Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai Email Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai
August 2019

My wife and I are always slow to adopt new technology, so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that we got our first cellphones only 12 years ago, at least five years later than some of our friends did. Our phones were rather basic—we used them to make calls and nothing else: no texting, no browsing, no binging on Shankar Vedantam’s podcast.

Since then, we have gradually increased our dependence on cellphones, and it saddens me to say that our family of five is now saddled with five cellphones and, even sadder, five monthly bills. Yes, we get a family discount, but still pay more for cellular service than for water. (My 15-year-old daughter, Divya, can’t take a shower without one of them.)

It’s been several years since Divya and her older sister, Lekha, got cellphones, better known as their “Instagram devices.” In contrast, our 13-year-old son, Rahul, managed to resist the lure of a cellphone until recently.

Most of his friends have owned cellphones for at least a few years, but Rahul did not ask us for one. He just used email to keep in touch with his buddies, and borrowed my phone when he needed to check something quickly, such as the latest political news on CNN.com.

But the need to have a cellphone became urgent when Rahul left home for a one-week debate camp in Bloomington, Indiana, a city that’s a two-hour drive from our home. It was “urgent” not for Rahul but for his mother. Without a cellphone, how would she keep in touch with her little boy? How would she know if the camp organizers were feeding him well? How would she be able to get any sleep?

I reluctantly bought Rahul a cellphone and waved a white flag at the cellphone companies. “Are you happy now?” I asked. “You’ve got us all trapped. Every last one of us.”

Now you may be asking yourself, if he feels trapped, why doesn’t he just get rid of his cellphone? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. This is the 21st century, after all, and walking around without a cellphone is considered far stranger than walking around without pants.

Don’t get me wrong. Cellphones can be quite useful, but they can also be burdensome. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of cellphones in my life:

Advantage: My wife can call or text me wherever I go. This can be quite helpful, especially if it’s an emergency of some sort. For example, just the other day, I was out shopping and she texted me: “Help!!! How do I put Netflix on the TV?”

Disadvantage: My wife can call or text me wherever I go. This can be quite annoying, especially when I’m at a grocery store and have to exchange numerous texts with her.

She: “Please get ginger and go lick.”

Me: “Lick the ginger? I’d rather not.”

She: “Garlic. Damn autocorrect! And get some papers, too.”

Me: “New York Times or USA Today?”

She: “Peppers. You know what I meant!”

Advantage: I can discreetly follow sporting events while attending boring meetings by glancing now and then at the screens of people around me.

Disadvantage: When I’m speaking at a meeting, I can be fairly certain that the only people who are paying attention are the ones with no data plans.

Advantage: My daughter Divya can easily browse the internet through her cellphone, allowing her to do important research to prepare for school, such as finding out which online store has a sale on denim shorts.

Disadvantage: I’m constantly worried about the bill—the hospital bill when I have to take my daughter to get the cellphone surgically removed from her hand.

Compiled and partly written by Indian humorist MELVIN DURAI, author of the novel Bala Takes the Plunge.

[Comments? Contributions? We would love to hear from you about Chai Time. If you have contributions, please email us at melvin@melvindurai.com. We welcome jokes, quotes, online clips, and more.]

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