I want to take issue with this notion that technology and the presence of cell phones is counter-productive to human interaction. To suggest that people not take their cell phones into restaurants or leave them at home completely misses the problem. It isn’t the technology that is the problem; it is the way people use it.
And this idea that technology as a distraction is anything new offends my intelligence. Long before cell phones, the television was used as an electronic babysitter so that parents could avoid interaction with their children. Commuters on subways and trains for the last 75 years have had newspapers, books, and radios to distract themselves to avoid having to interact with other people. Whether someone was reading the morning newspaper or the back of a box of cereal at the breakfast table, the rest of the family were free to interrupt that activity to communicate with the understanding that it was permissable. But what gauls me to no end is the notion that because of the prevalence of cell phones, people gathered together in a social situation only focus on their phones and not each other. What about the thousands of times that I’ve visited friends in their home, and often when I’ve been invited into their home for the purpose of visiting, and I am forced into competing with the program they have selected on their television set. Do I only bring up subjects unrelated to the nonsense they’ve chosen to give their attention to while I am visiting during the commercials? Before any suggests that cell phones be put away or not used when interacting socially with others, I’d like to see the practice of shutting off the television when someone visits become the default response. Otherwise, it amounts to the same thing as blaming gun ownership for gun violence. The propensity of human beings is engage in distraction over interaction is not the fault of the smartphone and can’t be blamed on social media.
I saw a video in which someone astutely explained how millenials have lost the ability to communicated and develop personal relationships because they prefer to engage with their cell phones, and his solution was to leave the phones out of meetings and meals at restaurants in order to open up opportunities for conversation and interaction. I’m sorry, but that offends me. I believe that my conversation is interesting enough that I don’t need to have the competition from your email inbox or text messages eliminated. In the world of multi-tasking and engagement on several levels at the same time, we can do both and direct attention to each as needed according to the necessary depth and intensity demanded by the situation. But if this troubled world that feels threatened by the smart phone is so worried about distracting my attention from the personal interactions I might have with those who are dining with me in a restaurant, why not shut off the TVs that are playing in the restaurant which are distracting me and competing with my ability to talk with those I’m sharing the table with? The video mentioned that when this fellow went out with his friends, one of them would bring a phone in case of an emergency. Choking hazard or car breakdown, I’m guessing, but he also said it would come in handy if they wanted to take a picture of their food. Well, I don’t want someone else’s photo of my food. I have a camera in my phone, and I want to take pictures of the food and I want to take photos of the people there at the table. I want to give my phone to the waitress and get a group shot, and if I see something interesting or unusual in the restaurant or an unusual personalized license plate on a car in the parking lot, I’m taking a photo of that too. If anything, this expands my ability to interact. And when I have my phone, I have my entire photo album with me, so if someone asks about this person or that, I can show them a recent photo or a picture of their new house, new baby, or new car. What am I supposed to do if I don’t have my cell phone? Describe the house or the baby? Promise to email a photo later? No, the smart phone is an asset to human interaction, not a deterrent. If someone is staring at their phone and appear to be ignoring you, show some chutzpah and say something interesting. It’s not that big a deal; it’s the same thing as competing with someone reading the back of the box of Frosted Flakes.
I remember those conversations at the dining table and those supposedly-wonderful social interactions at picnics, parties, and outings before the smartphone, and a huge amount of time was consumed discussing and sometimes arguing about innocuous things like who played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, what happened to Eddie Haskell, what states in the US don’t have self-serve gas stations, and things like what are the hours, what is on the menu, what is the closest location, and how much does it cost, when in a matter of seconds I can answer any and all of these questions plus virtually any other question with a simple Google search, and now I don’t even need to be sober enough to type in what I’m searching, I can use the voice search. I can tell you every film that Clint Eastwood or Kevin Bacon ever made, I can go from web search to image search and produce photos of anyone or anything. I remember in the days before cell phones, it was always as struggle to remember who did what songs and what were the words to which verse and who did a remake of what songs and what songs were written by who that someone else is remembered for singing. You had to have a go-to person that knew all that to settle arguments, and if he or she wasn’t there, you had to call them later to get the answer. Now, with cell phones, you just search for it on YouTube and everyone at the table can hear it or even see it being performed. And when that song comes on in the restaurant background music, you can get title, performer, and sometimes lyrics using SoundHound or Shazam. Hard as it is to believe, in the old days, we’d actually ask the waitress or the bartender.
Don’t tell me that I’m losing out on human interaction because of my smartphone. The world better realize that it isn’t the phone’s fault that some people can’t handle all of the technology they have or come up with a way to put it to good use, and we damn sure better get it figured out before we’re all wearing virtual reality goggles and have a robot accompanying us wherever we go. For me, I am ready. Because of my phone, my interaction and communication is enhanced because I have the entire internet at my disposal. For those who are playing games and looking for diet tips on Facebook, you need to up your game and see the potential that you have at your fingertips thanks to technology and the smartphone. I wish I had a dollar for everytime one of these technology critics will invariably say to me during a conversation which conforms to the old definition of human interaction, “Check it on your phone,” or “Look it up on Google.”
It’s time everyone checked it or looked it up themselves and bring a significant improvement to the conversation that all of us are having. If you aren’t having meaningful conversation, it isn’t because of the cell phone. Think about it. You remember, thinking? It’s what we did before smartphone technology, and it is still readily available. Arguably, the smartphone makes it that much easier to see precisely what is going on around you, the very opposite to what its critics and detractors claim to be happening.
Here’s my challenge to the people that want cellphones turned off or left behind. When someone comes into your home, turn off the television. Turn off all of the televisions. Give them your WiFi password, encourage they use their phones, but turn off the televisions.
And when you go to a restaurant or you’re in a waiting room somewhere, ask them to turn off the televison. We have cellphones and the entire internet; we don’t need your television.
That’s my Soapbox rant for today. Now I can go back to what I was doing