Are we headed for a smartphone zombie apocalypse?
POSTED: Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 6:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 6:04am
CNN — If you're looking for a harbinger of the zombie apocalypse, look no further than all those people on the street pecking at their tiny, handheld windows into a private world.
So say a good portion of the commenters reacting to a semi-satirical article by comedian-columnist Dean Obeidallah, who noted the difficulty he had spending a day without a cell phone. It had become something bordering an addiction, he said, or at least a strong habit.
Some readers were taken aback.
"The boy needs to get a life," said commenter realworldaddict, who also wrote, "Hint to him and all the rest of the people walking around like zombies watching for messages on their cellphones: Wake up and pay attention to the world around you. Nobody is trying to contact you 24/7, and did you really want to know that one of your 568 'friends' on Facebook just got a new goldfish?"
Perhaps we're all shambling through daily life. When ObewanSnow mentioned a desire to keep a cell phone because it serves as a "safety crutch," the discussion turned to self-sufficiency and even dystopian scenarios.
"When the apocalypse hits in December, you will be one of the first ones to go," replied a commenter. "You have become too reliant on technology. You are afraid of breaking down and not having AAA to save you. You better toughen up and learn to work on your own car, or you will perish very quickly."
Maybe they're taking a page from Stephen King's novel, "Cell," in which the protagonist, Clayton Riddell, doesn't turn into a zombie because he doesn't own a cell phone. The story is about an event called "The Pulse" that turns cell phone users into vicious, mindless beings. The ill effects of omnipresent communication are a common motif in science fiction.
Despite the anxiety, mobile devices are big business. Apple has recently sold millions of its iPhone 5 devices, and there are many people who believe that smartphones and tablets can almost give us superhuman abilities. But their omnipresence in daily life has not been without controversy, raising concerns that our lives will be forever changed by this technology -- and not in a good way.
Commenter Mug Costanza called getting rid of his cell phone after the contract expired "one of the most liberating experiences I've ever had," and said he's beginning to notice the walking dead all around him.
"Now it seems really weird to me when I am in a doctor's office or subway and I see 95% of the people around me glued to their phones, clicking away like zombies," he said. "My favorite is when you go out with a group of friends and everybody at the table is just playing with their phones instead enjoying themselves with real live people."
Indeed, dozens of commenters asserted that they don't own a mobile phone, or have stopped using them. Some say the tight economy has given them extra incentive.
That's the case with commenter wordswords, who says that in real life, he is the patriarch of the Words family of Cape Coral, Florida. He and his wife have six children, and that means a lot of phone bills if each family member has their own phone.
"I gave up my cell phone about two years ago," Words commented. "I made a commitment to saving money and our family went back to a single land line. Since then I estimate we've saved around $4,000. And we haven't lost or damaged a phone since!"
After the economy went downhill, the family had lost income and needed to cut down their bills. Words said getting rid of eight cell phones "cold turkey," a phrase often used in connection with addiction, has been a worthwhile decision.
"The kids all hate me, but they enjoy the roof over their heads and the food on their table," Words said. "My two eldest have jobs and did get their own, but hey, as long as they're paying for it themselves, I'm all for it."
Since they are a large family, the Words upgraded to two phone lines to ease the strain. The family still keeps their disconnected smartphones to use with Wi-Fi connections while traveling on vacations, which Words said is a luxury they now can afford. There are other benefits, too.
"The constant 'ding' of texting is gone, so we communicate with words and in person like a family should, instead of with words on a phone," he said. "We love it. Others don't understand us, but that's all right."
Expense was a great motivator for artist and aspiring writer Ben Joynes, 31, of San Francisco, California, who decided that he had to focus on what was really important in life.
"Do the math. I simply cannot afford a cell phone contract, and it does not give me functionality that I absolutely need in my life in order to stay reasonably connected with people or be functional," Joynes said. "My little brother who lives out of state has one, and I've tooled around with it extensively. I think they are amazing pieces of technology, and I can see how they enhance people's lives. They are 'Star Trek' technology -- literally -- today and in the palm of your hand. I just can't afford one, and prefer to do my computing on a PC."
Going without a cell phone can even be a game or a goal. Commenter Bill Murray said he is trying to see how long he can go without having a cell phone. He has never had one, and compares the challenge of stopping the use of such devices to "an addict going through heroin withdrawal." He loves technology, but doesn't want a cell phone. Instead he uses Vonage, a service that allows people to make phone calls over a data connection.
"As I fast approach my 50th birthday, I am starting to feel like I am one of the lucky ones for not having 'plugged' into the network," he wrote. "Like a smoker shortly after they quit, I can actually smell and taste the things that others cannot enjoy. Don't get me wrong. I'm a technology lover and it has been a genuine struggle not to give in to the temptation that these amazing devices create. However, just like when I did quit smoking, I think I'll just focus on going one more day 'without' to see if I can curb the craving."
Still, he doesn't think this will last forever.
"Eventually, however, I realize that society will evolve to a point where I likely won't have a choice but to adapt to the technology. But, until then, I'll see just how long I can survive without this little mechanical addiction."
Another reader, Dawn Lynn Harvard, said she hates being tethered to a phone all day, and only keeps a phone for emergency cases.
"I haven't bought a phone in 30 years," she said. "I got a new hand-held 15 years ago free from Verizon. I recharge it once a year, whether it needs it or not. I pay $13 per month."
Talking to "real living people" and enjoying the scenery of life is the real benefit to her. She doesn't understand what is so important that it requires being on the phone while doing other things. Sometimes, it's hard to tell if people are mentally present or not.
"When I was young, if you saw someone walking down the street talking to themselves you crossed over assuming they were crazy," she said. "Sometimes I think they still are."