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A Passive-Aggressive (but mostly aggressive) Rant About Ubiquitous Smart Phone Use

May 27, 2014

It is time to channel my inner Luddite.

I cannot stand smartphones.

More specifically, the smartphones at social gatherings.

Even more specifically, the people who constantly use their smartphone at social gatherings.

Let me explain.

I’m a little behind the curve. I still have a regular cell-phone. It does not have wifi, it does not have apps, it can’t even record video. The fanciest feature it has is a slide-out keyboard. The slide-out keyboard was the only reason I upgraded to this specific phone…when I got it 6 years ago (For reference, that’s 4 iphone generation ago).

I think it is my lack of a smart phone which causes me to notice how much people use/abuse their own smart phone when outside the house. I have been to too many parties where every half-minute means a glance to whatever black rectangle Verizon gave them the best deal one, immersing their faces in Silicon Valley-produced bluewhite glow. One too many dinners where a glance to my table mates gives me the sight of them staring right at their crotches, the same bluewhite glow emanating from the region. It does not matter if me, their brother, their girlfriend, the pope, or the president was starting or in the middle of a conversation with them: the phone must command their intention. Many people put their phone directly on the restaurant table, as if their smartphone was as important to their dining experience as their fork and knife.

What I think shocks me the most is the audacity that now seems standard of people who will, in the middle of a conversation, literally stop looking at you, bow to their phone, and look back at you as if nothing that they just did was totally weird or disruptive to human interaction.

Sometimes I look over someone’s shoulder to see what exactly they’re doing that forces them to phase in and out of the digital world. Maybe their parents are worried about them and want updates. Maybe they’re chatting their best friend, who they find infinitely more interesting than the duds at the party. Maybe they’re talking to their significant other who couldn’t make it that night. Maybe their awaiting an urgent text from the state department to rescue the president’s kidnapped daughter. While I still don’t find these reasons totally acceptable, they’re at least understandable. But here’s the biggest thing that shocks me about smart phone use in human settings: The sheer banality of what they’re using their phones for. Too often I look and the person is simply playing Bejeweled or Candy Crush or taking Buzzfeed quizzes. Which means they are literally diverting their attention away from the entire party around them or the person trying to carry on human interaction with them so the can non-literally CRUSH CANDY.

Imagine if I carried around a Nintendo DS with me everywhere I went and every time you tried to have a conversation with me I would turn away and play Pokemon. Or imagine we went to dinner with friends and I insisted that I bring my gameboy with me and keep it on the table. And when the waiter tries to ask me for my order, I’m too distracted trying to beat the Elite 4. You would think I was crazy. Or 10 years old.

And yet we allow similar technology to disrupt face-to-face human interaction without anyone making much of a fuss. Why?

By now I’ve probably come as pretty cantankerous. Maybe I’m lacking foresight into how beneficial certain technologies are to society. I’m sure some monk carved a pretty ranty wood-block with the advent of the printing press, claiming that people are too engrossed in books now to interact with each other personally.

What I think is different about smart phones compared to other media is how they pervaded every context of out interactions with each other. With all media devices pre-smartphone, we developed specific contexts and times when we utilize them separate from each other. I would never read a newspaper while playing a video game nor would I try to play the violin while writing a novel. My verbal communication (talking to people personally) would happen separate from my written communication (letters, emails), and if I had to combine them there an acknowledged drop in quality of the experience I could be receiving from the respective communication mediums. Just like playing video games and going to dinner should be separated because combined they both diminish the quality of the other.  Maybe I’m the only one, but the reduction of enjoyment and meaning still holds true if you combine smartphones and personal human interaction just as if you tried to conflict any other medium with personal human interaction.

Then why do people do it now with smart phones when they didn’t do it with past mediums?

I think it’s because smart-phones (and cell phones in general) have fundamentally changed how people relate to technology. No other medium before it was as attached to our body as the modern cell-phone. A phone is carried 24/7 by those who grew up with them. It is one of the first things people interact with when they wake up and one of the last things they use before they go to bed. Even past media devices designed for portability, such as paper back books, handheld video games, or mp3 players were never seen as important to completing the Self as our phone.

These little totems that we clutch all the time, with their ethereal blue-white light, have become indistinguishable for some people from their own consciousness.  I think unknowingly people treat accessing the internet on their phone no different then having a thought to themselves while listening to someone speak to themselves.

This may be what I find most unsettling about smart phones. They are the first bio-technology, of melding technology and Self, and no one seems to notice it. Maybe that’s why it’s the first successful mass bio-tech. Maybe for technology to successfully meld with our mind and bodies, we have to not be aware that there is new technology guiding our actions and altering our self, just like how we can’t feel our own cells dividing or consciously change our heartbeat.  It’s frightening because I feel like I’m of the few noticing this drastic change in social interaction. I guess everyone’s too distracted by their phones to think about it.


Sent from my iPhone

(Just Kidding)




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