Is it ethical to own a mobile phone?

Our ethical columnist on the dangers of global communications.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

My son is now starting his senior school and he wants to get a mobile phone. I wasn’t sure he really needed one, but then it got me thinking whether I really needed one, too. I must admit I sometimes find it very convenient but is it ethical to own a mobile phone?

Tony Eriksson

Dear Tony,

Your child needs a mobile phone like he needs a hole in the head, which is exactly what he’ll have if he keeps frying his brains with one of those things. There is nothing natural about holding something to your head that transmits the same stuff they use for cooking food in microwave ovens. Dreadful though microwave ovens are (another column, I fear), at least they try to keep all the radiation in a box. With mobile phones, it’s next to your head. In fact, it’s all around us with those huge transmitters that are a threat to life and a blot on the landscape.

Of course, all the reports say there’s no evidence that phones are harmful – but that’s only because the kind of people who pay attention to reports are the ones who believe in ‘science’ as a way of understanding the world. And we all know where science has got us – a world on the brink of destruction, that’s where. Let intuition be your guide. Phones fuck you up – I can feel it in my water.

Why are mobile phones so popular? It has been suggested to me that being able to communicate instantly with people on the other side of the world is a good thing. This is nonsense. It’s precisely because people can communicate instantly that they can order green beans from Kenya or tell their friends in New Zealand they are going to come and see them on the big bad carbon-spewing plane. Without a telephone, a global trip would be a voyage into the unknown just like Columbus setting sail for America. You’d have to be some lunatic Italian sailor to do it, and since most people aren’t lunatic Italians – though there are a lot of that sort in Italy – they wouldn’t do it. The result would be people not importing things and not travelling. When it comes to the planet, it’s definitely not ‘good to talk’.

Modern communications, typified by the mobile phone, are just as responsible for the destruction of the planet as Hitler was for the most well-known of the many holocausts that have occurred. What the world needs is not more communication – that’s just the kind of globalisationist propaganda spread by the likes of Coca-Cola, who want to teach the world to sing in order to sell them sugary drinks. What the world needs is a return to some traditional values that served us so well in the past, like parochialism and a fear of strangers.

There are some who will no doubt suggest that I am a hypocrite for writing an internet column when I am so opposed to global communication. All I can say is this: the planet is burning, and sometimes you need to fight fire with fire.

Then there are the other ‘benefits’ mobile phones have brought us, like the fact that constant contact means constant interruption. There is no peace anymore. These days you can’t even walk through a leafy glade – taking the rare opportunity to be at one with nature, listening to the birds happily sing and the grass and flowers swaying in the breeze – without some tinny machine piping up with an excruciating rendition of the latest Arrandbee track. (I have no idea who this character ‘Arrandbee’ is, but he – or is it she? – is always singing about casual sex.) You turn to find some barely literate youth bellowing into their phone, usually maintaining a stream of four-letter words and such bastardisations of the English language as ‘innit’. If human beings are not actually despoiling the landscape, they’re spoiling the appreciation of the landscape for those who still care about the world.

Sheba tells me I’m imagining things, but I hear other people’s phone conversations, even when there’s no one about. On a quiet day, when there aren’t juggernauts rumbling past our house – a rare enough occasion – I can just about make out these voices, lots of barely audible conversations all around me. Sometimes I even hear my own name mentioned but mostly it’s young people talking about their dreadful habits. These voices remind me that I must do something about the terrible state of society today.

I am NOT, as the sceptics (I have a better word for them) suggest, calling for a return to prehistoric forms of communication like smoke signals, or olde-world forms of communication like carrier pigeons. That would be absurd! I mean, smoke signals were clearly very polluting. Indeed, they were an early primitive version of today’s poison-radiating mobile masts, showing that man has always been possessed of a destructive instinct – it’s not JUST capitalism that is destructive, it’s MAN himself. And carrier pigeons? We should not enslave birds just so we can send messages to other people.

If we really must communicate between communities, I suggest we return to a system of people standing on hills sending simple semaphore messages. For longer messages, a postal service could easily be created using only bicycles and human-powered boats. Okay, it might take longer to get a message across, but who said ‘instant’ was a good thing? ‘Instant’ should be regarded as a negative thing. ‘Instant’ coffee, anyone?

Still, if you do buy your son a mobile phone, he may get a more personal understanding of the dangers of materialism, as some high-school thug pummels his face black and blue before stealing his little toy. And if all that beeping and ringing doesn’t drive you to an early grave, Tony, those call charges, phone upgrades and ‘Arrandbee’ ringtones will soon bankrupt you. You’ll be forced to live a miserable existence in penury, forced to sell the car, unable to enjoy foreign holidays or dine out as you might have done in the past.

But we shouldn’t allow this kind of good news to distract us from the problems phones can cause.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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