My mobile suddenly stopped working as I tried clicking a fountain on my evening walk at a lake. No tactics could bring it back to life. Till I reached home and reconnected using an alternative phone, a million thoughts, and a zillion fears crossed my mind. The situation was slightly better than the Mobile Phone – A Parrot in my Pocket, being stolen or lost. That would have involved visiting a police station, filing an FIR, dealing with the service provider to disable services, and the potential risk of misuse of personal data besides privacy issues like identity theft and the cost of buying a new phone.
Mobile Phone – A Parrot in My Pocket
Holding the dead phone, worth a stone, my brain prepared a mental list of all the tasks I could not do without a phone.
Serious Issues for Regulators to Consider
I can not call anyone. No, it is not just because of the absence of a phone. But the fact that I only remember a couple of numbers of my family members. Yes, they may share some parts of my network, but just some. All the other numbers are on my phone. I can not do any financial transactions – no UPI will work; no OTPs will reach me for internet banking. I can not log into any of my social media accounts without a two-factor authentication.
Even email login now requires you to verify yourself on the phone. I cannot receive deliveries of my online shopping as they also demand a verification code now. The same goes for riding apps that are becoming a monopoly when it comes to taking autos and taxis. You cannot just raise your hand and hail a cab. All eyes of the auto and cab drivers are fixed on the mobile app or Google Maps and their ears and mouth are busy talking to notice you.
So, you are absolutely isolated even if you are standing in the middle of a bustling city. You are disconnected from your personal network – you can not reach them and they cannot reach you. The digital social network is cut off. You are even distanced from your financial assets till you are connected again. Let us keep aside all the instant gratification that we would miss with constantly buzzing messengers and the entertainment or infotainment that fills every waking moment of our lives. I am not even talking about the advanced functions like controlling your car or entering your home using some apps on your phone.
Dangerous Power of Mobile Phone Connectivity and Reach
Those few minutes made me realize the power of this ubiquitous device called a mobile phone. Have we given it more power than we should have? Is it justified to put so much power in one single device? Should our existence become so much dependent on one single device? Can we plan alternatives and build redundancies? Should there not be easy solutions for situations where your phone is unavailable? Does this power of mobile need decentralization? These questions kept ringing in my head.
I was reminded of the childhood story where the Prana or the life of a king lied in a parrot. Every time someone wriggled the neck of the parrot, the king gasped. Irrespective of whether someone killed the parrot or it died a natural death, the king would have died along. So, anyone who controlled the parrot also controlled the king. In our lives and time that parrot is this Mobile Phone.
I know there are solutions to this situation, but none of them are easy or intuitive enough. This is a situation that is bound to happen every now and then as our devices age and reach the end of life, or as someone tries to target us. What is the easy fallback when it happens say on a Friday evening?
Elderly Need Help
Think of your elderly parents in this situation not even able to seek help. Youngsters and tech-savvy people can probably get on to the next available gadget and disconnect the lost or dead device. However, it is not so easy for most other people who somehow manage to use it. Today mobile phone is not a choice, they ask for your number even at the grocery or lifestyle store. I saw someone forget his phone at the airport checking desk and wondered about the turmoil that would follow.
Time to Think of Protocols
Is it time to think of protocols for lost mobile phones that are easy to follow for everyone?
When I looked online, all I found was research on the ill impact of mobile phones on health – physical and social. They talk about addiction hazards that many youngsters are suffering from. Then, there are plenty of articles telling you what to do when the phone is lost. UNESCO’s recommendation of banning mobiles in schools has initiated a debate on the subject.
But none in the public domain focuses on all too powerful a device that can put a solid pause on your activities in a jiffy.
Balance in Life
I always feel that balance is needed in every aspect of life. For Mobile phone usage, we must establish a balance between the convenience it offers and dependence that can stall. Incidentally, as far as hazards are concerned, we can control at an individual level. However, the requirement of a phone number, phone-based verification, and all-pervasive OTPs are not something we can control individually. This is where society comes into the picture, as the dependence is transactional as well as social. Eventually, some regulation may come into play, but that would happen only after social hazards cross a threshold for lawmakers to notice.
Giving too much power to any person or object in life is bound to lead to unpleasant situations. Or, maybe we need to remember another adage that everything that gives you Sukh or pleasure is bound to give you an equal amount of Dukh or pain.
First Published in The New Indian Express on October 01, 2023.