Inhumanity and the cell phone
The cell phone - the device that has distanced people from their own selves - makes a good analogy.
Five-and-a-half years ago, in the fall, my mother, Chanaleh, passed away. She was younger in spirit than I am, and full of life. During her last months, most of the conversations I had were with doctors, in an intensive struggle to assure that, after 63 years, her end would be lucid and with as little suffering as possible. The illness, which she refused to call by name, was incurable.
Since my mother died I've kept my distance from the cellular phone I had used to talk to the hospitals. I didn't want to touch it. Instead, I started to use different numbers and phones from the same communications company.
After about a year, again in the fall, I called the company to resolve a technical issue before I traveled abroad. The customer service representative was very direct. She told me that something strange was going on with one of our numbers.
It turned out, she explained, that the number we had stopped using was part of a "plan" that carried a minimum NIS 500 monthly charge. In other words, although it hadn't been used to make a single call, we had paid NIS 6,000 on it.
I expressed my shock. I made it clear I'd never agreed to, nor could I have agreed to, such a plan. I told her I was no longer using that phone, and besides stopping those wanton charges immediately, I expected the company to refund me the ridiculous sums I'd been charged during the previous year. She promised to stop the charges and said the plan would be canceled. About the refund she'd have to get back to me.
The various people I ended up speaking to were pleasant and smooth, like a white wall. Yes, they understand, but it's not under their authority. Pretty soon I got sick of the pleasant, pointless calls with various anonymous consumer representatives. They promised to pass my request on. Meanwhile, I moved on. I traveled, I returned, I wrote, and I forgot all about it.
The following fall I once again phoned the cellular company before I traveled, and as an afterthought asked if they had refunded my money. The white wall on the other end explained most pleasantly that they hadn't, and thus the charges for the phone that was never used hadn't stopped. Five hundred shekels a month. Once again I was promised that they would immediately stop charging our account. Once again I got a runaround about the refund.
This went on for five years. After five years, a miracle occurred. The absurd charge was stopped. During those years the cell phone company took - and still hasn't returned - NIS 30,000 for a phone that was never used.
Of course, this story says a lot about me even before we get to the cell phone company and its sister firms. There aren't too many people who opt for the freedom not to waste time on an intensive battle in such a situation.
But the story is also about the cellular company and its sisters. The story is about the ability to erect a maze of white walls that make it seem as if the customer simply doesn't exist, except as an object to be exploited. Now, with the drop in prices, it turns out that for years these companies milked us for sums at least three times higher than necessary. And if one Moshe Kahlon hadn't appeared on the scene, this predatory behavior would have continued.
The cell phone makes a good analogy: The device that has distanced people from their own selves; from unmediated personal contact with others; the device that enables someone to be in a forest without really being there because he's talking to his bosom friend on gridlocked Dizengoff Street; the device that has turned our existence into pathetic, superficial availability has also set up automatic systems that sustain themselves by plundering us.
But the story is much broader that cellular justice. The murderous violence we are witness to lately is being blamed on "foreigners," migrants and Israeli Arabs, even though the overwhelming majority of killings, from Dan to Be'er Sheva, killings over money and power, are committed by "kosher" Jews.
In the Scandinavian countries there's a very high service orientation, both in business and government. The customer is not prey or a target, and the citizen is not a soft, squeezable object. Taxes are high, but you get something in return, including freedom. Violence in Scandinavia is about a tenth of what we have here.
The correlation between violent regimes and violence in the streets is absolute. A battered child often turns into a battering adult. Whoever creates customer service centers that are totally impermeable to simple justice creates a society in which the knife talks. You take whatever it is that power lets you take.
My mother was like a 17-year-old when she died. She was enthusiastic, joyful and took great pleasure in yet another blooming flower. She loved people. She refused to use a cell phone.
Now summer is beginning, and the fall is still a few months away. Maybe Israel's cellular spring will distance Israelis from the evils of cellular-style justice.