Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Simplicity vs. Environmentalism

Phil commented the other day to contend with my distaste for cell phones. I agree with almost everything that Phil said. Cell phones probably don't pollute any more than the wireless phone that I have at home (as long as I don't trade it out every year for a new one), and the cell phone could certainly be handy if I ever get the chance to live off the grid. The main problem with cell phones is that people consider them expendable and they end up contributing a lot of nasty electronic waste to landfills. I agree with Phil, aren't necessarily a terrible invention and they may even provide opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be there.

I'm not going to speak for Phil because I don't really know Phil, but I think our differences lie in the words simplicity and environmentalism. It seemed to me that Phil took an environmental approach to the discussion, which is fine. I agree completely that the environment is important and something we need to be working to save. My main goals in life, however revolve more around simplicity than environmentalism. The reason that I don't like cell phones (beyond the fact that most people dispose of them far too regularly) is their social impact. Will the social impact of cell phones have a negative impact on the environment? Not that I can see, but I do see the impact on people and communication.

I have been in college since the late 90s and things have changed a lot since then. I used to be able to walk out of a huge class, find someone heading in the same direction as me and start a conversation. Now I leave a class and almost everyone either gets out a cell phone and makes a call or puts anti-socials (ipod or the like) in their ears so that it's more difficult to talk with new people. Sure, I could get my own cell phone and then I too could make a call at the end of class and have someone to talk to, but I just don't feel that is good for our society. Communicating with people face to face and interacting is an important part of life. Meeting people (not on facebook) and learning the social skills to interact are important. Sure, we are moving to a different type of communication, but I don't think it is a good move.

I'll give another example. My wife and I went out to lunch for our anniversary. Being the cheapskate that I am, it was a pretty casual place (I did, however, carry the tray for her). Anyway, as we were standing in line there was a couple behind us, the boyfriend was talking on a cell phone while is girlfriend stood with her arms crossed looking grumpy (probably because her boyfriend took her out for lunch and then talked on the cell phone instead of to her). Then as we were eating two girls came in to the restaurant, both on cell phones. It was sort of like they were spending time together as friends... except their attention was on the phone. In short, I don't think cell phones promote healthy relationships. Of course they can be used appropriately and that's not a big deal, but they have changed the way people interact and I don't think it is progress.

My disdain for cell phones resolves around my ideals of simplicity. I want to focus my interactions with people on real life, in person conversations (except, of course, for this blog which is generally anonymous and a way of communicating with people I will likely never know and really not even knowing who or how many I am communicating with). I believe that the most important parts of life are the personal interactions and relationships that we develop. Living a simple life is about the simple every day relationships that make life full. Sure, cell phones could facilitate communication, but when it gets in the way of your present life, it's unnecessarily complicating things.

1 comment:

Christopher Johnson said...

Many good points in this post. My own thoughts have been very similar, but less organized. I'm most concerned with the social and personal benefits of simplicty, but appreciate the environmental benefits (which also provide social and personal benefits). I wonder if you've given thought to other specific aspects of simple living that benefit how people relate to one another besides the cell phone issue. If so, care to elaborate?