The Final Word On Cell Phones

by Jason Peters on October 21, 2009 · 68 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low


Rock Island, IL

In the early days of FPR, and then again more recently, I was impertinent enough to write disparaging remarks about cell phones, which as everyone knows are utterly pernicious. On both occasions interlocutors expressed their disapproval by espousing the publicly sanctioned predictable sentiment: that technology is neutral, that it is only our use of a given thing that renders it good or bad, right or wrong, boonful or baneful.

As any pine board knows, this is nonsense. It’s time for the correct opinion to be more widely disseminated.

Plato, if I remember aright, was worried about the perfidy a certain new technology—we would recognize it by the name “book”—would perpetrate on memory. He was vexed by what the transition from an aural to a written culture would do to our capacity to bear things in mind.

Now I like books—even Bill Kauffman’s—and I’m going to side with them. The book is a technology I’m going to defend. But I also happen to sympathize with Plato, who, I believe, was right: by writing things down we cheat the memory. I would go so far as to say that a written record resembles all technology inasmuch as it evicts something or someone: the book evicts the memory, the combine evicts the farm family, the self-check-out aisle evicts the cashier, the drive-thru evicts mom, the spell-checker evicts you.

Can we cultivate memory nonetheless? I think so. I think we can and I think we should. A buddy of mine in grad school would never write down a call number. If he forgot it by the time he’d walked to the fourth floor of the east stacks, where our kinds of books were shelved, he’d punish himself by walking back down to the card catalogue to look it up again. He’s got a well-cultivated memory. Plus he was smart enough to drop out of grad school—twice.

Will our memory equal that of the natives at whom Ben Franklin marveled? Will our records be as accurate, or bear as much truth, as their oral histories? Doubtful. Is that a price I’m willing to pay to have books? I suppose it is.

I’m saying that the book is a net good. I’m not saying that it is an absolute good. I’m not saying that it is a neutral technology. If it were a neutral technology, I would say so.

All of this is in some sense a variation on the story of the Fall. Adam and Eve did become as gods, knowing good from evil—and they did so at a price they were apparently willing to pay. We have all become as gods at a price we have apparently been willing to pay. In this economy the felix culpa is in some sense an attempt at honest bookkeeping. It considers not the gross but the net gain.

And that, O Technophiles, is the point. Keyword: net.

We had to pass through many technologies to get to the abominable cell phone: the screw, the wheel, the lever, the incline plane, the pulley, the quill, the printing press, the typewriter (with its beautiful but costly music), antibiotics, telegraphs, telephones, disposable diapers. All useful. All costly. Then there’s the automobile, man’s biggest mistake, and the high-rise, which expresses his tumescent hubris; and there’s the sheep-skin sock and the pill and the distillery and the jockstrap and the television (man’s second biggest mistake) and the “smart” classroom with its TVs and DVD players made of materials that once reposed peacefully in the earth, even as did the materials that went into this hateful computer I now sit at, which I bought for $35 and which, someday, I will be man enough to let be.

Some of these things are tools as Aristotle understood them—extensions of the hand—and some are not. But none of these things, whether tool or machine, is as sinister as the cell phone. What is it about this repellent little gadget that so abominates, that so offends the imagination?

It has destroyed manners. It has destroyed public space. It has compromised privacy. It has enslaved and mastered those who think themselves its master. It has transferred money from insurance companies to body shops. It has turned bitching into a spectator sport, and I won’t be at all surprised if it turns out to be the cause of an epidemic of brain tumors.

But what troubles me the most is that it has taken distraction to a new low, and distraction, as the sage of Kentucky says, is “inimical to true discipline.” Forget that students can’t sit through a lecture without going in search of vibrating, buzzing, or blinking evidence that they’re still the center of the universe. Actual adults behave in exactly this manner.

Where has sustained concentration gone? Wither is fled the visionary gleam?

Wither? I’ll tell you wither. Into the hand that goes into the pocket that pulls out the poison, the poison that first afflicts the mind and at last blasts the earth whence it came–whence it came benign ere man converted and co-joined and assembled it into a tiny little tyrant.

I know of people—I see them every day—who have no clue that they live in the world. In the world! Yesterday, after several cold gray days here in the Midwest, the sun finally came out to set all the changing sugar maples ablaze with a golden resplendent light. And what were Mackenzie and Dylan and Jordan and Khrystynah doing? Not noticing the surface brilliance, that’s for sure. They were texting away. Meanwhile Nature, that vast unity of images, that unity not of things but of images, went unregarded.

In the time it took me to pass an undergraduate on the sidewalk yesterday I heard her misuse the word “like” nine times in a narrative that had at its center passing out during a movie (man’s third biggest mistake) but waking up in time to puke—all of this yammered, for all to hear, into a device that, mark me, would have been sowing brain tumors had there been a brain affixed thereto in which to sow them.

This insidious device does not encourage silence. It does not encourage reflection. It does not encourage editing. It does not encourage anything useful to us or good for us. It is a mistake. Do you hear me? A mistake.

Yes, you can call for help on the highway if your car breaks down. Every clown knows this, just as every pet Chihuahua has at least a dim awareness of it. But if there were no cars to break down, and no highways … but then we must go back a long way and start asking questions of technology that we could have asked but didn’t, because we were too busy rehearsing the Shopper’s Creed: nothing is as good as what might replace it.

If you call from the bread aisle at the Super Target to part with the earth-shattering news that “they’re out of hotdog buns … that’s right, hotdog buns,” you have done aught but prove Marshall McLuhan right: the medium is the message. You want to divorce the two? You might as well separate black from white in pigeon shit. The cell phone trivializes human communication. It tells Mandy that what she’s thinking right now ought to be said to someone. Thank God there’s Amber, who’s checking messages during Business 306: Owning Toddlers Thru Marketing

Screw it. Screw Every Bit of It. Give me the human voice, executed by lips I can see (he said, tapping away at a keyboard not nearly worth the three bucks he paid for it).

{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeff Miller October 21, 2009 at 1:01 am


avatar Katherine Dalton October 21, 2009 at 6:39 am

I hear America ringing.

Preach on, Brother Jason; the choir is appreciative.

avatar Scot October 21, 2009 at 6:57 am

I have the pleasurable license of confiscating those damnable devices if I see my students using them in the high school building where I teach. Generally, the students cannot have them back until semester’s end in January or June. Of course, most addicts, er, students simply buy a new one before the week is out. The one thing that truly baffles me about cell phones, though, is when parents, yes, PARENTS, call their children during class. This has to presage the second advent of Christ, doesn’t it? Please!

avatar Weasly Pilgrim October 21, 2009 at 7:14 am

The Amen Corner be busy today!

I think that what makes us likely to think that technology will save us is that we are addled by it. Efforts at creating intelligent machines have failed, because computers are far too difficult to program, but humans turn out to be easy for computers to program. Everywhere I go I see people poking away at their little mental support units. Many of them can no longer function without them: they wouldn’t know where to go, who to talk to, or even where to get lunch without a little electronic box telling what to do.

– Dmitry Orlov, in his presentation Definancialisation, Deglobalisation, Relocalisation, presented at The New Emergency Conference in Dublin, on June 11, 2009.

I often fantasize of building a little pocket spark-gap generator to create radio-frequency interference in my immediate area and then walking around randomly turning it on and off and watching the results. I have no idea if it would be feasible (I know it ain’t legal), but the idea of turning many of the people around me into jerky stop-motion puppets as they lose their connections in mid-call is just too much of a power trip to ignore.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 8:38 am

So, basically, “Hey, you kids! Get off my damn lawn!”

Well Gramps (or should I say “Grumps”?), I would humbly submit that the cell phone has changed precious little. It’s simply made what was already there easier to spot–and bitch about.

Kids weren’t paying any more attention in class before cell phones, only now, because they’re interacting with an obvious physical device, teachers notice more.

Young people’s use of grammar hasn’t really deteriorated. George Bernard Shaw got sufficient mileage out of that particular trope to write a hit play in 1913. The difference is that now you have to listen to them talk more.

Similarly, the public’s grasp of written English hasn’t gotten any worse. The difference is that in years past, the clueless didn’t have any way of publicizing their ignorance. With the Internet, now they do.

The vast mass of people weren’t any more appreciative of sunsets in years past, it’s just that the cell phone brings out their indifference and insensitivity in ways that were previously obscure.

Most people have never been particularly polite or attentive in public spaces or in conversation. The cell phone may be a catalyst, but it isn’t a cause.

Finally, people have been snooping into each other’s business as long as there has been business to snoop into. And if you’re really going to stand on the privacy bit, you’re going to have to deal with the fact that it was your much-deried automobile that gave most people their first taste of real privacy. In ages past, everyone knew what everyone else was doing most of the time, so it’s hard to see how cell phones change that very much.

The kids are alright. Or, rather, they aren’t alright, but they weren’t to begin with. Chill.

Yes, it’s arguable that the ease with which people can find expression for their worst instincts makes this more difficult. That I grant. But you’re confusing the symptom for the cause. The symptom, blatant and increasingly public ignorance and mental dullness, is caused not by cell phones or technology, but because people suck, which has been true for as long as there have been people.

I’m not arguing that technology in general or cell phones in particular are neutral. As you say, if I were arguing that, I’d say so. But I am arguing that taking people’s cell phones away wouldn’t automatically “rehumanize” their communication given humanity’s endemic turpitude. Taking the dullard’s cell away doesn’t make him any less dull, it just gives him less opportunity to show it. This is a cost, to be sure, but it’s not the one you were complaining about.

Likewise, a person who truly communicates in a deeply human way will not be overly burdened by the cell phone. He will use it as a tool. Telephonic communication does in fact remove the possibility for the deepest and truest forms of relationship–but there are contexts in which that’s just fine, thank you. Target running out of hotdog buns is not the context for which deep and intimate communication is very important, and it’s entirely possible to have a muted conversation on a cell phone which does not bother anyone.

So yes, technology, including cell phones, does have an inherent cost. But ultimately, it’s the way those costs are managed–how the technology is used–which determines whether there is a net cost or net benefit. Saying that cell phones–or movies, or cars, or skyscrapers–are inherently and inevitably net losses is more curmudgeonly than reasonable.

The latter may in fact be your goal, but you shouldn’t expect to get away with pretensions to the former.

avatar Michael October 21, 2009 at 9:57 am

And more opportunity to ***change*** it.

An alcoholic is an alcoholic whether or not he has access to alcohol; should we let the gin flow?

avatar Albert October 21, 2009 at 10:12 am

Similarly, the public’s grasp of written English hasn’t gotten any worse. The difference is that in years past, the clueless didn’t have any way of publicizing their ignorance. With the Internet, now they do.

Mr. Davidson, with the Internet, they now have (and use) a more powerful means to practice their ignorance in a mutually supportive community of like-minded idiots who can thus perpetuate and distill their ignorance into ever purer forms. Practice makes permanent. Do you really think that the Internet has changed nothing about the collective intellectual merits of the younger generation?

If so, please go to and spend 30 minutes–if you can last that long, I sure can’t–reading any of the threads there in the /b/ random section. Then come back and tell me before the Internet, something like this cesspool of a message board, which boasts an estimated post rate of 150,000–200,000 posts per day, existed and that you still think the public’s grasp of written English, not to mention basic morality, has not gotten worse.

Right now, you simply appear to be someone who has little grasp of the relationship between practices and mental formation.

avatar Albert October 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

If you agree that the public’s grasp of English has gotten worse, don’t subject yourself to 4chan’s /b/ board. Curiosity won’t kill you, but it’ll ruin your day.

avatar mark October 21, 2009 at 10:29 am

Techno fundamentalism is a lot like religious fundamentalism.

avatar Anamaria October 21, 2009 at 10:53 am

Mr. Peters,thank you for articulating your thoughts on technology as a whole as well as specific technologies, and for helping us all dig a bit deeper and re-examine our own use of technologies.

Mr. Davidson, I heartily disagree with your assertion that the technology is not changing people in any substantial way (at this point I’ll also disclose that I do, in fact, own a cell phone and have no plans to get rid of it). This past weekend my dear younger sister came home. She has a cell phone, and has had one for quite awhile. She’s text-messaged during family games in the past, but this weekend the distraction level was much higher than normal. It was the first time I’ve seen her since she got a blackberry, and the entire weekend she was “BBMing” (I learned this means BlackBerry Messaging). The reason she came home was for the U2 concert, and she was even BBMing during the concert! No, she’s not always present to where she is without the blackberry. But, without it, the circumstances force her to become more present and more engaged with the world around her. With it, she can continue to BBM, ignore me, and express her frustration that I don’t text her back right away.

I should stop complaining about my sister; after all, evidence that cell phones change people is even closer to home. I see changes in myself. Regrettably, I live far away from most of my good friends, and it’s easy to call them when I’m lonely or struggling, instead of looking at what’s in front of me. Sometimes, of course, it helps to talk to them: I’m often lonely or struggling because I often feel like I am the only one trying to engage the world in any real way, and talking to my friends reminds me that I’m not. But other times it’s just a distraction, any easy way out of where I am. Computers and email are worse for me than phones, but it is the technology itself that exacerbates the tendency to fly from reality. The tendency is already there, of course, but I wouldn’t be able to give into it so often without the technology.

For now, I’m not ready to give up the technology, mostly because long distance on cell phones is cheaper than land lines and I’m not willing to give up talking long distance. So I’ll continue to struggle to turn off my computer, turn off my phone, and pay attention to where I am.

I’d also love to hear other people weigh in on something: limiting our use of technology, to whatever extent we’re willing to do so, is counter-cultural. And with phones, it’s counter-cultural in a much more obvious way than limiting other forms of technology. People notice when it takes us hours or days for us to call them back, and, generally, they don’t like it. Explaining my own desire to limit technology always comes off as judgmental- and, to a certain extent, it is. How do we rebel in a way that is kind and loving to those around us?

avatar Anamaria October 21, 2009 at 10:58 am

Mr. Davidson,

See also:

It’s not on cell phones, but it is on the relationship between technology and ourselves.

avatar brierrabbit3030 October 21, 2009 at 11:29 am

AMEN, Brother. Oh, how i hate these foul Nazgul devices, to paraphrase Tolkien. yes, you can call for help. but at the price of privacy. I never use the things. Got along just fine before they came along. “Hello?, Yes, I’m sorry, but i have a 5 pound trout on right now, and I’m standing in the middle of the North Fork River and I can’t talk to you. goodbye!” Uhg!

avatar Stewart K. Lundy October 21, 2009 at 11:37 am

The problem we see here is one of approximation. As analogical information is translated to digital information, there is always an approximation. The best example of this is in calculus–trying to measure the area under an curve by taking integrals. As you can see, the green boxes never fully match up. In fact, only an infinite number of integrals would find the perfect measurement. A practical example is the difference between CDs/mp3s and vinyl LPs. Digitized music only captures the audible range of music. The problem is that music is influenced by inaudible undertones and overtones… when these are all torn away, we find that digital music never sounds authentic as vinyl records. In fact, music archives are reverting to vinyl records (one song per two sides) because they actually last! CDs oxidize within 10 years whereas vinyl records can last virtually indefinitely in the proper conditions.

Our current problem is as follows: Telephone is an approximation of face-to-face conversation. Cellphones are an approximation of an approximation. Text messaging is an approximation of an approximation of an approximation (whether via the voice or written word: letter, email, Instant Message). The ever-increasing efficiency of our language and technology misses the effectiveness of our language and technology. Yes, we communicate faster, but we communicate increasingly less faster! The question is whether our technology is effective not simply efficient. It doesn’t matter if I can do something fast if it’s completely worthless.

The same is true of television, news, and “soundbite politics.” I don’t watch television, use my cellphone, or follow news anymore.

Mr. Davidson, if technology is neutral (just a catalyst), then it has a vital possibility of equal good and evil. If technology is not neutral, there is an even more of a concern to pay attention to its possible threats. If nothing else, technology is radically changing the human condition. If people suck, then chances are their technology will likely suck too.

avatar Weasly Pilgrim October 21, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Might as well toss in the obligatory Wendell Berry reference. Once upon a time (1987), he wrote an essay entitled Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer, in which he enumerated his reasons for rejecting this technological marvel in the pursuit of his writing. The essay was reprinted in Harper’s and readers responded, mostly with vituperation. Berry’s response to the letter writers began as follows:

The foregoing letters surprised me with the intensity of the feelings they expressed. According to the writers’ testimony, there is nothing wrong with their computers; they are utterly satisfied with them and all that they stand for. My correspondents are certain that I am wrong and that I am, moreover, on the losing side, a side already relegated to the dustbin of history. And yet they grow huffy and condescending over my tiny dissent. What are they so anxious about?

I can only conclude that I have scratched the skin of a technological fundamentalism that, like other fundamentalisms, wishes to monopolize a whole society and, therefore, cannot tolerate the smallest difference of opinion. At the slightest hint of a threat to their complacency, they repeat, like a chorus of toads, the notes sounded by their leaders in industry. The past was gloomy, drudgery-ridden, servile, meaningless, and slow. The present, thanks only to purchasable products, is meaningful, bright, lively, centralized, and fast. The future, thanks only to more purchasable products, is going to be even better. Thus consumers become salesmen, and the world is made safer for corporations.

After responding to individual complaints, he concluded with this:

Finally, it seems to me that none of my correspondents recognizes the innovativeness of my essay. If the use of a computer is a new idea, then a newer idea is not to use one.

Substitute “cell-phone” for “computer” and you should have a good sense of Berry’s response to the present question.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Anamaria, with all due respect, I humbly submit that your sister is a scatterbrain. But I highly doubt that taking away her cellphone will change that.

To all: I don’t find a single argument advanced against cell phones here which can’t be applied in equal measure to landlines. Yet no one’s complaining about them. Why? Someone will probably argue that there’s some kind of intrinsic difference between a wired and unwired handset. This would be a silly argument; at best there is a difference in degree. It wasn’t that long ago that the image of a teenage girl holed up in her room on the telephone was a major cultural stereotype, after all, and I don’t see all that much difference between that and chatting on a cell phone. Instead, I think the reason the focus is on cell phones instead of telephony in general is because wired telephony has been around for a century whereas cell phones are in their first generation.

Hell, why stop at telephony? The author doesn’t. He rails against cars and skyscrapers too. He’s willing to give books a pass, but only just. What’s next? Steam power? The water wheel? Crop rotation? Animal husbandry? Ironworking? Every single one of these are technologies, and every single one of them radically transformed the face of human society, but no one complains about them anymore. I don’t have to think very hard to come up with an argument against the introduction of iron weapons which would have been very, very convincing to a 10th century BC intellectual type. Especially one who happened to be Egyptian. And I can only imagine what the virtuous hunter-gatherers said about those benighted agricultural types, the pansies. Maybe we should never have come down out of the trees in the first place. Or, you know, leave Eden. Bad move, that.

So where does it stop? Because it sounds to me like all that’s going on here is that there has been some unconscious choice of some time in the relatively recent past (and I count at least the last three centuries as “relatively recent”) in which the balance between humanism and technology was somehow ideal, forgetting that no one at the time would have agreed with you.

I’m all for being conservative, and for recognizing the costs inherent in change. But there’s a difference between being conservative and being a neo-Luddite. The former does not entail the latter.

avatar D.W. Sabin October 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm

As a curmudgeon who once threw a beeper (an earlier dog leash technology)……. preposterously given as a “gift” by a client who wanted instant and constant access…… out the window as I drove away and he shook his fist at me….but as this kind of churlish reprobate who has reduced his cell phone use by 90% and NEVER while driving…but as this kind of “Gramps”…to Ryan: Thank you very much for your kind elucidations and we shall take them under advisement. Beyond that, BAAHH.

The only electronic communication device that should ever be allowed in the classroom is the small transistor radio attached to an earphone and hidden in your English Book as the Teacher , Mr. Adams, who announced that listening to the World Series during class was verboten and a breach of school policy, manages to wander back to you in the rear of the room during lecture and occasionally whisper “whats the score?”. But then, this assumes they still play baseball in decent early fall daytime weather and not at 11 pm in snowy rain.

Having just spent an evening in a Chicago Blues Bar with a former college room mate and his young associate as the young associate constantly fidgeted with his texting and emails all occurred to me that we can now not only dislike the era we inhabit and the general terms of existence, we can even dislike the moment we are within despite stirling surroundings, escaping to some other place with an idle “dude, whts up r u there?

Ryan, we have gone beyond technology as a neutral tool and well into an evolving regime of technological attachment which is distinctly plunging the populace into a kind of onanistic mental nervosa meshed with digititus aimlessosa. It is quickly canceling out the last shreds of benefit of public education and creating a populace that is high-tech primitive, repose -averse, shallow, fidgety and a kind of silicon valley troglodyte which is always more concerned about some popular culture idiocy going on somewhere else than they are the events surrounding them in their moment. Public education and high tech communication and the devolved communication levels they are habituating the technocentric population too is creating a pretext of civilization, a breezy satisfaction with a depauperate modernity and if you really think the young people who are coming up….who cannot assemble a comprehensive argument or thesis either in spoken word or written without special help (look at most new textbooks these days, they look to have been edited by a cartoonist with a sawed off shotgun) ..but if you really think they are as ‘smart” as they have always been…good luck with that and I’m only glad that I will not be around to watch you enjoy your sinecure with the spoonfed denizens of this deeply idiotic era of technoharlots.

avatar Thomas G. October 21, 2009 at 12:45 pm

It was Socrates, not Plato. But that’s OK, I had to look it up and you pulled it from memory. Fuzzy memory, but then all memory is fuzzy. I believe the maker planned it that way so we could tolerate our mistakes.

I used to think that these arguments were something new until I stumbled across a short story by E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” written in 1904. (Available in the public domain at

In it Forster presages the rise of anti-social networking, and other inhuman technologies that drain communication of its richness, and results in technocracy.

I think the answer to the problem of technology, is the same answer that Forster proposes to the problems of class struggle, in his book “Howards End”

“Only Connect”

Worshiping the tool used to connect, is misplacing your focus. It is what the Buddhists call “Mistaking the moon for the finger that points at it”

avatar Mark October 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I agree with everything said in this post, and yet I am salivating over the newest Blackberry.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 1:30 pm

D.W. Sabin, wading through your cascade of obfuscatory mockery is a pleasure as always.

Neither you nor anyone else has managed to explain why there is a difference in kind between what we’re dealing with in today’s electronic age and what was dealt with by the Roman Catholic and secular authorities with the introduction of printing. Talk about a destabilizing influence. The Protestant Reformation owes no small part of its success to that innovation. Or, for that matter, why the changes we’re experiencing today are somehow categorically different than the changes which were introduced by the Industrial Revolution (if there is such a thing) or the Agricultural Revolution before that.

If the “last shreds of benefit of public education” are weak enough to be undone by the cell phone, they don’t seem to have been worth much anyways. Besides, public education has been on the verge of imminent collapse since it was first introduced. Progressive educational administrators have been bemoaning the decrepit state of our educational infrastructure since the nineteenth century. I maintain that people have always been blockheads, and that the fact that you are now more personally inconvenienced by others’ blockheadedness is an issue which ranks slightly ahead of the heat death of the universe but a bit behind the inevitable death of Sol on the list of immediately pressing problems.

You’re more than welcome to abstain from modern technology. But there’s a difference between principled stands and fits of pique, and right now I’m seeing way more of the latter than the former.

Because Thomas G. is right: exactly this debate has been going on for well over a century, and I’d argue that it goes gack millennia. Being curmudgeonly can be fun, but if mistaking entertainment for substantive merit makes you more a victim of the digital age than you’d probably care to admit.

You want to do something about cell phones? Then quit bitching about the evils of technology and live a life which makes others want to decrease their dependence upon it.

avatar mark October 21, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Amen, Ryan.

avatar Bob Cheeks October 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm

DW, my man, I have entered the just above to the file of “DW’s greatest!” Congrats on that, and your old palsy used to live in Chicago. Dated a young lady on the North side named Mary Ann, she lived not far from where the St. Valentines massacre occurred…well, ya gotta love history.
Peters, rascal that he is, has me referring to this generation of girls as “Macenzies” (ignore sp) and imagining them just an IQ point or two from a drool cup! I conversed with one at a Dunkin’ Doughnuts yesterday and she lifted up her blouse to show me her tatoo…for cryin’ out loud. You can bet I didn’t tell Martha that one, and me totally innocent!
Well, I’m all for the rotary dial and the ’49 Ford pickup and beyond that they can pack it. Used to have me a ’41 John Deere Model A, two bottom drag plow, and with that I coulda plowed the whole darn county. Figure we don’t need more than that or we us that “anxietas” stuff good old Cicero talked about in the Tusculan Disputations, and me I ain’t anxious ‘cept ’bout the gummint!

avatar Rob O. October 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm

The biggest issue is that nobody advocates self-restraint or reasonable-use of the technomarvels we have today. Nobody seems to ever ask of themselves or those nearby, “Just because you CAN do a thing, does that mean you SHOULD?”

Oh yes, the cell phone provides me a means for instantaneous and continuous communication, but do I need that? Is it vital (or even worthwhile) for me to wear my Bluetooth headset during lunch or playtime at the park with my family? Is the mere existence of this magical gadget that reaches out beyond the Earth atmosphere to orbiting satellites and fetches a signal justification enough for me to enslave myself to it?

The cell phone is a tool, not a lifestyle. The tool isn’t the problem, it’s the tools, y’know those obnoxious douchebags who won’t be bothered with a basic understanding of social appropriateness when using technology.

But given that our gotta have it now society is either incapable or unwilling to self-govern themselves, it is easy to find fault with the device. Cell phones steal the independence and rationale from those – especially kids – who carry them. The technology is enabler for our laziness and unwillingness to think and do for ourselves.

avatar D.W. Sabin October 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

“Bitch”? Why Ryan, how petulantly unprofessional. You miss the point in your slavish devotion to the small button. there is nothing materially different between the current manifestation of technology and the industrial revolution or the earlier printing revolution..except for two things: Accumulation and Speed. The early opponents of train travel feared that going down tracks at 15 miles and hour would either cause their brains to cease or their lungs to explode. They were wrong of course but so what. While you might try and erect some kind of blanket straw man my way, I am not anti-technological by any means and if you were to wade beyond your own freshets into some of my past cascades, you might be able to realize what I am talking about. Distraction and the accumulation of tasks, less ably done is the real villain, not the technology itself. If you really believe that multi-tasking nervously is the same as patient application, well….you’ve rounded the bend into simple pleasures my friend and perhaps a tank of gadgetry is your preferred redoubt. I hope you like noise.

A telling display of your lacking discrimination of the salient point is your lumping of the old corded land line telephone with the new mobile phone. People could not drive, watch a movie, walk about the streets yammering like a schizophrenic, sit down to dinner and attempt a conversation in a public place on an old telephone. People did not drive erratically down a highway because they were yammering aimlessly on a land line phone. People did not kill someone else because they were texting on a gadget at 35 mph. Planned Obsolescence and a monumental waste stream , the great deity of techno-consumerism is Exhibit A of the central point that it is not technology but a certain embrace of technology that is detrimental to the species. The other Exhibit is “Dude LOL” is not a language of worth beyond the grunts of cavemen.

I don’t “bitch” about technology at all, I simply don’t surrender to it or, in cases, I chose to avoid using it in favor of concentrating on one thing at a time without impoverishing interruption if possible. Usually, like Mr. Berry, the bitching I hear more than any other is amongst the yammering hordes of button pushing dimbulbs who cannot fathom doing 5 things poorly at the same time is worse than doing 5 things well over a longer period. I also hear a lot of bitching from people who demand that my schedule coincide with theirs and that some easily forgotten reverie demands my immediate attention and earnest reply. I also hear bitching from people I promptly leave because they think answering a cellphone is more important than listening to what I am spending my time explaining during a meeting they requested.

Tell me Ryan, are you so impervious to the possibilities of human intercourse and patient craft that you think it is not insulting when someone gibbers on buttons while with you or that admonishing such brute behavior is “bitching”? The coarsening of the populace is not some mystery. Nervous spectatorship is obviously quickening.

But, by all means, insult my obfuscations at will because you wear your impertinence on your sleeve and it actually cheers me to no end. I enjoy it when a thesis is proven efficiently.

“Bitching”….thats rich .
The world is not nor never has been “all or nothing”.

avatar Marianne October 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I see that plenty of people have had at Mr. Davidson already, but I can’t resist contributing to the chorus, as this is a subject very near to me. So, I say to Mr. Davidson, all of that is utter malarkey.

Your position can be boiled down to this, I believe: The stupid people who suck– and they are, as they always have been, legion–are the ones who misuse technology. Those of us capable of truer and loftier communication are impervious to the supposed ills of media innovations. With Reason as our aid, we shall successfully navigate the vast seas of sucky stupidities produced by the sucky stupid people–just as we always have.

I’m sorry to make a caricature of your argument like this, but, gosh, I’ve just heard it too many times, and the more I hear it the more thoroughly convinced I am of its wrongness. Firstly, there is serious misanthropy at the core of it (And you call Mr. Peters “Grumps”!), and of a kind that we are all prone to. For example, it does indeed seem logical that the Bradjelina worship pamphlets hawked at grocery stores the world over are merely satisfying the unyielding force of Bad Taste which runs in the blood of the marginally educated. But in fact Bad Taste today is foisted upon all the world without discrimination. Educated and uneducated, brilliant and dull, rich and poor, rural and urban, virtuous and rotten; representatives of all kinds and types are ensnared by and addicted to the trash that is sold to them. In its rise to dominance, Bad Taste has nearly trampled to death the normative cultural expressions, both high and low, that preceded it; now our culture–OUR culture–revolves around Bad Taste.

In the same way, no one can claim to be “above” the pernicious aspects of the cell phone. Its ills are a pervasive cultural phenomenon. We are all part of it. One may try very hard, and succeed somewhat, to mitigate the cell phone’s influence in the one’s personal life, but still one cannot escape its domain. Like Anamaria, I have distressing familial anecdotes. Members of my own family have become, while living in the same house, practically estranged each other by letting their time and devotion be diverted from family things to gadget things. The cell phone is the Chief Gadget, the gadget is the Chief of the family, my own family. This was simply not the case 10 years ago.

I am reminded of a quote mentioned in Neil Postman’s ever-venerable “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” About the invention of the telegraph Henry David Thoreau had this to say:

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate… As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough…”

Notice that he simply refers to the “American ear,” and not to the ears of silly, gossip-obsessed girls. The non-news News of Princess Adelaide’s ailment would enter into the consciousness of the entire country through the intervention of a mere gadget, without invitation or consent.

We are not dealing with technological innovation as the world has previously experienced it. The effects of the cell phone (and the internet) are immediate and global. The global bit must not be forgotten. Land-line telephones didn’t have anything like the omnipresence of the cellphone…

avatar rex October 21, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Rob O. is on the right track. My cell phone has an interesting feature many may not be aware of, it is a mode access button. By changing the phone from the ON mode to the OFF mode I can radically alter the functioning of the device. In the OFF mode this piece of technology whose net effect has been determined to be abominable, is as insidious as carrying a good sized skipping stone.

I only carry a cell phone because it comforts my employers to harbor the illusion that I am instantly accessible. Like many, I am annoyed no end by indiscriminate cell phone use. However, I could create a very very long list of things that other people do that annoy me. I try not dwell on it too much as I believe it erodes my peace of mind.

Kids do make poor choices, that is why we try to protect them until they learn to master the tools around them. Hats are a technology you could argue that has a net benefit. However, my kids learned that hats come off at the dinner table for no other reason than it is considered polite. I have confidence they will come to master cell phone etiquette with equal grace.

After many years of resisting, we ditched the land lines about two months ago, and part of the deal was getting cell phones for the boys (18 and 15). To date I have not noticed a net drop in intelligence of either one. Any tips on the early warning signs that their brains are turning to ooze would be appreciated.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 2:43 pm

D.W. Kain, see, the thing is that I think that electronics–which is one of many technologies, to be distinguished them from “technology”, which includes everything from jet engines to toothbrushes to bread–do have bad effects. I routinely ask people to ignore their cell phones or turn them off. I don’t generally multitask and tend to criticize those who think it makes them more effective. I think word processors are deceptive in that they make writing appear easy by removing the limitations of the pen while doing nothing about the true challenge of wordsmithing. I believe that the Internet makes information appear ubiquitous when it is in fact devilishly difficult to come by, let alone understand and assimilate. In many respects, we’re on the same page.

The difference between us is that unlike you–and the author–I don’t get peevish about it. And that I refuse to characterize entire technologies, indeed, technology itself, as categorically bad. It only took a few years for movie theaters to start showing notices about silencing electronics, and now failing to do so is generally recognized as bad manners, as something you can get yelled at by your fellow moviegoers. I don’t think it will be all that long before the rest of life follows suit.

Because you’re right: cell phones are commonly treated as an excuse to be rude. But I contend that this is simply because there has not been sufficient time for a system of etiquette to emerge. Like all new technologies, this too will be made to fit within the context of mannered society. When movies were first shown in theaters, it was years before it became impolite to wander in and out at will, or talk to your neighbor throughout, but now both of those are firmly established as unacceptable. Cell phones are new and, as has been pointed out, have the potential to be distruptive. Okay. Give it time. You want to kvetch about something–there, that better?–kvetch about the fact that people are rude, inconsiderate, and incompetent. I’d be with you all the way there.

And get off your high horse. You look silly up there.

avatar Bob Cheeks October 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm

DW, Ryan’s retort had me blow several ounces of specially prepared coffee out my nostril!
Hey, wadda ya think of welcoming the lovely and gracious Marianne? I like her; sassy, smart, and not to be toyed with! So welcome Marianne!
Ryan, dude, you keep messin’ with my man and there will come a torrent of adj. and adv. that will make you shudder…I’ve seen it before. Now play nice and it isn’t particularly clever to tell my man to “…get off your high horse. You look silly up there.”

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Marianne, let me get this straight. You attempt to defeat a caricature of my position, which you suggest is based on “Reason” with an argument based explicitly upon. . . taste? And then you call me a misanthrope? Did I get that right?

You then proceed to use a nineteenth-century hippie to argue, with the telegraph as an example, that what we’re experiencing with cell phones is Really New And Radically Different For Reals.

I have to assume that you’re serious, but I think that’s really all I need to point out here.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Bob Cheeks (methinks “Cheeky” would be more appropriate?): We aim to please.

avatar Bob Cheeks October 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Ryan, you ARE a clever devil!

avatar Marianne October 21, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Mr. Cheeks: Thanks for the welcome! I curtsy to you.

Mr. Davidson: I’m feeling distinctly disliked here! What did I do? No hard feelings, sir.

(I’m quite certain that I’ve not mastered the art of discerning the moods of internet debates. Is everybody really so mad as they seem?)

All I was trying to say is that there is a cell phone more or less intertwined with my father’s right eardrum, and it makes me rather sad. If he doesn’t extract it after he retires, I will be sadder.

avatar D.W. Sabin October 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm

My steed is “bitch”..or perhaps “kvetch” and now I’m on a high hobby horse….and off to the races trying to win the pot calling the kettle black stakes.

Cheeks, no torrent required here, the mouth was opened and incriminating evidence duly offered and he himself, the redoubtable Mr. Davidson who bitches like a Jewish Princess in Estrus is duly convicted. I stand chastened here, cowed as it were, meekly at a loss and in awe of a level of conviction that makes the Taliban seem dithering. Another Round For Tomorrowland! Buttons ahoy and beam me up.

Don’t worry about it Marianne, Mr. Ryan is simply fulminating and I’m quite sure he holds you no ill will…he’s just , shall we say, effulgently forceful in his opinions, however daft they might at times be. He particularly likes to argue with fellows who , like him, think there are an awful lot of blockheads about . No matter, I like his pluck . He makes me appear measured and sane and this is not to go unappreciated.

As for me, I frequently sound mad but my tongue is always and forever firmly ensconced in cheek. Welcome to Belly Acres….we need more wimmin around here…might improve manners. Hopefully not too much.

As for you Cheeks, …well…….never mind.

avatar Bob Cheeks October 21, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Welcome, Marianne! Ryan’s a bit of a dork, but he may come around? He’s a righteous dude, or at least sees himself as one!
And, yes sometimes the conversation gets rowdy, but I’ll protect you until you get your wings. Not to worry, just fire away, young lady!
Dr. Sabin, brilliant, brilliant I say and the Ryan should, if he has any class, be properly bitch slapped!
Fr. Sabin this one is one of your better ones: “Cheeks, no torrent required here, the mouth was opened and incriminating evidence duly offered and he himself, the redoubtable Mr. Davidson who bitches like a Jewish Princess in Estrus is duly convicted.” Bravo, Bravo well done, comrade!
I trust you lit off a Montecristo? Cohiba? Hoyo de Monterrey? Oh, the noxious fumes, the fragrance, with two fingers of Buffalo Trace…no doubt?

avatar Anamaria October 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I guess I missed a lot while at lunch. It was actually the first meal I’ve had in a long time where neither person looked at their cell phone before the meal was over.

Ryan, yes, this same debate can be applied to many other technologies, and, yes, it has been around for awhile- but only as a marginal conversation. The point of this and similar conversations is to help us judge the technologies themselves: not to assume they’re better because they’re new nor to dismiss them as a neo-Luddite. Mr. Peters takes a firm anti-cell phone stance and he does so not because he is anti-technology as a whole but because he has looked at cell phones and decided they cost us too much. We should, in fact, look at the industrial revolution and judge it, too; it allowed machines to do a lot of work, but it also reduced the work that many humans did to machine-like work. Assembly-line and other factory work engages the body but not the mind, while most craft work before that engaged both.

“Luddite,” by the way, comes from English workers whose jobs were supplanted by machines. They had decided the costs of these machines was too high and they destroyed them. In my view, then, being a luddite is not a bad thing- it is not someone who is anti- all technology but someone who tries to take into account the costs of it and then judge whether or not we should adopt it.

As I said, I have a cell phone and have no plans to get rid of it. But, again, it isn’t just that people suck (though maybe that’s true, too), but that cell phones change the way we relate to the world (and often exacerbate our bad qualities). Yes, my sister is a scatterbrain, but without her blackberry she’s forced to notice where she is at a certain point- and she used to do this. When my own attention on something begins to wane, it’s very easy to just get on my computer or check my phone for something new. Without that, my attention wanes, but I re-focus fairly quickly; cell phones and email and the internet give me something new and exciting to focus on instead. I have to be very conscious of not falling into this trap.

Yes, you can turn your phone off, Rob O. But this really isn’t a solution: many people think you’re rude if you don’t answer them immediately. And, moreover, other people still use them and use them in our presence. Both of these are radical differences from the landline, Ryan: it’s okay to not answer the landline because sometimes you’re not home, and when you’re out in public with someone they can’t talk on the phone or text. Another major difference is that cell phones are personal. At a certain point, a teenage girl has to get off a landline because her parents or siblings need to use it or don’t allow her to use it past 10 p.m. This doesn’t mean that landlines are fine, only that there are clear differences between them and cell phones.

Finally, I’m surprised no one has brought up Mr. Berry’s criteria for judging new technology. I’ll offer them now- not as the final word on the subject or even because I agree with all of them, but as a reference point for judgment. Ryan, this is not from an anti-technology stance, only one that recognize there are more important qualifications for something than that it’s new. And this applies equally to cars, skyscrapers, highways, landlines, animal husbandry, iron work, etc.

The criteria (from “Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer):
1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

Even if you disagree with this set of criteria, we need some sort of criteria with which to judge new technology instead of adopting it as unequivocally good. What criteria would you use, Ryan and others?

avatar Marianne October 21, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Thanks and Thanks, kind gentlemen! I am a longtime lurker on this site, and have often wondered at the overall dearth of ladies hanging about. What accounts for it? Is the gender tally of the readers proportionately similar to that of the regular participants? Hmmm… Can’t we at least raise our timid little hands?

avatar John Médaille October 21, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Ryan, You hit the nail on the head with the intimate connection between the Protestant Reformation and cheap paper (the printing press was an outgrowth of this). For every man to be his own interpreter, every man had to have a copy of the Bible, and that was impossible in the age of the copyist. And he had to be able to read, which made the whole thing dependent on public education. The theological debate would have been meaningless without the technological innovation.

I think the CD and the internet will change the theology as well, although I am not quite sure in what direction. I think it may re-establish story telling (which is what the Bible is) as the primary means of conveying theological meaning. This would work to the advantage of the Roman and Orthodox Churches, since stories always depend on an interpretive tradition.

Jason, the cell phone may indeed destroy public education. I’m not sure whether that’s an argument for or against it.

Weasly, thanks for posting the link to Orlov’s article. It is interesting to compare his gift economy with Benedict’s principle of Gratuitousness.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm

D.W. Kain and Bob Cheeks, one of the first things a newcomer to an internet forum must do is identify who the trolls are. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So I think it’s time I left you ladies to your mutual gratification session. Have fun with that, hear?

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Marianne, no hard feelings whatsoever. I just thought it a little incongruous that you’d try to rebut my argument using that particular line of reasoning. I mean, I was arguing that this anti-cell phone stance seems like a rehashed version of the same anti-technology screed that’s been around forever… and you responded with Thoreau? That would seem to confirm my reading of things, not refute it.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Anamaria, the criteria you list make innovation all but impossible. In fact, it is impossible for anything to pass the last criterion. But if we get rid of that one–everything is disruptive on some level–almost any device created after about 1900 is off limits. Antibiotics, the polio vaccine, air conditioning, and ultrasound machines are all not worth it. This makes you sound like… the Amish.

I submit that this is not a tenable position. You’re going to have to argue that technologies which have saved literally millions if not billions of lives over the last century or two are not worth the price we’ve paid to technology. That’s going to be a tough sell at best, and from a moral position I really don’t envy you that task.

What criteria do we use to evaluate technology before we implement it? Ultimately, I’m not sure we can. The technologies that are truly disruptive are so precisely because they are unprecedented. As such, knowing what effects they’re going to have upon society–particularly as regulatory and social environments adapt to deal with them–is all but impossible. If the Vatican had known how influential printing would be in the end of a unified Western Christendom, they’d almost certainly have done more to suppress the technology. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t know any such thing until the horse was out of the barn.

I’d argue that caution and wisdom are always required, but that there can’t be any hard and fast rules–except for technologies or uses of technology which are explicitly immoral, e.g. embryo research (and I’m hoping I get a pass for that one around here, because I’m not going to argue for it)–because such rules would require information which cannot possibly be known.

The reason I reacted so strongly to the author’s post is because he seems far more curmudgeonly than he does thoughtful. Cell phones are, in fact, a pretty amazing piece of work which have been immensely beneficial to much of the world. Do they tend to draw out scatterbrained tendencies in those of us who have inclinations that way anyways? Sure. Do they make the contemplative life even harder than it already was? Absolutely. But they also make it possible for areas of the world which have never had access to telephony to talk to the outside world.

For example, the definition for universal service for landline telephones in Nigeria is that every village of at least 5000 has at least one functional pay phone. They’re nowhere close to achieving that. But you can get cell coverage in most of the country, because throwing up a few towards is far, far, cheaper than building out a wired network. This enables the government to extend the reach of civil order and the benefits that entails into previously lawless areas, not to mention the added benefits of familial communication.

Is the ability to make a call if your car breaks down worth the costs the author describes? Maybe not. But arguing that those costs aren’t worth bearing so that a billion impoverished people can connect to the global network is going to be a lot harder sell, particularly as you’re essentially arguing that the costs to you are so great that that billion people shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of technology that you already do.

And again, Anamarie, this is where we get back to Luddism. The Luddites weren’t just known for deciding that a particular technological innovation was too costly. They were known for deciding that whatever its benefits to society, the new factory machinety was too costly to them, and they were willing to effectively pull up the ladder after them to ensure that no one else had the chance to do what they had done, i.e. replace the previous generation of workers. Their motives were thus a lot farther from noble than you make them seem.

So in addition to the costs of adopting new technology, we need to consider the costs of not doing so. Because there are always costs to that too. We also need to be willing to expand that analysis beyond our immediate community.

This, as it turns out, isn’t very localist. But I’m not aware of a different way of parsing it.

avatar mark October 21, 2009 at 9:06 pm

The indoor toilet is an interesting technological advancement. I’m not sure if the toilet can pass Berry’s nine point test (versus the outhouse) outlined in Anamaria’s post above. (I’m guessing that most of us don’t use outhouses these days.) The toilet depends on a whole series of technological advancements that might not have passed Berry’s test, either.

Cell phones and computers are technologies that may be foundational for some future technological advancement that will have the same benefit for society as the indoor toilet.

Sorry — gotta run, need to use the can. Wait, I could bring my laptop with me! ??? Hmmm, I’ll let you guess where I’m sitting as I click “Submit.”

avatar Marianne October 22, 2009 at 10:29 am

I was pretty sure you didn’t actually hate me, Mr. Davidson, but I can be a bit, well, girly, about these things. It is a good and healthy thing to debate, even by way of a silliness as wicked as the internet!

If I hadn’t been at work (ssshhhh!) and even been attempting to do some work while I was commenting yesterday, I perhaps would have been more thorough–har har– in contextualizing the Thoreau quote. I in no way meant for it to bolster or frame an argument about the radical newness of modern communication. My only purpose in trotting it out was to point again to the broad cultural perils of media innovation. To those of us reared in an age where it seems that God gave us air only so that it could host our satellite threads, the telegraph does appear quaint and harmless, unfairly attacked by Thoreau, who was a professional pooh-pooh-er anyway.

Ah, but our nay-saying proto-hippie wasn’t only a blistering boo-addict. He was also quite shrewd. The telegraph in fact changed gossip from a social vice that involved persons who were at least acquainted with one another, into an asset of trans-regional markets. Our tabloids are a legacy of the telegraph. Gossip is fed to us by people who have based their livelihoods on it. Should we be indifferent to such developments? Does the Biblical fact that gossip has been a part of all societies for all time matter when the gossip we have now is substantially different from what it once was?

I understand that no plug can stop the flowing spirit of innovation in us. I wouldn’t wish it. To be human, to be made in the image of God, is to posses this kind of a creative impulse. It shouldn’t be smothered. But it must be checked and regarded with extreme care. It seems to me that you understand this.

In any case, my issue with cell phones is not so much that it is an instance of unnecessary technological doo-dah-dery. Truly, humankind does not not need the cell phone, but we have it, and will continue to have it, so there. I get that. However, a cell phone is not simply an unchained telephone; it is a hand-held entertainment center containing all possible objects of instant fascination. It possesses an amazingly great potential for enslaving its owner– and I don’t mean in merely practical way, but in a spiritual and cultural way. It is this aspect of the cell phone that merits our fright. Adult people everywhere and of all stripes must stop blithely nodding and gooing over every new “advancement” in the i-phone. They must stop buying their children instruments of infernal distraction… We are not talking about real technological innovation, but of the aggressively marketed enhancement of an already established entertainment device.

Then again, I have unwavering sympathies with the Luddites of history and of our time. I rather agree with Anamaria’s interpretation of the movement. But I also understand that it is also a matter of taste. Being Amish or Amishish would suit me wonderfully. My dearest wish as a child was to somehow recreate Prince Edward Island as I knew it from Anne of Green Gables. I was even willing to put up with such inconveniences as killer whooping cough, only so long as horses were a vital part of day-to-day life. In my heart I still nurture this fantasy…. Heck, I didn’t even get my drivers license until I was 23 (um, a few months ago…)! I spit on all gadgetry of all kinds, and yet I am infinitely grateful that the internet has enabled me to listen to pretty much everything Sviatoslav Richter ever recorded just by a simple virtual visit to youtube. What a world!

avatar Ben Lewellyn October 22, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I liked Stewart’s approximation point. Add to it Marianne’s last note about the increasingly expansive domain of new cell phones; I’m thinking particularly of the application, shown in commercials, which allows you to read the Canon in 150-word “pages.” At some point too much in life becomes approximated by the use of these tools—-and I would call them tools. We can so attenuate our interaction with other people that we both lose sight of our own conversations and the timeless human conversation in literature. But there are degrees. Having a long-distance conversation about Wendell Berry on your cell phone is an approximation that is perhaps more tolerable than reading “Fidelity” on your cell phone as you wait to be called for your tanning bed appointment.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? What is the good use of technology? Where are the net gains to be made? Even the author has trouble with this: see only his balancing act about the $35 computer and $3 keyboard. Here, Ryan makes an excellent point, even if, I’m sorry to say it’s the other clause in the “bitching” sentence: “live a life which makes others want to decrease their dependence upon it.” Though it may seem incongruous, the author has had at least that much impact on me only through reading and understanding his example on this website. His use of technology has led me to reduce my own dependence upon it.

I’ll offer one other comment, if only about the tone of the conversation on this thread. Context is important. I think that Marianne, Anamaria, the author, and myself are all consistently interacting with people aged somewhere between eighteen and twenty-six. This is clear not just because of age or profession, but in the level of exasperation apparent in each remark. To some, this exasperation may seem capricious or not even worth registering. Yet the condition in which young people, smart young people, are found leading their lives—-built ever more upon strict obedience to convenience and ignorance—-does lend itself to real frustration, if not the written message to which we all respond here. (Disclosure: I say this as a young person about people often older than myself.)

Without occasionally surveying your principles, you can easily be swept along with the tide of new and more ridiculous distractions. Yet, one need not purify to the extent that he ends up alone in a dark cave; Ryan has a good point about the Luddites’ atomistic view of history and society. In other words, aren’t we all concerned about community here and the other members of our community? So remember Ryan’s better angels and Jason Peters’ example: show others the life more thoughtfully and, almost by definition, less electronically lived.

avatar D.W. Sabin October 22, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I want to thank Ryan for constructing the “Peevish Luddite Troll on a Hobby Horse” category for me. I’m a bit of a wilting flower and had not yet understood my role and now that he has sternly provided it, I am in a state of gratitude similar to that of the Mandan after having been given the stacks of pox-ridden blankets by the British.

avatar James Kabala October 22, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I submit that part of the dispute here is a battle between inductive and deductive ways of looking at the world. The argument against cell phones is mainly intuitive – clearly society is at a very low point morally and spiritually at the present time, and since this is also a period of great technological advance, it seems easy to conclude that the two sets of facts are connected. Attempts to prove why this is the case, however, often end up relying on arguments that if, followed to their logical conclusion, anathematize several centuries (or even nearly all) of human history. Most arguments against social networking, for example, could often be used against any method of keeping in touch with a distant friend, no matter how low-tech. (Why did Adams and Jefferson waste time indoors writing to each other when there were so many nice people in Quincy and Charlottesville that they could have spent more time with?)

I think (despite having written my own Davidisonesque rant a few weeks ago) there probably is some connection between technological progress and social decay, but the columns written against them often do give off an air of “Get off my lawn, kids” rather than of rigorous argument. What we need are more thinkers who cannot the dots in step-by-step dedutive way.

avatar Marianne October 22, 2009 at 2:12 pm

I want to confirm your hunch, Mr. Lewellyn, that my own frustration at least is largely rooted in my deep, deep terror of a future run by our peers, the “millennials”. I envision a globe swarming with duty-dodging alcoholics, only instead of alcohol it will be the i-phone, or whatever shiny thing we develop to replace it. And, as you said, many good and smart young people–people I grew up with and love!–will be among the gizmo-holics. I don’t think this is a subject for shoulder-shrugging. Our generation has been seeping in this filthy tea all our lives; the bitterness would take a long time to wash away. Let’s just not pretend that it isn’t very bitter indeed.

I think Mr. Kabala is right to say that rants are inadequate to the task of making good, in-depth sense about these things. Nothing like a definitive work has been written on the subject of the most modern technologies and their impact on us. In the meantime, rants serve the very necessary part of riling us up, stirring the tea, consoling the scattered troops…

avatar Thomas G. October 22, 2009 at 2:12 pm


Hmm… I’m not sure about the peevish Luddite troll category. While I can’t speak for the other inhabitants of the Front Porch, I have always considered you and Mr. Cheeks as the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of FPR.

As always, thanks for the erudite entertainment.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 22, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Marianne, I think we’re moving towards the same page now. I think you’re romanticizing the lifestyle you describe more than a little bit (I think most mothers who lost half their children to childhood diseases would probably trade your place for theirs in a heartbeat), but I do at least understand the appeal.

Ben Lewellyn, thanks for the good word. With any luck you’ll be seeing more of those “better angels,” as I won’t be drawn into the tarbaby that is the “D.W. Sabin and Bob Cheeks Show” again. I learned my lesson.

Thomas G., if by Rozencrantz and Guildenstern you mean the hapless saps that were dead long before they knew it, then yes, absolutely. Otherwise I think it’s more like Bill and Ted.

avatar Marianne October 22, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Mr. Davidson: If these dear mothers of the stricken children of old offered to switch me places, I’d be only too happy (The deal would have to include allowing my fiance to come with me, however.) From a Christian perspective, after all, it is better to lose a life than a soul. Not that I believe all Victorian Prince Edward Islanders were destined for heaven, or that all generation Y-ers are bound for hell…

I have from time to time wondered whether my ideas about history, culture and politics haven’t all sprung up from my fear of cars. I’ve always hated the little doom boxes! For me, right before the invention of the car I would have had a wall put up before innovation. But you’re right: this sort of thinking is all fancy, and not terribly productive aside from fostering an attitude of massive ingratitude. I sincerely hope, and am pretty convinced, that my concern about cell phones is a based in something else.

avatar Moonman October 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm

My wife and I were at a summer picnic/concert last year, and the two 18-20 year olds stretched out on the blanket next to ours were obviously on a date. They were lanky, curly-headed and good-looking, and she had on a flimsy sundress and was resting her head on his chest. They were both absorbed with their cell phones. I was aghast. If I had been his age, my cell phone would have been the last thing I would have been thinking about. Worthless generation, captive to technology, incapable of real human feeling, etc. etc.

Then I noticed they were playing chess with each other wirelessly. Faith in humanity restored, lesson learned.

avatar Anamaria October 22, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Marianne, thanks for your posts. I also wonder where all the women are, and if everyone is as mad as they seem! At least on FPR they are, on the whole, rather more thoughtful than elsewhere. And I’d live on Prince Edward Island, too, if I could bring those I love most in the world.

Mr. Davidson, I’m really not sure why the last piece of Wendell Berry’s criteria doesn’t allow polio vaccinations or ultrasound machines. How do these disrupt “goods that already exist?” This makes no sense, unless you somehow see polio as a good.

I don’t know how and if we can judge a technology prior to its implementation, but we have to judge it at some point. You say, “caution and wisdom” should be used. But they aren’t being used at all. Instead, as Marianne said, it’s constant adoption of the last iPhone app, latest technology. Furthermore, what we’re trying to do now is judge the cell phone (post-implementation, clearly) and your response is that we don’t see how amazing the cell phone is and that we’re anti-technology for trying to judge it and its effect on the development of children.

My main assertion regarding cell phones is that they take many of our bad qualities and exacerbate them; my sister is scatterbrained, but instead of reality making her grow up and be where she is, she can indulge in her desire to escape. A similar argument was made in a recent America article: This is judging the technology and its effects, not being anti-technology or progress or not recognizing its benefits.

You say that one of the great advantages of the cell phone is that we get to talk to the outside world regularly. Why is this an advantage? Understand, I’m not saying it’s not an advantage, I really am asking. I’d like to dig deeper than assuming constant contact with “the outside world” is good. I’d also like to make clear that I definitely think some contact with the outside world is good- contact with someone who as a different way of looking at the world is extremely beneficial to digging beneath our own assumptions and re-looking at them. But I am not sure why this contact must be constant.

For myself, I have regular contact with people who live in San Diego, rural Honduras, South Bend, Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, Austin, New Orleans, D.C., and Connecticut because I don’t live near most of the people I love. I would quickly and easily trade my cell phone to live near my friends and family. The cell phone is a poor substitute for physical proximity. It was technology, meritocracy, and our national placelessness that helped get me in this situation in the first place- I attended an elite university, so afterwards most of my friends moved back home or to a Honduran orphanage or to an elite graduate program. My mom’s an immigrant, and my dad’s both an academic and the child of an academic, so they aren’t any more “placed” than I am, and my siblings have all moved away from the town we grew up. And none of us consider it home. Given the current situation, I am extremely grateful for my education and for friends who challenge me to engage reality more fully and completely; I definitely think it beats staying here for school (where all the townie kids think leaving is succeeding, anyway), but I would trade that to live in a stable community in a second. And I’d easily give up most of my technology. Everything except my books, my guitar, and my bicycle would be given up in a second.

I say all this about myself both to give you a more personal glimpse of where I am coming from and to give a deeper look at our human desires. Do we want to have easy access to the “outside world,” whether via phone or internet or highway, or do we want to live fully and authentically where we are (though this does not have to be closed to the outside world)? What will make us happy? It seems to me that the constant desire to connect comes from a deep desire for authentic human connection, but it’s not being met through constant texting, frequent phone calls, and distraction when we’re actually together. It can only be met through a life lived in proximity and fidelity to those we love.

Furthermore, Mr. Davidson, I agree that we should judge technology’s impact on people other than ourselves- that is what we are doing.

The Luddites rejection of factories wasn’t that they rejected the natural cycle of one generation of workers replacing the previous generation- it was that the work was different-unskilled- and done largely by machine. Wouldn’t you react, too, if the beautiful work you had learned to do in your life- your expertise- was now done by machine? Henry Ford hired old wagon makers to work in his factories, at first, and he had to hire three times as many workers as he wanted because so few of them stayed, despite the relatively high wages he paid them. And why wouldn’t they? Yes, the rest of us got cars, but they had to do simply inhumane work that separated their minds from their bodies.

And I’ll end on this lighter note:

avatar Ryan Davidson October 23, 2009 at 7:25 am

Marianne, you seem to wind up saying that people are better off dead than living in today’s electronic era.

I can’t construe that as a reasonable position, even from a Christian perspective. Electronics may endanger the soul in terms of a certain Chestertonian concept of the Good Life (one to which I am partial, make no mistake), but moving from there to suggest that they endanger the soul in an eternal sense is not a move I’m willing to make. You need to believe that only one particular spot on the spectrum of lifestyles throughout history is worth living and that all the rest are worse than death.

Say what you like about personal liberty, such a position is completely incompatable with it. And as your concept of the good life seems largely predicated on personal liberty, I can’t help but find the argument completely incoherent.

avatar Ryan Davidson October 23, 2009 at 8:14 am

Anamaria, vaccinations and ultrasounds manifestly do disrupt existing structures in that they enable people to survive who would otherwise die. You may call this a good thing, but it’s still a disruption, of sorts, or at least it was at the time. So was the introduction of crop rotation, the advent of the enclosure movement in late medieval Europe, and the introduction of the grain mill. All of these were disruptive to existing patterns of life when they were first introduced. Human society has adapted to all of them, sacrificing what was good about previous modes of life in doing so.

On a more personal note, I totally feel you on the idea that the cell phone is a pretty poor replacement for physical proximity. I completely agree. But in the absence of physical proximity, it’s a nice thing to have. I live in Indiana. Most of my family lives in Pennsylvania. I am in regular contact with them. Absent telephony, I wouldn’t be. How is this a bad thing? I’m not arguing that it’s the same thing as being there, because it isn’t, but you can’t tell me with a straight face that this is worse than not talking to them at all.

And my job–in-house counsel–would be orders of magnitude more time consuming, expensive and difficult without the Internet. I would need access to well over twenty million pages of printed text (full editions of every statutory, regulatory, and judicial compilation for all fifty states and the federal government) to do what I do. A task which takes minutes now could have taken days even thirty years ago. Do I prefer books to the Internet? Absolutely. Would I go back to doing things on paper? Not on your life!

You’re also missing a key aspect of history of the Luddites. They were factory workers. Their objection was not to the introduction of factory methods as such, nor to the nature of the work to be done, but to the introduction of new methods, which made their ability to operate the old machines obsolete. There was nothing deeply human about what they were doing before hand, and the only principle they were standing on was that the new machines would put them out of a job. While I feel some sympathy with their plight, I can’t construe this as noble.

This sounds a lot like what you’re doing, i.e. arguing that the very technologies that enable you to live the relatively privileged life that you do should be unavailable to others. I’m sorry, I’m with you on the costs of technologies, but that’s where I get off the bus. It’s too transparently self-serving. Even saying that you’d trade it for a stable community doesn’t really cut it, because all you’re really doing is trying to foist off the costs after reaping most of the benefits. You, all of you really, are trying to have your cake and eat it too. I’m all for recognizing and mitigating costs–I don’t have an iPhone and don’t plan on getting one, but the cost I want to mitigate there is about $30 a month, not something more abstract–but I won’t try to cut off the limb I’m sitting on, nor will I let you get away with doing the same without calling you on it.

You want your stable, local, sustainable, intimate, relatively low-tech community, but I’d venture to guess that you also want your modern health care, abundant and diverse food supply, top-flight education, and access to media too. I mean, hell, why not throw in a magic pony while you’re at it? And I’m sorry, I just don’t believe you or Marianne when you say that you’d gladly give up modern conveniences for a simpler life, in no small part because most people who don’t have modern conveniences will either lie/cheat/steal/kill to get them, are already dead, or are too damn busy to even think about what they’re doing. The Amish may have a simple life, but they don’t have much time to sit around wondering whether they’re really living the good life. The cows need milked, the hay mown, the barn raised, the socks darned, and the eggs collected, and when the sun goes down, it’s basically time for bed. I personally like the fact that I don’t have to work ten to fourteen hours a day, six days a week, just to keep body and soul together, and I wouldn’t trade the benefits this confers on my soul for the benefits of a “simpler” life unless forced to do so.

The choice isn’t between the good things in your life with electronics or the good things in your life without electronics, it’s a choice between an examined life with manifest drawbacks or an unexamined life. That’s always been and will always be the choice.

I say quit pining for the impossible and thrive with the possible. Yeah, cell phones and other technologies make certain modes of the good life downright difficult. Okay, fine. They also make other modes of the good life a lot easier. Like the ability to exchange ideas with someone in parts unknown on a rainy Friday morning instead of reviewing the reinsurance contract on my desk.

Speaking of which…

avatar Marianne October 23, 2009 at 10:48 am

Anamaria: Yes, all internet fora need to have at least a couple of participants whose names include some variant of Mary and/or Anne. These dude-folk need to be reminded more often that ladies are about!

I am nearly positive that the real defining feature of our generation is our scattered and undulating social circles. As a trend it has been developing for many generations, but at last it has become the set course. What a depressing thing! I attended college in New Hampshire, 2,000 miles from my home in Texas. My school friends hail from Michigan, Seattle, Florida, Virginia, Canada… The friends I grew up with in Texas have all fled from our (admittedly unlivable) hometown and spread out to Anywhere-but-my-hometownsville. I am going to marry a boy from Vermont and, God willing, set up a home near his family. But as for my family… It’s just darn sad.

Mr. Davidson: You assume that I wouldn’t give up “modern health care, abundant and diverse food supply, top-flight education, and access to media too.” But that’s where you’re wrong, sir! I would, I would! I would even trade being able to listen whenever I please to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion as performed by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir for the humbler experience of hearing songs about shucking corn accompanied by a troop of out of tune fiddles. I’d even trade my own beloved and quite excellent violin (and the training that enables me to coax lovely sounds from it) to play one of those out of tune fiddles. Even with the understanding that living in an age before anti-biotics means I’d be dead 10 times over. Ha! I win!

But all this is neither here nor there. Yes, these fantasies are all wrapped up in trivialities such as my personal distaste for florescent lighting. I would never expect more than a few other eccentrics to join in my non-existent cause for impossible Time migration. There isn’t much to be gained by promoting what is hypothetical.

And c’mon, of course I don’t believe we’re all better off dead than living in this crappy crappy age. I myself plan to have a bajillion kids (well, something like 6-12), and I believe with all my might that life is good. Simply and always good. I’m really not such a malcontent; I just firmly believe that death and labor must not be so feared.

Also, where are you getting your information about the original Luddites? I’ve always read that they were, on the whole, skilled artisan types, even if they had been forced to take their trade into factories.

avatar Daniel Nelson October 23, 2009 at 1:31 pm

It’s encouraging to see that there are still some who articulate themselves using both their brains and thesauruses. Technology is the tyrant that destroys every facet of life and will never cease its consumption of meaningful things; that is, until we cut it off. Thank you for speaking the truth.~ dn

avatar cecelia October 23, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Since I responded to the original post on this subject with one of the dissenting opinions, let me surprise you by saying I do not own a cell phone and see no reason to own one. I also think fax machines and copiers are the greatest enemy to productivity in the office ever invented.

But I still say – whatever the technology – its misues if not a function of the machine – it is a function of the person using it. People are responsible for what we do – with whatever we use. Blaming the admittedly obnoxious omnipresence of cell phones for the deterioration of civil life is foolish. We have allowed civil life, education, attention spans of teens, to be what they are. We tolerate boorish behavior or engage in it ourselves.

The fauly lies not in our cell phones – but in us.

avatar David Chirico October 23, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I find Mr. Davidsons caricature of the Amish as completely backwards. As I live in a community with many Amish here in Western PA, I deal very closely with them. To say that they don’t have time to enjoy the good life is absurd (coming from a lawyer is doubly so).

For all our (English) time saving devices its the local Amish who enjoy their time. They certainly work hard, but they also get together and have great community games of softball and football. When the weather turns bad they enjoy table games, stories and such. They also love to visit friends and family, and throughout the year I see parties and weddings and auctions with hundreds of Amish getting together.
It’s my lawyer friends who are working the 6 -10 hours days…

avatar danielj October 23, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Ask not for whom the cell rings; it rings for thee.

avatar Justin October 23, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I was pained to hear that in five to ten years I would be using an electronic storage device as a replacement to the printed, English text book. The only consolation I received from the school’s LIBRARIAN was, “If this will motivate our students to read, then I am all about it.” The electronic age has left us with a sterile, virtual reality, which renders us a community-free society. There is nothing I love more than curling up with a bound, ink-laden text. I suppose, at 23, I am officially living in the dark ages. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

avatar James Kabala October 24, 2009 at 12:33 am

About the Luddites: If mankind really did collectively decide to give up cell phones, TV, etc., a lot of people would be put out of work, but if they complained, the eager anti-technologists would doubtless say that some had to sacrifice for the common good.

Why would English artisans instead have a permanent entitlement to their jobs? I don’t think I like the idea that one has a positive right to throw a tantrum and destroy someone else’s property when life doesn’t go your way.

avatar Eric November 1, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Ryan: Neither you nor I can pick and choose the benefits of technologies so much as we can choose to charge ahead with technology or do the slow work of building locally controlled alternatives. Polio vaccine is worthless to me because there’s no polio left to catch. My point: our contributions to the overall push for new technology are what matter more. So, before you sing the praises of this or that life-saving technology, shouldn’t you accept that your polio vaccine came together with the constant threat of nuclear holocaust, who-knows-how-many cancers caused by new technologies, who-knows-how-many longevity statistics lived in dreadful nursing homes, how-many tens/hundreds of millions of unborn lives (billions?) killed not by mysterious microbes but by our own hands, and various other global holocausts (according to your persuasions)?

Marianne: What about the War? Isn’t it a little too soon after for an agrarian spirit to be marrying a New Englander?

avatar David Carver December 31, 2009 at 9:25 am

In the time it took for me to read this essay and its associated comments, and to write the following response, I could have enjoyed a morning walk in the forest behind my apartment. Perhaps blogs, too, are bad for the soul.

Couldn’t one make all the arguments against cell phones just as well against the “comment” function of a blog? You’re practically inviting people to spend time hashing thought out on a keyboard instead of in conversation with others in person, in which case you’re enervating public space. I have heard some bitchy cell phone conversations in my day, and some insipid ones as well, but never anything as feverishly mean-spirited or as stupid as the multitude of comments I have seen on such (disreputable) websites as YouTube and even on such (reputable) others as FPR. And as for distracting attention, I have seen few things sap the energies of a middle-aged intellectual as much as the desire to get his opinion, yea or nay, heard on a blog he happens to follow.

If cell phones are the technological poison of the masses, I think an equally valid case can be made that blogs such as FPR are the technological poison of the socially contrary. (I offer no judgment on that first premise.)

avatar Joshua July 26, 2010 at 11:07 am

“It has destroyed manners. It has destroyed public space. It has compromised privacy. It has enslaved and mastered those who think themselves its master. It has transferred money from insurance companies to body shops. It has turned bitching into a spectator sport, and I won’t be at all surprised if it turns out to be the cause of an epidemic of brain tumors. ”

Save the brain tumor part, this is what critics of the modern novel said at its rise in the 18th century. It’s an old thought and it still is simply the effect of nostalgia.

EVERY generation thinks the rising generation is corrupted in some way. Sure sitting in a car and texting makes you miss the drive, and the trees, and the views, but who cares? Who’s to say staring at some trees is any more fulfilling then texting your wife and kids that you love them, or that you won your baseball game?

In terms of paying attention in class, while it is a distraction, if the kid wants to pay attention he will, if he doesn’t he wont, phone or not. Text messaging is in every way analogous to what one might expect from telepathy. A thought pops into my head and without bringing that thought to the attention of the people around me, I’m able to transmit it to someone across the globe, they receive it without bringing it into their environment, and then the message may disappear forever.

And telepathy is Kick@$$!!!!!!

avatar Paul Little November 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm

In no way does a novel compromise privacy or invade public space. Nor does quiet reflection interrupt good manners.

avatar John Smith May 27, 2011 at 10:26 am

I too hate the cell phone. I have an emergency one that can only be used for emergencies. They have ruined public space and increased anxiety as one never know when one will ring wherever you are. They are the worst invention of technology and have caused me to consider moving to a small town to have less people around as people have become so stressful to be around, due to these demonic devices.

avatar Mark November 21, 2012 at 7:24 am

Here’s a scenario to consider:

You pay good money to enter the theatre to watch a movie, and someone’s mobile telephone rings loudly, despite the fact that they’ve been informed in no uncertain terms that mobile phones and the cinema do not mix (and this ought to be common sense, anyway). Even worse, sometimes the person takes the call without leaving the theatre (yes, I’ve heard this happen).

I’d like to know why some people (far too many) have such a sense of entitlement that they can ruin the fun for hundreds of other people. People even do this at stageplays, not only upsetting fellow audience members, but also breaking the concentration of the players onstage, potentially destroying the entire act.


Your “logic” is laughable at best. So just because books don’t cause brain tumours, nothing else can, either? There’s a huge difference between peering at a collection of printing pages, and using an electronic gadget that bounces sound from one side of the world to another via gigantic humming towers and satellite systems.

Joshua, dear little boy, you also said:

“Sure sitting in a car and texting makes you miss the drive, and the trees, and the views, but who cares? ”

You see, I call you “dear little child”, because your mental age, if not your physical age, to allow you to dribble such crap, must be that of one who has not reach adulthood.

So you “don’t care” if someone who is driving a car and texting at the same time “misses the views”? HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THE PHRASE “KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD AND YOUR HANDS ON THE WHEEL”?

Texting affectionate sentiments to your family, at the expense of the human life around you (pedestrians, other drivers, passengers, etc) is the height of self-absorbed arrogance (i.e. “Who cares if I cause an accident? I really need to let Timmy know that I’ll be late for his softball game. My family and my precious little mobile comes before anyone and anything else”).

Joshua, your blase attitude in regards to road safety is an insult to the welfare of your fellow human beings (if one can describe you fairly as human). Maybe someday you’ll be driving your car, texting away, not giving a damn about anybody else’s well-being, only to smack your car at high speed into a telephone pole. Now THAT would indeed be the darkest form of poetic justice.

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