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Martin: No Cell Phone

09/13/12 7:55AM By Mike Martin
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(Host) Cell phone ownership in U.S. has gone from roughly 3% of the population to more than 90% in a generation. Writer, educator and commentator Mike Martin has been thinking about a friend of his who still refuses to buy a cell phone and wonders how he must feel.

(Martin) I have a friend who reminds me of a play called Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco. It's the story of a man named Bérenger whose small French village is thrown into turmoil one day when a rhinoceros runs through the middle of town. The locals debate what this could possibly mean, but soon there are more rhinoceros sightings, and eventually the townspeople start to get used to the idea. As the town's rhinoceros population grows, it eventually becomes fashionable, desirable, even advantageous, to be a rhinoceros, and so, more and more people choose to become rhinoceroses. Only Bérenger stubbornly refuses, not because he's trying to make a point, not for ideological reasons, not for any practical reason at all, but rather just because he doesn't want to, and therefore refuses to follow the crowd. The play ends with Bérenger alone - even his girlfriend has gone over to the other side - desperately trying to keep a mob of rhinoceroses from breaking through his door, still not giving in, still not joining the crowd.

My friend reminds me of this Bérenger character because he doesn't own a cell phone. Now that over 90% of Americans have cell phones, my friend belongs to an increasingly marginal, ever-shrinking group. Back in 2000, roughly two thirds of Americans didn't have cell phones, so my friend was still safely part of a comfortable majority. And back in 1990, cell ownership was only about 2%! Not as rare as a rhinoceros, but still strange and exotic... But today, you may feel a little left out if you don't have a cell phone.
 
And like Bérenger, my friend resists for no apparent reason. He's not anti-social, or anti-technology, or cheap - he just doesn't want one. In fact, I suspect that he just doesn't want to go with the flow. It's sort of like now that you've got to have a cell, he just doesn't want to. Even though he seems normal on the outside, my friend must have some recessive anti-conformist gene. Still, it's getting ridiculous. I mean, everybody has a cell phone nowadays.

But my friend does have some quaint behaviors I find endearing. For example, he never interrupts our conversations with, "Uh, I've got to take this." He never Google fact checks at dinner parties. He never interrupts whatever we're doing to go rifling through his bag to turn off some ridiculous Salsa ring tone. And he never sneaks a peek at his little screen when we're out walking and talking on a nice night.

So I guess there is something sort of charming about the way my friend holds out against the inexorable tide like Bérenger and his rhinoceroses, even though resistance is futile. Obviously.

After all, now that our smart phones have taken the place of our watches, our cameras, our computers, and soon our wallets, we might wonder what else, or who else, they'll replace...I'll have to ask my friend what he thinks.

Or maybe I'll just take out my iPhone and ask Siri.
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