Mark A. Carter

ANTISOCIAL: cell phones, hive mentality, and zombies

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter rants about cell phone gaming, rudeness, texting, and a shift in the norm.

Like polymorphous perverts in kindergarden who appear to be playing with one another but actually are playing separately, the modern cell phone gamer and texter is isolated from the group and has Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
When I was ten years old, I got a marvelous birthday present. I had asked for and received a small transistor radio. It was red. And I felt like the coolest kid on the block. So, I took it to school to show off. At recess, in the middle of the school yard, I pulled out my pocket radio, extended its telescopic antenna, tuned in to CKTB, shut my eyes in ecstasy, and danced to the tunes. I reveled in three transistor nirvana for all of about one minute. When I opened my eyes to look out at my classmates, who were milling around the prison yard like angry hornets, I assumed they would be staring at me with slack-jawed envy. I thought perhaps they would be crowded around me. Maybe they would ask questions or want to try my radio. Maybe they would think that I was important. I suppose, in ritual terms, I secretly hoped that my technology would act as a babe magnet. But I noticed that there was nary a soul around me. They had all given me a wide berth. And it wasn't envy in their eyes. They thought I was crazy. They definitely thought I was antisocial, on a gut level, before any of them had heard the term.

Children, left to their own devices, are cruel beyond belief, which is why they are referred to in psychological circles as polymorphous perverts. And it is why they instinctively have the urge to kill what they consider abnormal or weak. In many people, this tendency runs throughout their lives. Anyway, I am convinced that the children in the school yard that day would have fileted, roasted, and eaten me, if we had been marooned on an uninhabited island. Can you say Piggy? Read the 1954 novel: Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

So, when I see people with cell phones everywhere nowadays using their devices to divorce themselves from their surroundings, I think they are being antisocial or dissocial, and selfish. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM classifies their behavior as a mental illness and has labelled it Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD. And because they are so self-absorbed, we can throw in Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD, as well.

I see people with ASPD and NPD in the supermarket talking on their phones while they shop. By the way, people cannot walk and phone without incident. Neither can they drive a car and phone or push a cart and phone. Give them a wide berth. Watch your toes. They are dangerous. And I can't help but think back to the school yard and me with the red radio pressed up against my ear. But the people I see doing this with their cell phones are not children. They aren't doctors taking that all important call summoning them to Metropolitan Hospital to perform emergency surgery. These people have a screw loose. They are suffering from feelings of inadequacy, as perhaps I was at ten years of age, in the school yard with my transistor radio. They want to seem important. And that cell phone pressed up against their ear serves to feed their delusion of grandeur. Perhaps they have antisocial tendencies. Maybe it's all of the above.

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover by artist Anthony Gross.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1954.

Key, Wilson Bryan. Subliminal Seduction: Are You Being Sexually Aroused By This Picture? Introduction by Marshall McLuhan. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

But talking on cell phones has been overshadowed by gaming and by texting. The other day, while I was in the dentist chair and my wife sat in the waiting room, she observed that no one was talking. They all had their heads down and were gaming or texting on their cell phones. And she had an epiphany. When we left, she commented on her observation. As we walked to the car she told me that I had been right all these years. Cell phones were making people antisocial.

I don't believe that. I think that antisocial people have gravitated to cell phone usage, particularly to playing games on their phones. And the exclusivity of cell phone gaming, in turn, has reinforced their mental illness. Antisocial people play games or text on their phones to avoid eye contact with the people in their midst. They are either utterly isolated from the group around them while playing their games or texting and are denying, excluding, or ignoring the group in favor of entertainment or of an external group. Either way, they deem their behavior acceptable and more important than human interaction with the group they are physically in, although others may see it otherwise. But, to me, their misbehavior just seems rude, like walking in front of someone and not saying, "Excuse me." But that happens all the time too nowadays and is a can of worms for another time.

I see cell phone gaming or texting, while waiting, as a nouveau version of reading a magazine. Reading a book or flipping through a magazine, while sitting in a group, was always benign avoidance behavior. Now, there just seems to be more of it. Like reading, cell phone gaming and texting sends an exclusionary message: don't talk to me. This might be a good thing. Who wants to hear a stranger lament while you sit in the waiting room of a dentist's office or during a bus ride, train journey, or plane flight? If you let them, some people will fixate on you because they are stressed by their situation. And, deluded into a sense of familiarity by close proximity to you, they will tell you their entire life story in a major dump of verbal diarrhea then fall asleep on your shoulder and drivel over you.

I also believe that the human brain is wired to have an addictive response to flashing lights. We do it when we see fireworks. Los Vegas has raked in billions of dollars banking on our attraction to flashing lights. And gaming, whether it occurs at a casino, on your computer, or on your cell phone, is designed to addict, to mesmerize, and to zombify. Ha.

After reading the 1974 book: Subliminal Seduction by Wilson Bryan Key, who I met one fall day at the University of Western Ontario circa 1975, and spoke with amid the rustling leaves in front of Middlesex College, I am not mesmerized by flashing lights. I see them as gimmick to promote the bottom line which is sales. A few years later, I recall programming a simple car racing game in BASIC onto my Apple II. I also recall programming a simple version of Blackjack. I tested them. I played them. And I got over them. Also, as part of my training in Psychology, I took a mandatory course in statistics. So, with a normal curve under my belt, I will never walk into a casino because I know you can't statistically win. I see the code beneath the visual display which has become considerably more addictive and mesmerizing now due to increased computer memory and speed. And I know that these games are programmed to defeat the user. So, why play? But cell phone users seem addicted to their devices, to playing games on them, and to texting on their expensive tools or are they toys? And because of the constant and intimate connection between cell phone and user, these beloved devices with their bells, whistles, and flashing lights, have become extensions of the people who use them. And those people have become, in turn, cybernetic entities: part human being and part machine.

In his 1997 novel: 3001, Arthur C. Clarke predicts the evolution of cybernetic communications. The cell phone is reduced to a single, miniscule, electronic chip that is implanted on the surface of the human brain. It makes sense to me that areas seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen at the back of the brain, the visual acuity areas adjacent to the calcerine fissure might be a candidate location. That way, you would most probably see your display floating before you in middle distance and perhaps control your selection by looking in its direction and blinking once or twice to emulate the point of a cursor and the click of a mouse.

Clarke, Arthur C. 3001: The Final Odyssey. New York: Del Rey / Ballantine, Mar 1997.
Harrison, Harry. Bill, the Galactic Hero. Cover by Larry Lurin. New York: Doubleday, First Edition, 1965.

The cybernauts in Clarke's story are always connected to each other, as components of a hive mind via wireless internet connections in their heads. OMG. I can't imagine a greater horror. The hive mind is an alien concept, when you think about it, and far removed from the independence and individuality that we normally associate with human beings. Read Harry Harrison's 1965 novel: Bill, the Galactic Hero.

My question is this: won't this lead to degradation in verbal communication, to devolution of language itself? When communication can be done with a point and a click, or rather a look and a blink, where is the need for words? Will we devolve back into the apes from which we came? And will future language be reduced to grunts and shrieks? Aren't we already part way there?

And have I mentioned that cell phone users are just plain rude? I think it is rude to talk on your cell phone while sitting amid others. I was forced to listen in on a private conversation while sitting in the waiting room, as mentioned previously, at my dentist's office. The other patients and I were literally hijacked by an inconsiderate fellow yammering on his cell phone for all to hear. We were his cell phone hostages, until he finally noticed our glances and glares and went elsewhere to finish his so-called private conversation but not before dropping an innuendo that made us all feel guilty for eavesdropping. Give me a break.

The bottom line is when people are talking on their cell phones, or gaming, or texting manically with their thumbs, they are not interacting with the people around them. I would like to say that kind of behavior is abnormal. But Psychology teaches that what is normal is determined by the norm. And with everyone texting, I am the one who is abnormal because I don't even own a cell phone. My land line and answering machine suffice. Thank you very much. So, you see, I am an anachronism, a hold out, someone clinging to the old norm. Read the 1954 novel: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson to witness a shift in the norm.

Whereas our legends paint vampires as monstrous because they are different, it is Robert Neville, the only human survivor of a pandemic that has turned the population of Earth into vampires, who is now the abnormal one. And when the vampires catch Neville, he has an epiphany. The world has become theirs. The norm has been overturned. And, to the vampires, he is the monster.

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain. ... Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. Cover by Stanley Meltzoff. New York: Gold Medal Books, First Edition, 1954.

Silence is golden.

Currently, with our electrical grid intact and cell phone towers receiving and transmitting continuously, the antisocial norm marches on. And I am the abnormal one. But one day, the grid will go down, and then what? I'm not talking an intermittent glitch in internet service. I'm talking major electromagnetic pulse from a solar storm, like the Carrington Event of 1859 that burned out telegraph systems worldwide. But it will be worse now because we live in an electronic age. And when everything fries, it will take years, decades, and perhaps a century to return to where we are today, if we ever do return. We will be thrown back into the horse and buggy era or perhaps we will revisit the Middle Ages.

Like zombies in a bad Science Fiction flick, the minions without their working cell phones will wander the streets aimlessly, their hive minds cut off from each other. Ponder this: will they still hold their now defunct cell phones up to their ears and continue their insane yammering? Will they still game or text although their machines are fried and no flashing lights or text appears on their lifeless screens? And will we only then realize how insane our society has become?

Personally, I look forward to the quiet. Silentium est aurum. Ha.

Read: Bug-Eyed Monsters
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from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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