Cell Phones as Modern Weapons

Our ancestors carried spears for protection. We carry cell phones. Same idea.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

jakaria / 3704
Source: jakaria / 3704

Guest post by Annette Taylor, M.A.

Most of us know the cartoon image of human evolution. It’s the one that depicts the gradual changes in our species from tree-dweller to cave-dweller to modern human. Some versions of this image include our cave-dwelling ancestor carrying a spear, and I think that properly depicts how important it was for humans to be able to exert some control over their environment as we evolved. But I also think that the modern person in these cartoons could be depicted with something in their hands—I think mobile phones should be considered the new spear.

How many of us who normally carry a mobile phone feel naked or strange when we don’t have it with us? I would guess the majority. I would also guess that the majority of us have not thought about where that sense of strangeness comes from. It extends from the fact that we were all once cave-dwellers.

Way back in the day, we needed to defend ourselves often, so we probably did not go anywhere without a spear. There were likely constant threats that came from outside (and occasionally inside) the safety of our tribes, and a weapon we could throw allowed us to have more control over our surroundings. With a spear, a wayward cave-dweller could travel with some confidence, attain a meal, and feel a bit safer when separated from other trusted dwellers...and carrying a mobile phone does the same things for many modern people.

Quick sidebar: Not everyone thinks that cave-dwellers were smart, but I do. Not smart in an academic sense, perhaps, but a cave-dweller’s actions were so perfectly in tune with their surroundings that they could have been considered Paleolithic geniuses...yet all they were doing was following their nature. This means that cave-dwellers were not necessarily aware of how smart they were. They were just trying to survive. I think modern people experience the same disconnect with many of their everyday behaviors, and why we dig cell phones is one of those disconnects.

For a hungry cave-dweller, throwing a spear at a warthog was easier and less risky than was wrestling it to the ground and breaking its neck. Using tools like spears was the overall advantage humans had over other species starting tens of thousands of years ago. But similarly, modern people use mobile phones because they allow us to conserve our personal energy. Just like cave-dwellers, we like tools that make our lives easier, and there are few tools as efficient as a mobile phone.

What is so different about a mobile phone, however, is the power it gives the average person. While a spear can control things in a cave-dweller’s immediate environment, a tool that connects us to the internet allows modern people to control things they can’t even see (like a bank account or our status among friends and family.) This power/sense of control seems to have created some pretty high expectations for the typical modern phone user, and I think our “unconscious” ability to control more of our surroundings has gone to our heads. 

Let’s say you are someone who has always had a mobile phone. It’s likely you’ve had limited experience with not being in control of the things that happen to you. You expect the food you order within minutes exactly the way you want it—and if they used brown mustard instead of yellow on your sandwich, your entire eating experience could be ruined. With instant access to the internet, you can also anticipate what will happen to you since, with the right app and a touch of a button, you can know exactly where the people in your inner circle are.

Some of us have even had control of our surroundings since we were toddlers...when someone handed us that tablet to keep us occupied at all those restaurants...and the result may be that we never learned that we are actually separate from the world around us. But this occurrence is not because we were neglected as kids. Our caregivers were just following their nature to conserve personal resources and use a handy tool to make dinner run more smoothly and be more fun for everyone. In reality, though, we are not in total control of our surroundings, so even modern people should be ready to exert energy once in a while in order to get what they need.

Annette Taylor
Source: Annette Taylor

Humans are (and have always been) smart, so perhaps some of us will feel brave enough to ignore our mobile phones from time to time, and go out into the world like a cave-dweller...with a little less control.  

Annette Taylor has an M.A. in Educational Psychology from California State University, Northridge. Learn more at her website.