R U HOME? A simple Y or N would suffice, but I’ve got time on my hands so I type in ON TRAIN B HOME IN 20 MIN, then hit SEND. Two minutes later, my keitai’s buzzing in my pocket. BEERS @ BAR? It’s a Friday night and I’m all too used to these truncated messages. I fire back a capital Y.
19:13 – On the train everyone’s busy plugging away on their keitais, sending mail, listening to tunes, and checking shameruﾉeye candy for the lonely. One by one, the whole country has been conscripted into the keitai army.
20:10 – Putting a few beers back with the guys at the usual place, we sit with our clamshells at the ready on the counter, shooting the crap. My eyes roam the bar, checking out the skirts, but never leave far from home: my cellphone. Then the theme song to Otoko wa Tsuraiyo plays: my friend’s phone quivers with delight. PARTY AT JIM’S.
21:34 – My world is filled with electronic gadgets, things I believe help me get by-my i-Pod, my PDA, my digital camera, and, of course, my cellphone. Everyday radio waves bounce here and there, bits and pieces of life blasting from here to the heavens and back again. Without these toys I don’t know what I’d do with myself. I can’t ever leave my house without my keitai.
22:03 – We leave the bar and head to the party. My friend sneaks in a few quick calls before we catch a cab, and within minutes we’re across town. The night’s beginning to take shape, then this: Y NO CALL FROM U? I clearly remember telling her I was going out with the guys.
22:15 – Lately, if I don’t receive a call or mail within an hour, I begin to worry. Drives in the country, hiking in the mountains, even unusually long tunnels make me sweat. Will the reception be good enough? Am I missing an important call? Did I remember to charge my keitai? I wonder, if worse comes to worse, will I be able to rely on the landlines the way I once did, back in the 90s, to link up with my friend’s keitais?
Nowadays, I honestly feel as if I’m suffocating when I’m caught without my cellphone. With each passing hour, I become more anxious, and the only cure is to hike back to my apartment, where my keitai’s inevitably flickering away like hanabi, letting me know that I’m not alone after all.
At the bar, my friend and I talk. Actually talk. Face to face, the old way, in full sentences. The pow-wow takes all but ten minutes. Verbal face-to-face communication, you can’t beat it. I decide to mail her: SORRY, DROPPED KEITAI IN TOILET LAST NIGHT. WHACHA DOIN?
22:37 – I hold a deep grudge toward those who don’t carry a keitai. For one, the unconnected are liberatedﾉeconomically, physically, and mentally-from the intangible stress a keitai can create. By owning one, you sacrifice your privacy. Calls from abroad at three in the morning, incoming mail at four, and the phones’ alarm sounding at dawn.
The party’s just starting to rock, but I’m already eager to move on to the next venue. I call up three friends who have just finished work and arrange to slurp up some ramen. When she mails me: HIMA? I suggest: RAMEN? and leave the party, keitai close at hand.
23:45 – Gliding across the city in a darkened cab, I make a few last-minute calls and pop off a few messages. Like a fiber in a spider’s web, my keitai connects me to everyone and everything. It supports my every social move and without it I’d freefall into oblivion. When we arrive at Nagahama, I ask the driver if he could recommend a good yatai. “Good? They’re all good,” he tells me, “but the best one is over there.” I pay the fare, thank him and as I’m getting out of the cab, my keitai vibrates excitedly. It’s her: DRIVING BE THERE SOON.
24:15 – She’s got it, too. The keitai-byo. A tell-tale symptom is punching away at a message while behind the wheel. The laws introduced last year haven’t helped curb the epidemic. These days the radio just hasn’t satisfy the need to be connected, to reach out and touch someone. Because of the new law, the minute the plastic touches my ear, I’m seized with paranoia, worried that I’ll be pulled over by a cop and ticketed. Still, I can’t stop, despite the risks.
Awe surrounds Japanese electronics, a fascination making us yearn for the latest, the fastest, the most high-tech. It exacerbates this keitai-byo, such that even if you haven’t got a full-blown case, you’re still a carrier.
I finally catch up with everyone and sit down at the yatai the cab driver recommended. It’s run by a married couple in their 60s. They seem so happy, so I ask them what the secret to a happy marriage is. They quibble a bit, then agree that communication is key. My phone rings. She’s here and in a few minutes she’ll be at my side hogging my ramen.
Connected and communicating; hmmmm, maybe this keitai-byo isn`t so bad afterall?
by Nathan Miller
American, PhD candidate
Illustrations by Shirley Waisman
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn80, Aug. 2005)