Mobile phones: Will they mark the end of human interaction?

When I was younger and naive, I made lots of friends in matatus, hospitals, buses, lecture rooms and outside offices as we sat waiting for service delivery. We chatted and shared stories about our past, our problems and aspirations. 

Some get life-long friends from such encounters, including spouses. That was the golden age, when we were more human and connected with each other. Not surprisingly, we were less stressed. 

Enter the mobile phone in the late 1990s. It was a status symbol, with the early mobile phones costing as much as Sh250,000. There were no scratch cards and one needed to know someone in the telecommunication industry to get such a phone. Cabinet ministers reportedly employed ‘phone carriers’. Compared to what’s available today, those phones were big and ugly. 

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Then with unusual suddenness, the whole country was inundated with mobile phones. The house phone became part of popular history.

Today, the word phone means mobile phone; we no longer need the qualifier ‘mobile’. No technology has changed a generation this much in such a short time. It closed the gap between hustlers and the affluent. Rarely do you know which phone one is calling you from.

While the technological and economic spillovers of the phone are well-known and welcome, the social, psychological and behavioural impacts have been neglected. 

Today, we have no time for each other. We look for every opportunity to use our phones. In matatus, parties, funerals, classrooms, meetings, even on dates. It’s so obsessive, more so than love or anger. Even weed smokers are not this obsessive.

The small mobile phone has drained away our humanity, numbed our feelings and dimmed our smiles.

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My great worry is that while our generation had a phone-less generation to compare itself to, the younger generation has no other point of reference; they’re digital natives. What we think is unusual is their way of life. 

And now artificial intelligence (AI) is with us. Will AI mark the end of humanity, its feelings, empathy, emotions, tears, joys and sorrows?

How will humanity stand against the technology it invented? Will the good old days ever return, when we were human and acted humanely; with feelings and emotions, undistracted by technology?

Do we have to redefine human relations; from what it means to fall in love, to hate, to smile? Maybe Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World needs to be rewritten.

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