There is no question that cell phones have had dramatic positive effects on people’s lives in India. The ability to get access to anyone and everyone and having access to all the information on the planet on your phone is surely an unparalleled example of people empowerment.
Unfortunately, like everything else in life, cell phone usage has a bad side – the sheer annoyance factor is one, the safety issue is another, the constant distraction being a third, among a long list of negatives. When communication was hard in the past, phones were used very selectively. For example, if you were going to meet some friends for dinner at a restaurant, there would be a land line call or two to firm up the plan. Today, it’s an entirely different story. Recently, when I was going out to dinner with a bunch of youngsters (in their 20s), I noticed that they called each other back and forth to give a literal commentary on the way to the restaurant: “I am this junction, there is too much traffic. Not sure how long it will take.” Then the friend has an idea and calls back. “Hey, why don’t you take this road instead? You might get there sooner.” A few minutes later, the friend calls back, “Hey, the traffic is better now. I should be there soon.” In short, at least a handful of calls and maybe a bunch of text messages had been exchanged for the most inane reasons.
Next, the issue of safety on roads. It’s good to see that, in many cities, the police are pretty strict with the use of cell phones while driving. Nevertheless, cell phone usage is rampant in cars and even two wheelers, and an increasing cause of accidents. Among the negatives, this is easily the most dangerous and needs to be dealt with urgently.
As for the annoyance factor, there is no end to the number of examples one can think of. There are everyday occurrences that stare at you in the face at almost every instant during the day (or maybe, I am just too sensitive to this!). I was at once at the office of large retail chain. There was a common waiting area and then a long stretch of cubicles and conference rooms. Youngsters, mostly in their twenties, frequently stepped aside from their cubicles to the common waiting area to answer personal cell phone calls. Many rushed down the elevator when the calls were “very private” in nature. The common waiting area was hence always crowded with youngsters chattering away on their cell phones during regular office hours. Interestingly, some even carried multiple cell phones!