The Cell Phone Phenomenon – A Perspective


The condemnation of the cellular devices we call “cell phones” is certainly not unheard of. The fact that they are addicting is common knowledge, as is frequently admitted by adolescents, and cited by parents and psychological studies alike. However, (though there is admittedly an addicting aspect), parental censure of progressive devices is not actually a recent phenomenon.

According to an article by A Vogorinčić, labeled “The Novel-Reading Panic in 18th- Century in England: An Outline of an Early Moral Media Panic,” this motif was already present in the 1700’s in England. “It is not hard to understand that the novels as described were accessible literally to everybody at least vaguely literate. This was something the publishers and book- sellers took good advantage of and on that basis novel-reading soon became a popular form of leisure and pleasure, the kind that could be easily compared to watching a television serial.”

“From the late 18th century through the middle of the 19th, she added, women ‘were considered to be in danger of not being able to differentiate between fiction and life.'”

Margaret Cohen
How far do you think you scroll each day?

Another article, by the New York Times, quotes Margaret Cohen, a professor of French language, civilization, and literature, “Novel reading was so absorptive… that it would divorce you from everyday life.”

Sound familiar? The same issue is happening now with phones, which are criticised by parents because of their addictive tendency. Now novels are seen as a good way to spend time. So what changed? What is this recurring phenomenon we’ve witnessed throughout history?

The articleWhy do people resist new technologies? History might provide the answer.” by Calestous Juma remarks, “Similarly, new technologies face great opposition when the public perceives that the risks are likely to be felt in the short run and the benefits will only accrue in the long run. So telling a skeptical public that new technologies will benefit future generations does not protect us from the wrath of current ones.” He also refers to his book, “Innovation and Its Enemies which shows “that resistance to new technologies is heightened when the public perceives that the benefits of new technologies will only accrue to a small section of society, while the risks are likely to be widespread. This is why technologies promoted by large corporations often face stiff opposition from the public.”

Many people are afraid of new ideas, and instead want to stick with the old, therefore new technology typically becomes controversial and condemned when it is first released to the public.

Having understood that innovative devices are intrinsically controversial, due to typical human behavior, we understand that the same applies to cell phones, as previously witnessed with novels in the 18th century; and having understood the modern view of the latter, we may understand that the same situation can occur with cell phones – hopefully.


Though we understood that this phenomena has been a repeat of history, my position takes into account both sides; that being the condemnation (from parents, mostly) of phones as well as the defense of phones by teenagers. As a clarification, this is simply my personal experience in such situation and not, obviously, objective.

As a child, I did have an obsession with novels. For example, in the mornings I would read adventure novels, mystery novels, fantasy novels, and historical fiction novels for hours on end. It wasn’t, in reality, a desire for knowledge, but simply a source of entertainment, as a teen today might use a cell-phone. However, I did attain an additional surplus of knowledge from the simple sources of amusement called books, and comparing this with my experience from smartphones, the latter does not apply.

Textbooks stacked on wooden school desk in front of green chalkboard, from iStock

I would go so far as to say the phenomenon is truly a result of the decaying condemnation of modern technology. Have you ever, for example, heard this phrase: “Put down that novel and use your phone!” I imagine not. And why is this? Simple. Since the contemporary technologies of the new age constantly surpass that of the old; the “old technologies” become a norm, and the process continues.

Therefore, to completely apply the denunciation of phones to same denunciation of other new technologies in history is peculiar, since the corners don’t exactly match up. Relative to phones, novels are not unhealthy. But in a time where phones didn’t exist, fiction novels were unhealthy relative to typical literature. From this springs a ladder of relativism that cannot be reapplied to a base element. It is a relative conflict that requires a more conceptualized view of history to understand it fully.

Author: colelabenz

Cole is a sophomore at SAS, with interests such as journalism, photography, language, and culture.

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