Mobile Moan

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

Restaurateurs, a cost-saving measure: In these reportedly economically challenging times, save a bundle by switching off the lights at night – the glow from the army of patrons’ mobile phones will more than illuminate your venue.

The dining scene at one restaurant over the weekend, in Pecatu, more resembled a convention of mobile phone developers than visitors enjoying a Saturday evening sunset at a spectacular location overlooking a vast stretch of the Indian Ocean.

It has gotten silly – if not preposterous – the way people obsess about their phones in public. And with the advent of so-called smartphones and their myriad dazzling applications, it doesn’t altogether matter if there are no incoming text messages or calls; there’s still plenty to keep you amused.

But while it’s understandable if socially awkward teens fiddle with their phones while out, not particularly enthralled by the parental conversation, given the high cost of these devices, it’s more commonly young professionals or the middle-aged who resort to this withdrawn behaviour.

I have been in the company of Indonesian executives here in Bali who reflexively reach for their pocket almost every half-minute and check for messages. Subconsciously they are not so much showing that they are connected to the world as demonstrating that they have that latest must-have gadget, the one that says more in terms of social standing.

I have seen people lay out row after row of mobile phones on restaurant tables, and it’s perplexing, if not daft. If you want to be so linked to other people while you are out with other people, go out with the people you’re so anxious to be in instant touch with.

When a friend of ours comes out to dinner with us, she spends the entire evening on her phones, texting and calling and receiving. She hardly says a word to us, and would be better off either staying at home or going out with others. It’s insane.

This local predilection towards the latest in-phone causes manufacturers to salivate like a ravenous dog eyeing a bloody steak. Here, people happily fork out many hundreds of dollars for the newest model, dump it and purchase one that has just trumped it. More than 1 million BlackBerries – the apparatus de jour, in frenzied competition with iPhones – have been sold in Indonesia, prompting the government to order the company that makes them to open a service office here or stop selling. The appetite is huge.

Still, it’s hard to justify the high price these gadgets command. It’s a vulture market: the makers are swooping down on status-minded prey, and they’re making a killing. The current top models being touted cost more than a personal computer, and have far fewer components. Who’s kidding who?

I have four mobile phones left out of a previous collection of about 10, but I gave away some and lost others. They’re nothing out of the ordinary, just run-of-the-mill things, though one claims to be “a new kind of smart.” All I can say is that it’s pretty clever at turning itself off at crucial times. A friend asked by email recently if I have a BlackBerry and I refused to say. Those who live their lives around brands are shallow, and they easily fall into marketers’ nets. Try to have a mind of your own; try to decide what you want, not what others press you to buy.

So, just as I don’t wear clothes that bear insignia deemed to be cool, I won’t allow for trivial talk about the latest must-have contraption.

Mobile telephones make business easier, and used in meetings are fine – if not to excess. They aid the process of work. And so it is with social use, too. But think back to our parents’ use of the landline in their house; it likely wasn’t excessive, as things are now.

The way a person uses their mobile phone is indicative of their character, and if you’re going to sit with friends or family while on a night out, and play with it, that’s telling.

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One Response to “Mobile Moan”

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