for action. Perk up your ears and hear nothing but "You got my number? I don’t have yours. Give me your number. What? You don’t have a mobile? Why in heaven’s name? For goodness’ sake, go get one right now!".

I’m not here to argue whether these little ringing gadgets are a necessity or not - I wholeheartedly agree that they’re a crucial prop in the Survival 101 syllabus. I’m just here to say that handphones have affected us more than we will ever know. They have skewed our morality a little further down the ladder, permanently altered our ideas of what constitutes good taste, contributed to our increasing loss of privacy and have reduced us nothing more than numbers on a keypad.

Admittedly, we weren’t that far up the morality ladder to begin with but our obsession with handphones has knocked us down a few more rungs. Technology lets us explore new forms of deceit and we are now hip-deep in the newly registered sin of location-lying. It goes a little something like this:

Your handphone rings. It is your boss. "Where are you?"

"At a client’s place discussing the proposal." Nobody needs to know you were really at the karaoke bar singing your lungs out to Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’.

Location-lying is not all-bad. It can be very handy if you live in constant fear of your friends calling you up and discovering that your Friday nights are actually spent in front of the tube watching reruns of Mork & Mindy, and not being picked up by guys at the bar like you said.

"Hey, where are you?"

"I’m at this new club! Just stepped out to answer the phone because boy, these guys just won’t leave me alone!"

Thanks to handphones as well, we are rapidly declining in our ideas of what constitute good taste. These little gadgets with their seductive flashing lights have rendered us incapable of judging between what is tasteful and what is not.

Alexander Graham Bell would roll in his grave if he could hear what we now consider ‘ring tones’. From Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’ to the Billy Joel’s ‘Up Town Girl’, the ‘Indiana Jones’ theme song to SClub7’s ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’, noise pollution has never had it so good. It is the height of bad taste when you are in the middle of a suspenseful movie and some guy’s handphone starts ringing the theme to ‘The A-Team’.

Some of the tunes are enough to make you cringe but we grind our teeth and bear it all in the name of technology and individuality.

There is also this other little thing called privacy that gets tossed halfway out the window once a mobile phone hops into the scene. Suddenly, everybody wants you. Everybody wants you to answer your phone, that is. There’s no excuse big enough to justify your failure to answer a call. "It’s ringing isn’t it? Well, answer it then!"

Shutting it off is never an option because then, you might really miss somebody important (the fact that the only people who ever call you are your mother and insurance agent fails to register at this point). Besides, a shut-off might cause you your reputation - you might become one of those people who never answer their mobile phones. "Oh, don’t bother calling him, he never answers his phone."

I guess handphones are a huge part of progress. However, just like the Internet has reduced people to email addresses, handphones have reduced us to nothing more than 10 digits stored in the directory. "I met this charming girl last night but I can’t seem to remember her name….was it 012 or 019?"

And to compound the problem, the speed-dial function on our mobile phones has made it so easy that some of us even have trouble remembering our office numbers. "I can’t remember the number right now but if you’ll give me a minute, I think it’s stored in my phone under the number 7."

But there is one thing handphones have done for our health: it lets us avoid talking to people whom we dislike, people who bore us and people who will give us extra work. An undesired name appears on the screen and with the push of a button, we wipe it out. For one satisfying moment, that person ceases to exist.

One might argue that this is relevant to the first point where we talk about our morality eroding - there’s no room for good old-fashioned lying anymore. "I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now. I’m bathing the dog." Society has certainly progressed when we come to the point where technology allows us to forgo one of our most fundamental traits: lying.

At the risk of sounding like a lecturer, this brings us to the end of discussion. Handphones are lovely gadgets. Their impact is so great that the dents they have created in society are irreversible. But no one’s complaining because hey, we’re enjoying the ride while it’s still here. Who knows what wacky gadget will wade out of the invention pool next? And while we’re waiting, it’s safe to say that the handphone, one of the most life-altering gadgets every invented, is right up there with oxygen, Astro and the remote control.

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