Published:  01:07 AM, 11 October 2018 Last Update: 01:09 AM, 11 October 2018

Destiny on a tiny mobile phone screen

With the device in hand, many users are turning daredevils.It was a busy workday when I walked along the footpath, and noticed most of the pedestrians were plugged into earphones, or were checking mobile phones. I turned around for some reason and saw, a little behind me, a young man walking briskly in my direction, his head bent over a mobile screen.

I could see that he was heading directly towards a No Parking signboard pole on the edge of the footpath, near where I stood. Intent on social media on his mobile screen, he seemed unmindful of an impending collision. Unless he had eyes on top of his head, he was going to walk into the pole.

I paused and eagerly awaited developments. The sound of his skull meeting the signboard pole should be interesting - possibly it might sound like a cloth-covered bell - and might register in the high note of pa, (as in sa, re, ga, ma, pa), if his hair didn't further muffle the sound by coming between his forehead and the pole.

I also got ready to step up to him and deliver a small speech about the need to look where he was going and so on. Guys like us don't get much opportunity for this kind of lecturing.

Imagine my disappointment when this surfer adroitly side-stepped the pole and, with his bemused smile intact, continued on his way, neither slowing down nor lifting his head. The only explanation is that his peripheral vision was very evolved.

This is also true of city-bred dogs weaving expertly through traffic; otherwise they would be extinct by now.I don't trust peripheral vision. I have to see where I'm going. The one time I tried walking while surfing Facebook led to my stepping on dog-turd within 15 yards of my attempt.

A gulf divides uni-tasking guys like me and the multi-tasking, quick-reflex, peripheral-visioned, ambidextrous guys who can ride a bike with one hand while holding something wobbly on the other, and locking down a slippery mobile phone between sweaty cheek and shoulder, overtaking everyone in traffic, and shouting out profanities at errant L-board drivers, and still managing to continue their mobile phone conversation uninterrupted. They may not live long, but they have a good time while they do.

The advice about not driving while speaking on the mobile is redundant. In fact, it is a macho thing to neither slow down nor get to a side when the mobile rings.

A two-wheeler rider's hair-trigger response to a ringing mobile (furiously fishing in the pockets, extracting the mobile, checking the screen, shoving it through the helmet gap near the ear) has to be executed in the middle of the road, while his bike wobbles and causes others coming behind to wobble, too, taking evasive action.

Though it has been my lifelong desire to see at least one fellow dropping his mobile from his cheek-shoulder hold, I have never seen or heard of such a thing happening. Perhaps there's a conspiracy by mobile phone companies to smother such news reports.

Theoretically, mobile-phone speaking riders should be getting killed by the truckload, and offering up their organs for harvest. But it's the safe-rider who breaks a leg while getting out of the way of the mobile-speaking speed-fiend who sizzles through dense traffic while other vehicles miss him by a hair's breadth, like James Bond on escape mode.

Our cities are highly networked, and everyone is in constant communication with one another, while constantly and furiously on the move. The mobile phone enables dare-devilry in movement while communicating - a terrific combination for rising blood pressure.

This urge to communicate non-stop and our inability to slow down has come about alongside the mobile phone explosion. We speak because we have the device on hand. Whether all this communication and racing around has made for a better life experience, our social psychologists may have to figure out.To be on the safe side, there is a strong case for sitting down and shutting up once in a while.

Thomas  Paul is an Author.
                The article appeared in The Hindu

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