(Host) Cell phone ownership in U.S. has gone from roughly 3% of the
population to more than 90% in a generation. Writer, educator and
commentator Mike Martin has been thinking about a friend of his who
still refuses to buy a cell phone and wonders how he must feel.
I have a friend who reminds me of a play called Rhinoceros by Eugène
Ionesco. It’s the story of a man named Bérenger whose small French
village is thrown into turmoil one day when a rhinoceros runs through
the middle of town. The locals debate what this could possibly mean, but
soon there are more rhinoceros sightings, and eventually the
townspeople start to get used to the idea. As the town’s rhinoceros
population grows, it eventually becomes fashionable, desirable, even
advantageous, to be a rhinoceros, and so, more and more people choose to
become rhinoceroses. Only Bérenger stubbornly refuses, not because he’s
trying to make a point, not for ideological reasons, not for any
practical reason at all, but rather just because he doesn’t want to, and
therefore refuses to follow the crowd. The play ends with Bérenger
alone – even his girlfriend has gone over to the other side –
desperately trying to keep a mob of rhinoceroses from breaking through
his door, still not giving in, still not joining the crowd.
friend reminds me of this Bérenger character because he doesn’t own a
cell phone. Now that over 90% of Americans have cell phones, my friend
belongs to an increasingly marginal, ever-shrinking group. Back in 2000,
roughly two thirds of Americans didn’t have cell phones, so my friend
was still safely part of a comfortable majority. And back in 1990, cell
ownership was only about 2%! Not as rare as a rhinoceros, but still
strange and exotic… But today, you may feel a little left out if you
don’t have a cell phone.
And like Bérenger, my friend resists
for no apparent reason. He’s not anti-social, or anti-technology, or
cheap – he just doesn’t want one. In fact, I suspect that he just
doesn’t want to go with the flow. It’s sort of like now that you’ve got
to have a cell, he just doesn’t want to. Even though he seems normal on
the outside, my friend must have some recessive anti-conformist gene.
Still, it’s getting ridiculous. I mean, everybody has a cell phone
But my friend does have some quaint behaviors I find
endearing. For example, he never interrupts our conversations with, "Uh,
I’ve got to take this." He never Google fact checks at dinner parties.
He never interrupts whatever we’re doing to go rifling through his bag
to turn off some ridiculous Salsa ring tone. And he never sneaks a peek
at his little screen when we’re out walking and talking on a nice night.
I guess there is something sort of charming about the way my friend
holds out against the inexorable tide like Bérenger and his
rhinoceroses, even though resistance is futile. Obviously.
all, now that our smart phones have taken the place of our watches, our
cameras, our computers, and soon our wallets, we might wonder what else,
or who else, they’ll replace…I’ll have to ask my friend what he
Or maybe I’ll just take out my iPhone and ask Siri.