Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Are cellphones still tools, or are they our masters?

I recently participated in a Carroll County Chamber of Commerce trip to China. While so much was different from life in Maryland, one thing was painfully similar. People everywhere seem to be slaves to their smartphones. From Beijing to Xian and Shanghai, the swell of humanity all cradled their smartphones in their hands like Gollum cradled the Ring of Power in "The Lord of the Rings."

I thought about how technology has progressed out of control and about how much we are enslaved to our mobile devices. My self-righteous judgment, however, was soon to be given a full dose of karma when I discovered on the bus to the airport for our return flight that I'd left my precious cellphone charging in our hotel room.


When I realized the catastrophic mistake I'd made, I felt hollow and isolated from humanity. What was I to do without my phone? I didn't want to turn the bus around, because we were leaving early to beat the insane highway traffic in Shanghai, and I couldn't be responsible for our group possibly missing the flight. I had our guide call the hotel and offer someone serious money to grab the phone, flag a cab and meet us at the airport, but no one was able to come.

Even though we had about 10 people staying for two extra days, and I figured I could get one of them to bring my phone back, I was feeling sick to my stomach about the prospect of leaving it on the other side of the globe. The irony hadn't yet hit me that I was frantic to regain the very thing I'd judged others of being enslaved by. All I could think of was how to get my hands on my phone. I mean, I had Facebook posts to make about the trip when we landed back in the States.


The hotel staff awakened one of my fellow travelers at the brutal time of 5:15 a.m., and he let me know he had my phone. Salvation! Unfortunately, the karma kept coming when his bags were lost along with my phone. I was now officially going through withdrawals. Eventually, after one full week of separation anxiety, my phone found its way into my hands. All was right with the world.

The time I spent in the smartphone dead zone, however, was actually refreshing and made me realize they are becoming more of a master with us than a tool. So, in the interest of being enslaved to nothing, here are two quick thoughts on smartphone freedom:

•Turn off all audible notifications, so we pick up our phones when we want to and not when we're commanded.

•Have regular periods of time when we put the phones down and look at people more than screens.

I know this is easier said than done. Too many of us around the world already have dysfunctional relationships with our phones, as they have thoroughly mastered us.

My last tip, though, is a simple one: Never leave your phone charging in your room when you're flying to the other side of the world.

Mike McMullin is president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. Email him at