In the 60’s sit-com, Get Smart, Maxwell Smart would ask for the cone of silence, “the cone please”, when he needed to share a morsel of confidential information, or seemingly so to him, with the Chief of Control.
The cone was a farcical look at the double-edge sword of security, privacy, and encryption. For Agent Smart, it never worked. The words never passed clearly to the Chief making for the shows trademark humor. Control struggled with the chaos of human communication.
On a recent trip across the continent I was struck by the lack not only of pay phones but phone booths, or even the half-sies with the two partitions. A phone booth? Yes, an rectangular body-size icon of a bygone era of communication that would isolate the user from the immediate environment to help them communicate with a distant person.
The latest stat is that people check their smartphones 150 times per day, on average. Not all of that checking is for human exchanges. Much is just to stay connected to the god-mode of knowing something about anything. Most of my friends are on a the per minute scale of checking their phones. But I wonder, are the phone booths still there as invisible little cones of silence that envelop each mobile phone user? Do we not cut ourselves off from the now and exchange the geo-human proximate for the promise of communication with another?
You had to walk into the old phone booth and away from your local environment. Now the process is a bit tyrannical as we force the people around us to bear with the cone of silence that has been dropped from my desire, or habit, to leap outside of my context. Again there is something dehumanizing in forcing ourselves and those around us, into the omnipresent machine mode of modern smartphones.
Chesterton thought one of the most troubling aspects of his era was the flight from human contact, routinely presented as an advance in technological sophistication. He saw an inverse relationship between human contact and technological apparatus.
The advent of instant communication markets an unquestioned mantra, a promise really, that — you will never be lonely with the phone and its integration with social media. But is that really the case? Are we missing something human, and missing something truly divine?
The two great commandments that contain the whole law of God are: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
The next time you drop your conversation, mid-flight, to check your phone, ask yourself — am I loving my neighbor? Am I serving God in the now, the duty of the moment? Do I really want to enter “Smart” space?