Headmaster's Thoughts: November 2021

Can I be the only person who does not carry a cell phone? It seems that modern society is run on the basis that one will always have a cell phone at hand.
I find that they interfere with important meetings. They go off at the wrong time, sometimes by robo-callers offering warranty extensions on cars that do not exist. Sometimes by people who want to chat and are lonely. I have sat in meetings with parents where one of their cell phones goes off, and they stand up and move to the door to take the call. Not that one of their relatives is sick or a disaster is happening, but just an ordinary business call that the rest of us have to wait through. I really do not like cell phones.

I should say that I do have one. It sits in a drawer by my bed. Jayme got it for me. I could use it but I would rather not. So there it stays.
And I have many of my providers, be they hospitals or banks, travel agents or lawyers, who want to use two-factor authentication for the page they are sending (with MY information) by this method. You put in your password to the website and it then asks for a cell phone number (which I assume matches with their number on their file) to send a six digit number. You then insert the six digits on their webpage to be doubly secure. Except that they cannot do this in my case.
My bank is the worst, perhaps understandably. But, if I want to know how much is in my bank account so that I can issue a check, the double security blanket prevents me from finding out. Then I have to call a technical support who never understands the problem of dealing with people like me
“How can I help you?’ is the warm friendly greeting.
“I cannot open my account page.”
“Well, let us see why not? Just put your password where it asks for it. If you have forgotten your password, we can make one up together.” That last remark is one of a young man patronizing an old man but I let it pass.
“I know my password and I put it in.”
“So what is the problem? We just sent a six-digit number to your cell phone.”
“There is the problem.”
“I don’t carry a cell phone!”
A shocked silence now takes place. After the empty sound of surprise, the young man always says the same thing: “You don’t carry a cell phone?”, and I always reply: “I do not carry a cell phone!”
Stalemate! I have stumped the representative. He tries to think of solutions, and it usually is the same one. “We could send the number to your e-mail account.” Unfortunately, there is a timed response when they send you the number in the first place. You have, at the very most, one minute to put in the sent number. I am not that swift that I can put the page on hold, get into my e-mail, have the number download, and then get out of e-mail and back on the page where the number is supposed to be inserted. I never make it in time.
This upsets the person at the other end. Inevitably, the conversation turns grimmer. “Why do you not carry a cell phone?”  My answer is again usually the same: “Were you a licensed therapist trying to analyze my transactional relationship with the world around me, that question might be relevant. Coming from my bank, I fail to see why I should answer that except to say that I do not like cell phones.”
And the young man then triumphantly ends with: “Then you cannot see your bank account!”
This lack of respect for us older folks, who do not fully participate in a modern device-rich world, smacks of ageism. We know that cell phones in the classroom inevitably affect a student’s focus. When a student walks into York Prep, they have to put their cellphones in a pouch that magnetically locks. Whenever they walk out, they tap the pouch against one of 3 magnets against the wall, and their pouch opens. Since this program was installed, the teachers are unanimous in noticing improved attention in the class and, not an unrelated fact, fewer requests to go to the bathroom.
I know that the easy thing is to carry the phone. It may weigh down my pocket, it may ring when I do not want it to, it can be turned off if I want it to vibrate only, and it does other magical tricks. But, I don’t like it. I find it annoying. I will keep complaining because I think that being a curmudgeon is the duty of age. If we older people do not complain about the increasing dependency on gadgets, who will? 
I was delighted recently when Facebook stopped working for a few hours. I only learned of this outage because I read about it the next day in my, drum roll please, delivered hard print newspaper. I do not have, nor would I ever consider having, a social media account. I have seen the impact on young people that negative comments made on social media sites have on them, and it is not pretty. It is a fake, fake world.  Yes, I know I repeated the word twice. It was not a mistake.
One of the prime goals of any parent is to help their child get a sense of self. Cell phones potentially make that job more difficult. It is hard to get self-esteem when  mocking (or worse) messages can be delivered anonymously. I tell every student at the beginning of the year, that whatever they put on Instagram can be photographed, someone can take the photographer’s phone, and then everyone will see what you put on. Nothing is private. I have had upset calls from parents,  who are upset by what their child sent to the “boyfriend/girlfriend” and is now available for all. They are rightfully appalled that their child’s privacy was not respected. The program was not designed to be private… “social” media means just that. And, as I stray off topic in my usual way, cell phones are totally in lockstep with social media and therefore, for me at any rate, totally complicit in the non-privacy problems created. 
We know that Instagram and Facebook are deliberately structured to be addictive. Young people sometimes spend hours every day on these sites, totally obsessed about a fictitious world inhabited by unrealistic ideal bodied people. No wonder that over a quarter of young girls feel worse about themselves because of Facebook and Twitter. 
Our school front desk phones are manned by two smart people who can handle an emergency call. If you need to speak to your child, we can reach them. I would like to have you consider sending them without the gadget, but I suspect I am punching air. It is not your fault. My hope is that it is possible to wean your child from their phone, at least slowly? You and I survived without them when we went to school. And we did not have the emotional upset of being the recipient of a mean spirited text. I have been told again and again that everyone has them, but could they be put in a magnetic pouch when the child gets to your house? Ask me for the details. I promise you that it is an easy system to install. 
I am not so foolish as to believe that any of this will happen. And I sympathize with the “everyone has one” reply of the child. You want to be a kind and loving parent, not a Draconian ogre. But maybe, more realistically, when you go off on a weekend together, the child can leave the phone at home. No, not even that? Well then, they have got most of us, haven’t they. 
But not this curmudgeon, not yet. I will not accept an impersonal universe of texts. Let us get back to real people talking. If I go down, at least I am going to go down fighting! 
Ronald P. Stewart
York Prep