smart phone, dumb user

Once upon a time the telephone would ring and either we would ignore it, or we'd encourage people to leave a message to which we'd give our attention at a later time. Why?!  Because the people with whom we were sitting face-to-face took precedence - every time, every single time. It was seen as a simple common courtesy that respected and valued the person in our midst.

Not so anymore. What has happened to those days?

In the first three months of this year I have found myself in six different countries - India (2x), Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand, China and Australia. In each place the same thing has happened again and again. There is a meeting of some kind, or a conversation taking place ... and someone's mobile phone makes its imaginative noise, signalling a communication from some person, unknown and unseen to the gathered company. Immediately the mobile-mediated message takes precedence over everyone else. Sometimes it is a case of someone tuning-out for awhile to attend to the message. On occasion the person leading the meeting leaves everyone frozen in time and responds to the one who is unseen and unknown.

Remarkable?! How has this transition become acceptable? I am not sure. But I am trying to shape a response. Maybe you can help me...

(a) People seem increasingly addicted to the immediate. Life becomes a sequence of 'immediates'. And there is that sense of being crushed by the rush of life. It feeds an inability to wait, or to pause. And so when the mobile makes its noise, or sends its vibration, a kind of compulsive behavioural disorder is triggered which means that the message must be read immediately. In this world every sound the mobile makes is something urgent and important - certainly more so than the company being kept.

(b) Twenty years ago I developed a course which discussed the issue of technicism and Neil Postman's 'technopoly'. I've been a watcher of technology ever since, even if I am not wired to be technophilic. There is an idolatry out there. Sometimes even a salvific intent is ascribed to it. Nowhere was this more evident than with the arrival of the i-phone and then the rush by competitors to develop something similar. People the world over were dazzled and infatuated by what they held in their little hand. I wonder, I just wonder, if this all worked to make people more tolerant of discourteous behaviour? "Of course I understand, go ahead, respond to your message, play with your phone - it is so cool, isn't it?!" But the innovative has become ubiquitous now and so should not the amnesty on discourteous behaviour be over as we return to being civil to the person in front of us?

Those are two of my responses to what has been happening.

And yes, I can hear you going on about 'what about emergencies', 'my phone is my means of doing business' etc etc - but I don't really find them as convincing as they sound. Something de-humanising is girdling the globe and it strikes me as sad and wrong. The upsides of newer technology are easily worshipped - but what about the downsides? Are they critiqued as they need to be?

For the record I am into my fourth year of not wearing a watch so that I am less constrained by time when I am with people. I feel I can attend to them better without a watch on my wrist and, if I need to know the time, invariably a clockface of some kind is within eyesight. And yes, I wouldn't dream of responding to my phone when in conversation with someone unless I have asked their permission, with a good reason to do so. My apologies if that frustrates you - but maybe we need to learn to wait and to recreate a world where the flesh-'n-blood person in front of us is valued a little more :).

nice chatting



Anonymous said…
On Christmas Day last year I tried to connect with each of my nieces and nephews at a family gathering.
If one discounts grunts, I was completely unsuccessful at dragging them from their technology to the present. And I was sad.
About five years ago as I was contemplating exactly what you wrote today, I took a book to a similar gathering with the express purpose of noting the reaction - I was told off for being anti-social!
Interesting eh.

Rachael Ayres

PS I don't wear a watch either.
spirit2go team said…
I gave up wearing a watch about 20 years ago. Now my cell phone tells me the time. lol :)

Andy said…
I read a book a few years ago called; "Flickering Pixels: How Technology shapes our Faith" by Shane Hipps. Was more about how teechnology shaped the message of the Gospel, but still relevant I think to this post.
Chris C said…
hey Paul, I gave up my watch about four years ago too. Love it. Chris C.
wayne said…
If you have time to watch this it is worth it. Are we expecting more from technology and less from each other?
Paul said…
Hey, thanks for the ideas. I will be tracking them down.


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