Wellness and Health in the Age of Cellphones

Didja ever think we would end up here? We now exist in an age where cellphones are such an omnipresent device, that those of us in the developed world cannot survive without them. We use them for texting, email, web browsing, Google searching, navigation in our cars, betting, and just generally passing the time mindlessly whilst sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room. How many times have you been sitting on the toilet in the rest room only to hear someone talking, texting, or receiving a ringy dingy from someone trying to sell them a long term care policy on their car? It is an inescapable device, and yet, it has only been in wide use for the last 20 to 30 years. A little research reveals that cell phones became popular during the cellular revolution that started in the 90s. In 1990, the number of mobile users was around 11 million, and by 2020, that number had risen to a whopping 2.5 billion. Where does it end? Will it end? And why can’t we make it stop? Thankfully, you have me here to answer these eternally frustrating questions.

Meandering back through the catacombs of my memory, I’m not sure that I can put my finger on when exactly the cell phone came to dominate my life. In the before times, I was driving around obliviously unconcerned that I could get lost and die at any time because I couldn’t phone for help in the event of an emergency. Then suddenly that transitioned into feeling naked and afraid if I didn’t have the phone within a moments reach 24x7x365. I’ve had flip phones, Blackberries, and a never ending parade of Android and Apple IOS phones. I currently have an Apple Watch which allows me to be in near constant communication with all of my friends, family, potential lenders, insurance agents, and auto maintenance contract sellers. I’ve even imagined that my watch or phone is vibrating because an imagined call is incoming. Apparently there is even a new mental condition called phantom vibration syndrome or phantom ringing syndrome. That is the perception that one’s mobile phone is vibrating or ringing when it is not. When they start inventing phobias, that is a clear sign that something needs to be done. On top of all that, studies have shown that spending too much time on your phone is bad for your focus and mental health. On average, Americans check their phones 344 times per day. (That’s once every 4 minutes!) Our cell phones are our constant companions. As many as 71% of us check our phones within 10 minutes of waking up.

So what are we poor saps to do? Somehow we survived as a race before the constant interruptions and information provided by our phone and we can do it again, God willing. I tried leaving my watch and phone at home on a recent trip. You know what? I lived to fight another day. Nothing bad happened, no one lost an eye, and all the catastrophes of our crazy world still happened without any assistance or intervention from yours truly. To answer my list of hypothetical questions:

  • Q: Where does it end? A: It will never end, because we always want more and we want it faster. There is no end to the machinations of humankind.
  • Q: When will it stop? A: Never. It’s only gonna get worse and eventually we’ll all be wired directly to the information super highway. After all, that’s what killed Who Wants to be a Millionaire and the other TV call in game shows.
  • Q: Why can’t we make it stop? A: We’re all lazy bastards that would prefer the path of least resistance. Engineers and entrepreneurs are more than willing to make our lives easier. It’s been going on since the invention of the wheel and the hammer. Got ROOMBA?

There were those that opposed the car, the toilet, running water, electricity, and the airplane. I’m afraid it is the same for easy access to information and communication. We’re all doomed. Ever see the Pixar movie Wall-E? That may be our ultimate end. In that movie humanity is evacuated into space in gigantic star liners to escape the devastated earth created by rampant consumerism. On the star liners, the passengers have degenerated into helpless corpulence due to laziness and microgravity, their every whim catered to by machinery. We’re pretty close to that right now, even I have a ROOMBA that I rely on to clean up the cat litter and vacuum the carpets.

So, I have decided to take some small steps to slow my path towards doomsday. I’ve turned off notifications on my phone, for all apps. For phone calls, I’ll only answer if I am expecting a call from that person. Otherwise, if the call is really that important, they’ll leave a message. If you don’t leave a message, it must not have been important. So there is no need to call you back.

No need to ring me up to discuss this ranting diatribe. If it needs to be discussed or I have concerns about your safety, I’ll call you and leave a message.