Cell Phones and the Great Power Shift

Cell phones

This is going to be one of those posts where I try to unpack a thought experiment I’ve got going this week. There might be rambling, nonsense, and some tongue in cheek humor and sarcasm. If you don’t have the patience for that kind of thing, I understand. Anyway…

The other day I had the pleasure of meeting someone who doesn’t own a cell phone. At all. It’s not that he has an old phone or one with limited features. He simply doesn’t own one. And before you make the assumption, he’s not an old technology-hating geezer. He’s in his early thirties!

Now, I didn’t own a smart phone until a couple of years ago. Publishing a book reluctantly forced me into a smart phone so I could keep up with everything going on and everyone who was suddenly in my life. But at least I had a dumb phone for emergencies. This guy doesn’t even have that.

He admits it makes him an oddball in society, but he’s noticed an odd phenomenon. Some people actually view him as cooler, stronger, more disciplined, or smarter.

He had a recruiter tell him he admired him during a job interview. He’s had women say that it makes him more interesting since they can’t call or text him at any moment of the day. He had someone comment on how “lucky” he was he didn’t have that monthly bill and constant upgrade fees.

This guy is cool in the eyes of many. He’s like a superhero. Why should this be the case? Aren’t cell phones cool? Don’t they bestow their coolness on those who carry them?

Not exactly. In some circles, the culture surrounding cell phones has changed. Yes, in some circles it’s awesome to have the latest iPhone. However, there are a number of people who view cell phones (or the people who use them) as nuisances. To this group of people, those who eschew cell phones are the cool ones. Times have changed.

If you’re old, like me, you can remember when cell phones came into existence. The few who had them were looked upon with awe. (You just had to admire someone who had the strength to cart one of those monsters around.) Having one meant that you were either wealthy, super-important, or both. Possibly you were a drug dealer, or in the mafia. Cell phones just weren’t things that the common man had. A cell phone indicated power. Or illegal activities. Whichever.

Cell Phone Fox

Now everybody has a cell phone. They’re no more special than carrying a wallet or purse. They’re trendy and faddish, as disposable and interchangeable as every fad throughout history. This week the hot color is blue, next week it’s rose gold. First everyone wanted a small screen, now they want big ones. Every year there’s a new model to chase.

Plus, more than a few people missed the etiquette and safety classes for their use, resulting in accidents and annoyances in abundance. Having a cell phone now isn’t representative of anything. They aren’t only for the wealthy and the powerful; they’re as common as bricks. (More expensive, of course, but just as common.)

The show of power today is the ability to resist the cell phone’s siren call at all. Or to have flown close to the black hole that is cell phone use and somehow escaped the event horizon and your immediate descent into a cell phone obsessed life. There are few people who, like the guy I met, can claim to have no cell phone at all. This makes them unique.

They are the uncommon people, the special ones. The weirdos, as some people like to call them. The people who’ve either never had a cell phone or who have given it up after trying it are the ones exercising power, self-control, and restraint.

Having a cell phone today isn’t about power. The powerful people are the ones who are strong enough to say no to the trend. They’re the ones who know what they need and want and refuse to be sucked in just because other people have a phone. If they don’t need it, why would they carry it? Peer pressure doesn’t faze them.

This refusal to join society makes them mysterious. Back in the day, cell phone carriers were the mysterious ones. Why did they have that phone? What did they do for a living? How much money did they have? Now if you don’t carry a phone you’re the mysterious one. Why not? What do you do with your time if you can’t text? How do you resist the urge? Do you even have an urge and, if not, why not?

Inquiring minds want to know.

It seems to me that if you want to show how cool and powerful you are, at this point you need to opt out of the cell phone rat race. Everyone has one, so sporting a cell phone doesn’t mark you as unique in any way. Be like the guy I met and go off the grid a bit. That’ll mark you as someone to watch. (Possibly in a, “You’re on the watch list for subversion,” kind of way, but heck. That’s cool in its own way, right?)

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

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