From Accessory to Necessity

When this whole pandemic is over and all the quarantines are lifted around the globe, there will be a lot of stories to be told. Thanks to modern technology and our ability to remain connected with one another these days, news travels fast .e.g. microblogging, social media, live streaming, etc. and we can keep abreast of the latest developments even if we are confined to Home Office. Governments are still being run from hospitals or bedrooms, and meetings are still being conducted via tele / video conference. Technology bridges the gap that immobility has left, which leads me to wonder: imagine if these gadgets had been around 200 years ago – how much more our lives would resemble science fiction today, or how many wars could have been prevented.

I was chatting with some of my soul sisters this afternoon, exchanging a few Corona lockdown stories. A referral was made to the cartoon series of our childhood, The Jetsons. I used well into my teens and as I re-watched an episode this afternoon on YouTube (ah, where would our collective memories be without Google and YouTube these days?), I had a good laugh when I realised that the intergalactic lifestyle portrayed in this comic science fiction of the 70s was how the animators imagined life to be in the 21st century! Good heavens! Well, we may not be zooming around in jets quite yet, but we have achieved quite a bit of the Jetson lifestyle already. But truth be told, in spite of the technological advances we are still as crude and uncouth as the Flintstones on a regular basis.

Then the conversation switched to the role of mobile phones in our lives. I acquired my first mobile phone in 1997, and even then it was under duress. I was pregnant and wanted the reassurance of being able to call someone, especially the doctor, in case of an emergency. I don’t remember how many times I resented carrying that big green cockroach killer around (a Nokia something or the other), and often left home with out it. Fast forward 22 years and the mobile phones have become indispensable, long ceasing to be accessories.

Be honest, how many of you stopped memorising phone numbers like we used to in our youth? Back in High School I could tell you the three numbers of my dad’s office, the parish office number, our home number, the school trunk lines, and of course several phone numbers of my closest friends. Now I am hard put to tell you anything beyond my own mobile number! The darn mobile phone has taken over our lives, recording all our lifelines and defining how we communicate with all and sundry. Lose your phone and you are incommunicado, even locked out of your banking system, and everyone else.

How did we allow this to happen? Being confined at home has forced all of us to take a good look at our lives and how we run them, questioning the existing infrastructures that we have built up blindly and obediently. But Now that the whole world is in the same boat, is it not time to return to the drawing board and draft a new working culture, transportation, healthcare, and security systems, entertainment options, and communication lines? Let’s face it, we are all realising that there are certain things we can do without, certain situations that can actually work and others that don’t.

The modern world and society as we have come to know it has been built up over centuries on systems dating back to the age before the Industrial Revolution, simply expanding and upgrading technologies, granting political rights to minority groups, or taking them away from indigenous ones. For some reason, here we are now, in 2020 with changed values and needs, and being given carte blanche to be courageous enough to re-design education, employment, health, security, socio-political and religious institutions. But what political leader in their right mind will dare do so without risking a sudden and dramatic end to their career?

All this rambling comes from a friend’s recent mishap with her mobile phone. Does anyone remember Benjamin Franklin’s words
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a bottle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail”

A friend stepped on a rusty nail and had to be rushed to the ER for a tetanus shot. These are not the best of the times to land in a hospital, but there she was, and shed her outer layer of clothing, placing them in a laundry bag for later on. Once she got home, her mother volunteered to soak the clothes in lysol overnight for her, to be washed the next morning. Nothing more was said. The next morning the laundry was addressed, only to discover that the medical record book and the mobile phone which was bundled up with the rest of the clothes had also been soaked overnight in Lysol. The records were rescued but the phone died a tragic death. In short, she is now without access to her contacts and relying on a relatively wonky internet connection to remain connected during lockdown.

Because of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the bag was lost,
For want of a bag the clothes were lost,
For want of the clothes the phone was lost,
For want of the phone the directory was lost,
All because of a rusty nail left on the floor.

What happened to the good old days of letter-writing, courtship and serenades? Am I the only one who mourns the replacement of these by emails, text messages, Tinder dates and YouTube links? Is it possible to return to a lifestyle where our phones are relegated to being accessories and not necessities?

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