A National Pastime: Playing With Handphones

By Not Known

What is this spell our handphones have cast over us?  When I studied overseas in the mid 70’s, I wrote letters (by hand not on a laptop or phone – to my then girlfriend in Singapore) four times a week.  On special occasions I would make a phone call from a phone booth after 6pm for cheaper rate with pockets full of coins!  Today I can reach our daughter 7,000 km away by Whatsapp, Skype, email or phone call anytime on my handphone, not to mention take pictures, be entertained and shop!

Have you seen young couples sitting in a restaurant waiting for their food, not gazing into each other’s eyes but gazing into their own phones or tablets to “chat” with their friends?  Why bother going out on a date? One man said his wife told him that he spent too much time on his handphone. Was this another way of saying “Your phone seems more important than me!”

Pedestrians especially students, cross the roads with earphones, eyes glued to their phones, without even a glance to see if any traffic might endanger them.  Family members may sit in the same room, each using their personal phones, oblivious to one another’s existence. Office colleagues gather for a business meeting, but instead of discussing their work, are more interested in facebook or surfing. Minds are unfocused, as a result relationships/work is compromised.

In the Straits Times last Wednesday, it was reported that the number of summonses issued to motorists using their phones while driving had climbed from 2,817 in 2011, to 2,938 in 2012 to 3,572 last year.  I’ve seen drivers stop their cars one car length or more behind another car, fiddle with their phones and when the light turns green are still stationary while all the cars in front have gone. By the time they start moving, the light turns red again, and many irate motorists stuck behind are fuming because they have to wait longer.

We have become so addicted to handphones that traffic laws have to be enacted to stop us endangering ourselves and others.  There is a clear and present danger when we multi-task.  If we are not giving full attention to something as critical as safe driving, then we have lost our sense of what is important not only for ourselves, but also for others.  Worse, real life and real life experiences go by in exchange for digital stuff which may be unnecessary, superficial or even trivial.

Indiscriminate handphone use affects our concentration and attention span.  Do we have the discipline to put away the phone when we spend time with God daily, or when we come for worship in church? Should we leave our phones at the sanctuary entrance? If we can’t focus on God even for a short spell, how can we grow spiritually? Where is our sense of priority? Jesus said of Mary that she had chosen what is better, namely sitting at His feet focused on Him instead of being distracted by many things (Lk 10:39-41).  Ironically the “many things” which distract us today are on one single device!  Handphones are useful but they can also be a major distraction or worse, an addiction.  Control your handphone before it controls you!


Graham Ng