A repeated phone call I made to a friend was met with a mysterious silence on the other end. Our scheduled meeting hung in the balance, and the lack of response left me with a multitude of hypotheses to unravel the perplexing situation. Perhaps my friend was absent from the phone, lost in some unreachable abyss, or maybe a text message requesting a call back had gone unnoticed.

My curiosity led me to be persistent. I wanted not only to address the missed meeting but also to ensure my friend's well-being. When the phone was finally answered, a somewhat unconvincing explanation of a prolonged social gathering was offered.

Set on silent mode in a crowded hall, the phone had displayed numerous missed calls, mine among them. Despite the logical alternative of a quick text response, my friend who was aware of those messages chose silence, leaving me bewildered at the thought of sitting for hours.

Ignoring calls has become a common practice. But the principle of common courtesy suggests that all calls, regardless of origin or timing, deserve timely attention. Even if unable to answer immediately, a brief reply or a call back demonstrates civilised manners, preventing unnecessary frustration and maintaining common decency.

While acknowledging the right to privacy, the widespread habit of call neglect exists in a grey area where individuals overlook the impact of their actions on others. The disregard for incoming calls can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and a communication breakdown.

Some may ignore signals of unavailability or disinterest. This invasion of privacy can lead others to avoid answering calls altogether or explicitly state their preference not to be bothered. Striking a balance between personal boundaries and courtesy is essential.

The confusion intensifies in cases of wrong numbers, where the recipient finds themselves entangled in situations not of their making. Autogenerated SMS alerts that flood inboxes are also an intrusion into personal space. From holiday greetings to philanthropic causes, these messages often lack recipient consent. The influx of impersonal ads adds to the noise, overshadowing personal messages and creating an overwhelming experience.

Aggressive real estate agents bombarding potential clients with calls showcase another facet. Once, I chanced upon a real estate agent who showed me their construction sites around the Ayat area. They gave me a portfolio during a visit arranged to their office.

The problem resurfaced on my mobile phone as I was approached by a myriad of calls from various real estate agents I never gave contact to. I learned too late that I was on the call list of mushrooming real estate in town.

The enthusiastic yet relentless pursuit of sales leads to a barrage of calls, transforming a potential investment into an unwelcome intrusion. The scripted urgency and time-sensitive offers lose their appeal as multiple agents adopt similar tactics.

With mobile phone use comes questions about the impact on interpersonal interactions and productivity. We find ourselves inseparable from smartphones these days. The sleek devices have evolved into mini-computers and have become an extension of our hands, seamlessly integrating into every facet of our lives.

The dependency is palpable, with individuals feeling a sense of awkwardness or disorientation when separated from their devices. It is not uncommon to observe people, particularly the younger generation, engrossed in their screens, creating an alternate reality that isolates them from their immediate surroundings. The transformation brought by mobile technology is undeniable, and even staunch advocates of a tech-free lifestyle find it difficult to resist the allure of these devices.

However, there is a growing concern about the impact on interpersonal interactions. Face-to-face communication is gradually giving way to on-screen experiences, raising questions about the implications for socialisation. The dangers extend beyond mere inconvenience, as evidenced by a report from the Times of India highlighting the alarming number of road accidents caused by drivers using mobile phones.

The debate on safe mobile phone usage while driving underscores the need for a shift in mindset. While some advocate for hands-free solutions like Bluetooth earbuds, others argue that any form of phone interaction poses risks. Even extreme precautions, such as avoiding conversations with the driver, are being reconsidered for the sake of public safety.

Mobile phones have become a common nuisance in public spaces. Employers are restricting use in the workplace, recognising the potential impact on productivity. The necessity of keeping mobiles charged and well-funded has become a rule of thumb to make sure the device is usable when needed, but the statistics on usage reveal a more concerning trend, with Americans checking their phones an average of 144 times a day.

The consequences of our mobile phone obsession extend beyond the visible surface. Health issues, from eye problems to sedentary behaviour, are on the rise, leading to the coining of the term "nomophobia." The psychological impact is evident in the addiction-like behaviour induced by social media notifications.

Shockingly, mobile phones harbour more bacteria than a toilet flush, emphasising the need for a closer examination of our relationship with these devices. It is time to reflect on the true extent of the impact that mobile phones have on our lives.

Do we own the smartphone, or does it own us?

While the conveniences brought by smartphones are undeniable, disciplined usage is essential to ensure these devices enhance rather than detract from our overall well-being. The missed calls and silent phones serve as reminders that our unchecked reliance on mobile phones may be exacting a toll on every aspect of our lives.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 19,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1238]

Bereket Balcha works in the aviation industry and is passionate about fiction writing and can be reached at (bbalcha5@yahoo.com)

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