The Light of Life Magazine
A ministry of Christian writing

September 2010

Kuruvilla Chandy

A few days ago I had to conduct a funeral. One man asked me to announce that cell phones were to be switched off. He said that it was annoying to have cell phones go off during solemn moments. I announced, "To honour God and as a mark of respect for our departed brother, please switch off all cell phones." All around the grave, for once people pulled out their cell phones and switched them off. But think about it. Why don't people switch off their cell phones before coming to such events as church services?

If you had an appointment with the President of the country, would you go in with your cell phone on? If it rings, while you are with the President, would you take the call? Even if you forgot to observe the protocol of meeting the President without your cell phone switched off, you would not dare to take the call and put the President 'on hold.' But we dare to put God on hold while we take calls.

The Invasive Contraption
Cell phones are the most invasive of all our human inventions. There is nothing else that has invaded our lives like them. This is the worst virus of all, and we don't even know that we have a viral fever that is incurable. This fever keeps us so distracted. Have you noticed that some people will pull out their cell phones while talking to you and quickly look at messages that have come in? Mind you, they know that most messages are of absolutely no consequence. Most cell phone messages are of the 'hey, there' variety.

If you are trying to have a deep conversation with another, after you see him/her look at the cell phone messages, you know that you've lost their attention and give up trying to carry on a conversation with someone who isn't with you in spirit.

People ask to be excused for their inability to be present for an event and end their plea with the assurance that they will be 'in spirit' with us. Maybe, it is just a nice phrase that many people use. On the other hand, it could be a way of saying that they are in essential agreement about the forthcoming event. But did you notice that, in the last paragraph in my last sentence, I referred to people who are bodily present before your eyes, but distracted by their cell phones that they are 'not with you in spirit'?

That is the problem with the cell phone. It has captured the spirit. No technology has been able to capture the spirit in this way. The compulsion to take the phone call or check the message is so enslaving that we are shackled to our cell phones and because the chains are invisible, we are not even aware that we have lost our liberty.

Cecil Northcote Parkinson (famous for his book Parkinson's Law that elaborates on his adage that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion") in his book In-Laws and Out-Laws and Parkinson's Third Law, if my memory is correct, has a chapter entitled "Phones, Paper, People..." or at least deals with those subjects. Parkinson describes a businessman's visit with another in the latter's office. When the visitor arrived, he was shown into the office, but the other chap didn't even acknowledge his arrival. The man kept on studying some papers that he held in his hands. Suddenly the phone on his desk rang and he reached for the phone and answered it. After the call, which lasted about ten minutes, the guy went back to his papers. The phone rang again, and again the man took the call and went back to his papers when the call ended. This happened a third time. The visitor didn't know whether he was being put down; he got up and left the office without saying a word. The businessman he had been visiting didn't look up from his papers. The visitor went to a phone booth and placed a call to the man he had been visiting. He was answered and he got his work done.

When Parkinson wrote that (1962), there were no cell phones. Wonder what he would say now? Parkinson insisted that he was really a satirist rather than a humourist. "A humourist," Parkinson explained, "writes about wildly improbable things; but the whole point about me is that whatever I write is true. Nothing is dreamt up. It's how the world is actually organised." Ouch!

Phones, paper, people... "We are like that only," to borrow our standard excuse for misbehaviour.

Who Is Boss?
In 1997 when I left my previous position, I had no phone for almost a year. An out of town friend told me that I should get a pager (do you remember those contraptions?) and then I would be able to phone people who were trying to get in touch with me. I told him then that I didn't want to be so much 'on call.' If someone really needed me, they would come after me and track me down.

Till the end of last year, I resisted owning a cell phone. But I've given in to pressure from Roshini that she gets worried about my whereabouts when I'm late getting home and so I need to have one. I did get one (and have just her number on it) but my mental block is so strong that most of the time I don't even think of carrying it. But, I suppose, one of these days, Roshini's pressure will blast that mental block to smithereens.

Whatever did we do before cell phones came along? Life did get along, didn't it? Our lives weren't unsatisfactory then, because calls and messages were not pouring in all the time.

I'll grant you, a cell phone is a convenience (though why the troublesome contraption has such minuscule keys with multiple functions that have to be done with such delicate touches is beyond me and my fat fingers). But let it remain a convenience. Don't let it take over your life by claiming your attention any time, all the time. Show your cell phone who's the boss: switch it off for periods of time. Put it in silent mode and check on calls and messages after you have attended to what's important-like being in touch with God, reflecting on life's meaning. Discover the life beyond the small screen on the cell phone. Set your spirit free.

Here are some thumb-rules for gaining mastery over your cell phone:

1. When you are in communion with God through the reading of Scripture or talking to Him, acknowledge His sovereignty by keeping your cell phone in switched off mode.
2. When you are in conversation with people, don't let the cell phone divert you from treating people with the honour due to people who are giving you time. They are giving you their life-that slice of it that they are spending with you. Their sacrifice must not be in vain.

2010 Light of Life