Saturday, January 28, 2006

My Cell Phone, Myself: Philosophy of a Technology

To the utter shock of some of my students, I have purchased a cellular telephone. My wife has done all the work in selecting the best plan, figuring the thing out (a complicated mess of technological decoding and conversing with ignoramuses), and laying out the conditions of use. I am so old that I remember when telephones were simple. They rang; you answered: no choice of ringtones, no voice mail, and they were tethered to the earth by a cord.

Our cell company offers these ring tones: "screams" and "moaning" and much more. Don't ask. Everything is customized (even in a perverted sense); the self is endlessly flattered; choices explode; it gets old, and we want none of it. Here are our rules (so far).

1. We have a very minimal minutes plan. The cell is only for exigencies when my wife and I cannot use a land line.

2. We are not giving the number to anyone else, not even Paris Hilton.

3. I am not going to wear it. It is not a piece of clothing. The full armor of God is enough (Ephesians 6)--along with the standard sartorial arrangements.

4. I am not going to use it in public--meaning no "cell yelling" or "cell stalking."

5. I am not going to use it while driving (or biking or swimming).

6. I will never say, "I don't know how I got along without it," because it will not become an integrated feature of my life.


BJS said...

Even with your rules, I must say good Dr., that I am shocked. The day Groothuis gets a cell phone must be near the end. Jesus must be coming soon.


dave and amy terpstra said...

good luck with #6

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I'm a Calvinist; I don't believe in luck.

(Are you immitating e.e. cummings? At he used a bit of punctuation, if memory serves...)

Moreover, we have a good track record. We still don't own a microwave. I don't have an iPod (and don't plan to either). We take up technologies slowly, after the dust has settled--or we don't take them up at all. And don't even think about TiVo!

Of course, here we are on a blog, so I am not a full-fledged Luddite (only an honorary one).

Bill said...

Two quick things:

1) TIVO is a gift from God - do you have any idea how many Kansas Jayhawk basketball games I'd miss without it?

2) Most of the problems that arise from technology are not the fault of the technology itself - it's from the people using the technology. Cell phones are obnoxious not because of the phones, but because of the people using the phones in annoying ways. The same could be said for the Internet and television. Blame the users, not the technology.

dave and amy terpstra said...

i can be a calvinist who believes in luck if you can be a luddite who blogs and owns a cell phone.

p.s. i looked it up. cummings had more puncutation in his name (e.e.) than in most of his poems.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

All forms of communication have a nature, an essence, a structure. They are not culturally neutral. These structures decisively and pervasively effect all that comes through them. As McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." So, it does not all rest in the "user." The user uses what is used, and what is used can use the user if the user doesn't understand the nature of what is used (which is most of the time).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

If want the basic chops I use for technological exegesis, read:

1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media.
2. Neil Postman, Technopoly.
3. Any of Jacques Ellul's critiques of technology.

Doug Groothuis

nancy said...

B Jay - my thoughts exactly. Seems to be getting a little chilly down in that firey furnace where the deceiver hangs out.

Dr G. - too bad your cell phone provider doesn't have a selection of pity Pascal quips to use for your ring tone.

Bill said...

If someone is using the Internet to download porn, learning how to make a bomb, or writing hate messages, I blame the person, not the Internet. If some guy is driving poorly because he talking on his cell phone, I blame the guy, not the phone. If someone kills another person with a gun, I blame the person, not the weapon.

If I pass the blame off on technology, there is no personal responsibility. That’s why you hear so many lame excuses for the problems of this world. For example, “I killed a classmate because of heavy metal music.” Or, “McDonalds is the reason I am overweight.” Please. The user is 100% responsible for their actions while interacting with technology. The solution to the problems with cell phones, or with the Internet or with television is to teach personal responsibility. Not to ban cell phones, sue McDonalds, or get rid of the Internet.

I noticed on your list of 5 rules about cell phones, every one of them had to with your choices using the technology. If you suddenly started talking on your cell phone in Borders, wearing it on your belt, or using it in the pool, are you going to blame yourself or the cell phone?

Bill said...

If people started reading their Bible and driving at the same time. Or if at book stores, people were reading their Bible aloud and disrupting others. Or if people were reading their Bible aloud during dinner at a restaurant, preventing other people to converse; would you say we need to get rid of the Bible? Or would you say we need teach them when is proper time and place to be reading the Bible?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Bill has missed my point entirely. I am not blaming the technology for moral actions done by moral agents. What I am arguing is that technologies need to be exegeted in order to be used wisely by moral agents. Most people do not exegete them in order to determine their strengths and weaknesses, what they favor and what they disfavor. They then use the technologies unwisely.

Moreover, with certain technologies readily available, people tend to think they are not problematic--everybody has cells, TVs, iPods, etc. So, they purchase and use without much thought. Sleepwalking is what McLuhan called it.

Guns are another story I won't take up here, except to say that since they are intrinsically dangerous at a higher level than cell phones, etc., they should be regulated thusly by the state (to some degree)

Bloggy said...

I don't know why this guy reminds me of you. :)

Unknown said...

Actually technology is inherently destructive. It can not be disputed that technology changes the behaviour of the user - and since it does that, it naturally takes the subject further away from his natural place. - creating a deviant.

And by turning the subject into a deviant it ultimately makes leading a real life impossible.

This fact to me seems so obvious (and i could elaborate upon it point by point on any technological device we have) that i think only reason why most people will not accept it is because of the consequences it would have.

As for myself, i would happily live without computers and cellphones and microwaves and televisions and motor engines and electricity etc. ad nauseum than in the "society" we have today.

And don't even bother telling me to stop using the computer, then. It has nothing to do with that. (Cellphone i don't own.)