Has the cellphone robbed Indians of their humanity, not to mention their civility?

By SUNAAD RAGHURAM

The phenomenal advent of technology gave us the cell phone.

A true marvel of science where you could be connected to the world from nine-and-a-half out of ten places, unless you were inside a cave perhaps, 175 metres deep, somewhere in the boondocks.

Especially for a nation that for most part of its modern existence had one of the lowest penetrations of even fixed-line telephones on the planet. Where, to make or receive a phone call, meant a colossal exercise involving patience, hope and even prayers, the cell phone was a greater marvel than in most other parts of the world.

Herein lies a tale.

A tale of obsession; an almost insatiable desire to hang on to technology; a near 24 x7 kind of fascination for a mere gadget and a rearranging of one’s life itself around it.

With the cell phone came the ease of being connected. But it also opened up the hitherto unknown facets of human behaviour. Like the desire to be ‘self’ photographed in various situations during the day and night. Some creative guy with the ability to summarise well, gave it a rather self-explanatory name- selfie!

Now ‘selfies’ have reached epic proportions. Proportions of such laughable dimensions that the only thing I haven’t heard so far is someone who clicked a ‘selfie’ at a funeral with the dead body in the frame; one last ‘selfie’ for sure!

Bunches of men and women; young and old; children included; all come together in one good animated huddle at gatherings where the guy holding his cell phone, has one hand outstretched to the maximum length at invariably weird angles, in a frenzied bid to ensure that everyone who matters is in the frame! 

And then the grins, the smiles, the various facial contortions and even plain blank looks happen. A ‘selfie’ has been taken! 

Perhaps for the fifteenth time in the recent past. Of almost the same bunch in various locations. I have always wondered where these scores of photographs that get taken are eventually preserved. Surely they don’t make an album like in the past out of such family ‘selfies’?

If the ‘selfie’ as an act of social conduct could be pardoned to a large extent, there is another function of the cell phone which is put to use ever so often- the video camera.

The phone held at its corners in both hands gets panned every now and then, apparently filming for posterity something as innocuously common place as a group of friends eating pani puri on the street! 

And where would this bit of film making go eventually? Into which archive? 

There is something to a society like ours where the desire to be recognised and be seen to be in the thick of action transcends all other norms of normal behavioural patterns.

Amidst all these largely ignorable fetishes, comes to the fore a rather morbid element of our society, one that can make any mature and sensitive man or woman stagger. And fall, retching. 

At the clear inhuman, cold and almost insane element to the action in question- the sudden act of whipping out a cell phone and start ‘filming’ an accident scene on the street. Or wherever.

A recent report in a national newspaper gave us the news of huge groups of men who thought nothing about meticulously ‘filming’ the scene of a ghastly accident on their cell phones somewhere in the north of Karnataka, instead of rushing to the rescue of the victims who lay writhing in a pool of blood amidst the mangled mass of smashed up vehicles on a highway. 

How tragically evocative could this be of our collective societal consciousness. Or the sickening lack of it.

It is the realm of psychologists to delve into this rather recent behavioural pattern of human beings around us who turn to their cell phones at the beep of a tone, as it were, to allow themselves the self-styled role and position of the chroniclers of all that happens around.

The cell phone has been turned into a tool of utter nuisance in our land. By men and women who have sadly concluded that the pixel strength is what determines their dank lives.

And I’m not even referring to those who holler madly in public places, even in the comparative quiet of a bus or a train cabin, when they receive a call or make one themselves!

By the way, did I tell you that my phone has a 4.5 inch touch screen display with a resolution of 720 pixels by 1280 pixels at a PPI of 329 pixels per inch. It’s also powered by a 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with a 1 GB RAM!