“Hey Baby, I’m Your Handy-Man” – NOT

mobile_phoneThe time has come around again to address the issue of German radicalism. This has nothing to do with the national elections coming up there at the end of September. Nor does it have anything to do with the recent film The Baader Meinhof Complex, for that matter.

Rather, it’s about a guy – a fully-functioning adult, mind you, in this ninth year into the 21st century – who owns no mobile telephone whatsoever, and never has. Furthermore, he’s confident he never will. Can you beat that? His name is Selim Özdogan (Turkish, obviously; sounds like some sort of Middle Eastern radical to me), he writes for Die Zeit, and he tells us all about it in an article entitled Handy-Free Zone. (For those not in the know: Handy has been the literal German word for “mobile/cell phone” ever since they first appeared there on a widespread basis in the late 1980s.)

As you might imagine, this unusual stance does lead to somewhat awkward encounters with Özdogan’s colleagues, no matter how much he might prefer to avoid them, when they ask him for his mobile number. Often, when informed that he has no such mobile number to speak of, they don’t believe him, like the lady who helped organize one of his lectures who made clear – politely – her understanding that he simply did not want to give it out and was feeding her a “white lie.” On those occasions when his interlocutor can be persuaded of the truth of that fact, he often swiftly finds himself the target of some focused mobile-telephone proselytizing: they’re just so practical, you know, and let me tell you about this great tariff-plan I know about, and there’s alway the pre-paid option – and anyway, whenever you want you can just turn them off. Özdogan hastens to let his readers know that he actually could figure that last bit out himself, although I do find myself somewhat disappointed that he forbears from going further to dissect the seeming paradox here of touting the capability of not using something as some sort of advantage to possessing it.

But in the end I can forgive him, because he does bring up a rather more weighty philosophical issue, stemming from the fact that, whenever he is believed when he states that he has no mobile telephone, he usually finds himself called upon to justify why not, explicitly or implicitly. Some people are convinced it’s because he can’t afford one (hardly true); others suspect him of trying to make some sort of radical political statement.

But why should he have to justify not having a mobile telephone? Why shouldn’t the shoe be on the other foot, so that mobile phone owners – or television owners, etc. – have to justify themselves? Actually, he does have an inkling why. It’s namely because we live “in a world that is set up to make the sated hungry, not the hungry sated” – that verges on poetry, that does – so that “it is only natural that one buys things because they are there and not because one needs them.” So you see that he is really making a radical political statement after all.

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