Mobile Phone: Boon or Bane

Cell phone

Order in the court room.

Ladies and gentlemen. The task before us today is to use all our faculties of reasoning and understanding to judge whether the Cell Phone, the communication miracle of the twentieth century, is guilty of being one of the biggest technological nuisances that ever existed and whether it should be banished from social life. Let us first hear what the prosecution has to say.

Prosecution: “Your honor, I place before you, a series of arguments against the defendant, presenting offences in their order of gravity, moving from the least to the most grave.

One, the cell phone has no sense of social propriety or decorum. Let me recount to you a familiar scene:

There was perfect silence in the class room except for Dr. So and So’s voice. Students were sitting in a state of rapt attention (or a state that successfully emulated a state of rapt attention) and all of a sudden, out of the blue, the ambience of earnest academic activity is shattered with some totally disco ring tone. People turn to look at the offender with an air of amusement, feeling smugly superior that their cell phones are safely turned off or put on vibration. The unfortunate offender fumbles for the phone in her handbag, manages to find it after an embarrassingly long interval and turns it off with a gesture that says, “Shut up!”. Then she looks up with a sheepish look on her face and the academic activity resumes. Behold, the cell phone has successfully made its presence felt at the most inappropriate of places and times.

This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Like an impertinent toddler, it wakes you up at 2 am in the morning, interrupts you in the middle of conversations, doesn’t leave you alone when you are driving, disturbs you in the middle of the congregational prayer and in short has no manners at all!

Two, it is playing a role in the steady deterioration of human language. Text messages are a very sorry spectacle as they show blatant disregard for any grammatical correctness, spelling accuracy or punctuation. The “Urdish” that we Pakistanis speak, which is already a very ineloquent combining of two languages, becomes even more incoherent when we get it down in the short-hand of a text.

Three, it is another mouth to feed for the middle classer, devouring piles and piles of money and still not losing its appetite. Just like a high maintenance wife, it never tires of demanding more and more money.

Four, it is a cause of further class-based segmentation in the society and product-oriented materialism. People who own the blackberry are a quite a different class than those who use some obsolete model of nokia. You are no longer known by the company you keep. What matters now is the mobile you keep. Many develop this irrational need to change their phone every six months, wanting to own and show off newer and newer models.

Five, like a typical teenager, it is obsessed with pseudo-love. It mediates in all sorts of inappropriate inter-gender “friendships” engaging the youth in a mindless tangle of delusional relationships. The tirade of advertisements by the mobile companies encourage such unacceptable activities as all-night talkathons and letting your thumbs ‘say it all’ for their own vested interests.

And finally, like the television epidemic that preceded it, it has substituted natural human-to-human interaction with artificial encounters. It has added to the frenzy of wanting entertainment all the time.  So any serious contemplation of life and existence is dulled by a constant need for mindless entertainment. Your honor, this is all that I have to say”

The defense may now commence.

Defense: “Your honor, although the cell phone does exhibit all the weaknesses that have just been mentioned, it is no worse than the humans which conceived it. If it has these flaws, they are a reflection of the flaws of the twenty first century man, our flaws, rather than weaknesses inherent in the cell phone. The cell is but a machine. It does not act of it own accord. And cannot be held accountable for whatever it does. If it is an impertinent toddler, it is up to us to socialize it. If it is a high maintenance partner, it is our duty to make it affordable. If it is used for  non productive activities, it is we who have to ensure its appropriate use. And if it is eroding our contact with nature and human beings, it is our responsibility to restore that contact by restricting its use.

If we look at the positive aspects of the mobile phone, everybody will testify that it is by far the handiest everyday tool available to us. It is our information resource, our task organizer, our alarm clock, our camera, our link to people in our lives and even our lifeline in an emergency. But what many don’t realize is that it is much more than just a tool. It offers solace in the face of hardships. We as a nation have been engaging in a sort of mass catharsis by forwarding texts that lament our disillusioning experience with democracy, our disappointment with leaders who cannot deliver, our bewilderment at the extent of mismanagement in the country and our exasperation at the energy crisis. I propose that the cell can be effectively used to mobilize the masses against injustice and oppression. I would say that in addition to being a tool for political activism, it can also effectively enhance our sense of personal well being. It is, in a sense, our own personal mini-therapist in the pocket, giving us our daily dose of humor which is very necessary in the kind of dismal times that we live in, letting us ventilate by spilling out our feelings and frustrations to friends who understand and enabling us to receive support, advice and assistance. Last but certainly not the least, the cell phone can be an effective da’ee, calling people toward Allah’s deen through texts consisting of ayahs, ahadith or other message that convey the wisdom of Islam in a brief and compelling way. Ladies and gentleman it is for you decide whether the mobile is more of a blessing or bane for us”.

The court has heard the arguments for and against the defendant and rules that the merits of the mobile phone outweigh its demerits. Therefore it cannot be banished from social life. In agreement with the defense, the court feels that the faults of the mobile phone are not its own. Rather they are the faults of the humans who use it. And so it is the humans ultimately who should rectify them.  For that reason, we find the defendant NOT GUILTY as charged.

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