Many years ago cell phones did not exist. Then they did, but they were rare and expensive creations, which only a few privileged people possessed. And then they went forth and multiplied, so ubiquitous that even the vegetable vendors, plumbers and electricians used them. It's now really hard to imagine that there was Life before the cell. ( Biology lessons, shoo- here cell only means as in cell phone). When they emerged from the Mercedes category and were first sighted on the streets they induced a strange feeling within- of observed lunacy- people with a hand on one ear, TALKING TO THEMSELVES........ then, as they evolved into hands-free models, I'd started wondering why I saw so many people wearing hearing aids and still talking to themselves. ( I admit, life is challenging and I do get challenged by many many things). Of course with I-pods and other personal music systems, many ears do sprout some kind of appendage. But I digress: all this is leading to my first interaction with a cell-phone, only nine years ago.
My husband needed to have major surgery, so his employers were very kind and issued us a cell phone for the duration. A young man came home and showed me how to use it, and that was that. Cell-phone in handbag, I set off for the hospital to meet the doctor. Just one of the many conferences that were to become routine that year. It was a long and winding road, swerving gently this way and that. Our car had just been serviced, and I wondered why on each swerve there was a strange, musical sound. Was this a new feature the workshop had installed- a swerve indicator? What on earth was it for? Perhaps it was meant to keep the driver awake on long drives. Very puzzling. The driver didn't comment either. When I reached the waiting area I suddenly remembered that I was carrying a cell phone and that it must have been ringing. THAT was the musical sound! Swerve indicator indeed. I thought I'd call up home and tell them why I hadn't answered the phone. But I could not, for the life of me, manage to do it- I had completely forgotten that you had to use the STD code before the number. So there, my friends, you have me, so totally challenged by my first encounter with the cell phone.
Of course I did learn to use it. It was very useful, and once the hospital stay was over it was gratefully returned to the office.
The second cell phone experience was tamer, and yet far more painful. It came with my husband's new job in 2001, and we realised what being on call 24x7 really meant. Given that he was working in a continuous process industry, problems could occur at any time of day or night, and he would be trying to solve technical problems at the most ungodly hours, thanks to the wretched cell phone. Given that we lived near Delhi, where driving and talking on the phone is most definitely frowned upon by the traffic cops, and rightly so, I still had ample opportunity to demonstrate how technologically challenged I really was. I could receive a call, but would hate drives wherein I'd suddenly be expected to call So-and-So. I began to hate the wretched instrument since it made me look more like a moron than I was willing to be. My dear husband wasn't such a genius himself- many a time he'd forget to disconnect after completing a call.
That used to be the only cell phone in our lives. Then they became many. And we'd find ourselves at nice happy family dinners in our favourite Chinese joints, with three out of the five or six of us who were together busy with their phones- either going out to get a better signal, or avidly SMS-ing. ( I still didn't have one, so I was free to make nasty remarks). Social life as we knew it changed. Concert and movie halls began to reverberate with alien sounds, until the cell phone was incorporated into public life, and new rules governing its use were formulated.
( Which a lot of horrid people still don't follow).
I remained phone-less and fancy-free, observing this brave new world that has such cell phones in it. My vegetable fellow gave me a card with his number- he would send whatever I needed from his 'thela'. I genuinely appreciated the cell phone for its potential uses, especially in terms of being accessible in a crisis. I also knew that as a nation most of us do like to talk, but..........who was paying the bills for all this endless chit-chat? One memorable bus journey from Nehru place to Noida (about 12km)- I spent the entire forty minute journey in awed fascination watching this scene. A young girl wearing a cap, perhaps a college student, boarded the bus which, by then, had only standing room, talking on her phone, trying to balance with one hand on a moving Delhi bus, (which meant that she was risking life and limb) and remained talking throughout.
In awed fascination I watched her as she descended a stop before mine and went on her way, still talking!
I felt extremely sorry for whoever was paying for that endless call.
I grew up without a phone at home, poor deprived child. By the time my father acquired one I was working in another town. Many years after I got married and my husband finally got a phone, the phone bill was a monstrous entity which would loom large over our heads. Our initial Internet connection was dial-up, which meant even bigger phone bills. And what with various crises on natal family and in-law/outlaw front, we used to have enormous phone bills. Husband would glare. I would get tense. Teenage son would be scolded. Resolutions would be made.
Our intentions were always so honorable, but the phone bill never ever reflected that. Tension abounded. And then, over a few years, telephony in India changed drastically. Call rates came down, and cell phones became affordable. And my husband, the erstwhile glarer-at-phone-bills, morphed into a joyous, cell phone-happy frequent caller. If he was in his car, being driven around, he was on the phone. If he was free to talk, the whole world and its brother should also be free to talk. His timing was terrible- I'd usually have something critical on the stove, or would be serving a meal to my parents. It really became too much of a good thing. The kids were getting inundated with his calls. No friend was immune. A concerted effort was made to wean him off this addiction, which continues till date. He's trying to overcome it, but the constant friendly presence of the cell phone, with the entire world at his fingertips, is not really conducive to de-addiction. I seriously thought we needed to start a Cellphonaholics Anonymous for people like him. Of course he manages an enormous amount of work thanks to his cellphoniness, and the tremendous networking it makes possible.
When the kids presented him with a fancy camera phone, I acquired his first phone. Useful if I was out of the house. When he joined his present company, the fancy phone came to me, and mine was given to our driver, which is a great help, because otherwise I'd never be able to locate the car. It also gives me tremendous pleasure to make international calls as and when I choose to. And to send messages when I think a call may be intrusive. I don't use most of the features of the phone, including the camera- whenever I tried I'd end up with a picture of a table mat instead of my subject. Challenged though I may well be I've learned to love my little cell phone, and I'm missing it. It's been misbehaving, and is presently being repaired.