Saturday, November 13, 2004

Mobile Phone Usage

There are two things which I keep on my person whenever I leave the house: one is my wallet, which can get pretty thick at times (and not because it has money but because of the miscellaneous items that's in there), and the other is my cell phone. Personally, the cell phone was something I initially resisted, but eventually acquired. Now, it's actually part of my life. But there are times like today, when I left my phone at home and went out. There was a feeling of liberation, that I didn't need to bother myself with phone calls or text messages. Let's face it, carrying a phone is a double-edged sword: while we're theoretically able to call anyone from anywhere, the same is true for us. And there are times when we just want to escape from the world.

But of course, I don't want to take a vacation from the rest of the world, which is why I carry my phone most of the time. A few years ago, I was quite lonely. Even though I had a number of friends, it was difficult to get in touch with them. Or sometimes, when you call up a person you haven't talked to in a long time, the first thing they think is what do I want from them. Well, I want to talk to them, or at the very least say hi. The cell phone allowed me to do just that, thanks to the ingenuity of text messaging. For me, text messaging is something you use either to remind somebody of an event (such as when and where to meet up), or to say a one-liner which doesn't merit an actual phone call (such as saying good morning or good night). The latter was something I frequently used before but now stopped because of the number of people in my phone list and the ever-increasing cost of phone bills. The former wasn't something I like to depend on, but is frequently used by everyone else I know. For example, when I want to meet up with someone, I usually ask for a specific time and place to meet up. Nowadays, they give me a vague time and place, and rely on text messaging for the rest of the details. Which is well and good assuming both of your phones have a clear signal and still has a good battery life span. But I'm sure there are times when you meet up with a person and their phone either goes dead or they don't have a signal (or worse, the phone is somewhere where they can't easily access it or hear it beeping, such as a purse).

I also have a peculiar case when it comes to using cell phones: I actually use it to make calls. Now for many Filipinos, this is a foreign concept. I mean text messaging is expensive enough for some Filipinos. Whenever I make a phone call via my cell phone, people I know treat it as if it were a long distance call. They either drop the call, thinking it would save me money if I just sent them a text message (but hey, I'm the one making the call and paying for the call... if I wanted to send you a text message, I'll send you a text message... there's a lot you can convey in a one-minute conversation that a 250-character text message can't), or don't answer at all (thinking that they'd save me money by not answering the phone). Of course the latter is also likely to happen for several reasons, such as the phone not currently in their possession, them not hearing the phone ring, their their battery running out of energy, or simply a refusal to answer any calls you make because they want to avoid you (the blessing/bane of caller ID). In the case of not having the phone in your possession, it defeats the purpose of having a cell phone doesn't it? (Of course I understand if this happens only occassionally.) If you can't hear the phone ring, it's also meaningless isn't it? (But there are exceptions, such as when the phone needs to be on silent mode, such as when you're in a movie, a meeting, or in class.) If your phone is running out of energy, I'd appreciate a reply stating why the phone can't be answered. And of course, if you're refusing the call, it would similar be appreciated if you were notified as to the reason why (even if it means sending a text message that says "I hate you and never want to see you ever again!").

Perhaps the most disturbing phenomenon in the Philippines is not when the other person doesn't answer your phone, but when they don't reply to your text message. Personally, an "OK" as a reply would be nice, so that at least I know you got the message. Because honestly, there are several possibilities for not replying: a) you got the text message, b) you got the text message but don't have enough credits to reply, c) your phone got the text message but the phone isn't with you, d) you didn't get the text message because of either a busy signal or your phone is turned off, e) your phone got stolen and is currently in the possession of someone else or f) you got the message, but you don't want to reply. Now as the sender of the message, all these possibilities are running through my mind. And as much as I try to think the best of other people, the longer I wait for a reply, the more time I usually dwell on the less-positive traits of people. Of course I usually try to call the other person to see what kind of situation they're in (if the phone isn't ringing, then there's a good chance you didn't get the message because of the busy signal). And of course, perhaps the scariest experience would be when no one picks up the phone, because that doesn't give me comforting options.

On the better side of things, the power of cell phones is the ability to inform people of last-minute changes. For example, my friend yesterday told me a few minutes before the rendezvous that he'll be late for an hour. At least armed with that knowledge, passing the time for 1-hour would be more comforting than not knowing whether the other person will show up or not. I also get to talk to people who are extremely busy or seldom at home, whether it's a simple text message or a lengthy phone call. And some people use their phones as a glorified video game console to pass the time, or as a digital camera, or as a video recorder, etc.

The popularity of the cell phone, while it has some benefits, does introduce some problems of its own. It's far from the most pefect of tools, but it also has a great potential to link people.


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