As I was idly looking through the newspaper yesterday morning, I came across a (front page?!) article about how there are still some people in the world who purposefully choose to not own a smart phone and still manage with a little flip phone instead. My interest was piqued because I happen to be one of those people, so I read the article. It was everything you would expect it to be, except it included the phenomenally ridiculous statement that people who do not choose to use a smart phone risk social isolation.
I often wish newspaper articles were actual dialogs because what I really wanted to know was exactly how this could be. (Warning, slightly snarky and facetious commentary ahead. If you tend to take your smartphone usage too seriously, you may be offended.) To me, socially isolated means that you have little human contact. That you don't know how to communicate with people. That you have difficulty interacting in groups when you are with people. That when you are out in public, people don't really see you as a person.
I can't quite make out how my little flip phone manages to do this. It must be far more remarkable than I thought. If anything, it causes me to have social interactions because of the comment it receives when I pull it out. On the other hand, I think I can make a strong case for why a smart phone does exactly what my flip phone is purported to do... cause social isolation.
Let's look at human contact first. Yes, I know you can text and text and text and facebook (can I make that a verb?) and facebook and facebook your little heart out on your smart phone. And presumably there are actual living people at the other end, but I think it's stretching it just a bit to call this genuine human interaction. That would involve actually talking with another human being. You know, where you can at least hear their tone of voice if not see their face. Written communication is not bad, it is just missing something and that something is often tone, and thus liable to be misinterpreted. Of course, this assumes that actual subjects are discussed via text and chat.
Then comes not knowing how to communicate. U hav 2 no how 2 rite. I have written exactly one text message in my life. (I just don't like it, so I don't.) It was written to B. and was about a paragraph long. The full words and complete punctuation helped to lengthen it, I'm sure. He has it saved because it makes him laugh. But back to text shorthand. I understand why it evolved, and if it was done occasionally that would be fine. Since we learn what we do, there are many people who seem to have lost the skill at real writing. They either have forgotten or never learned the ability to code switch because I see this shorthand more and more in places where it shouldn't be.
How about difficulty interacting in groups. This could be true of any cell phone user, but seems to be particularly true for those with smart phones. Not only is there the actual phone, but there are the texts, and facebook that must be checked all. the. time. Forget the fact that you may have an actual person in front of you, the screen comes first. It's feelings are hurt very easily, you know, and it might think you didn't care for it if you were to pay attention to an actual person. You all know what I'm talking about, so I don't need to go into much more detail.
Finally, social isolation happens when the people around you don't see you as an actual person. We are slowly training ourselves to ignore people talking on their phones. It's as if when you are on the phone, you have ceased to exist for all the attention people give you. The easiest way to hide yourself is to pick up a phone. A person sobbing on the curb might elicit attention. A person sobbing on the curb with a phone is ignored. Someone else is already dealing with the problem, we don't have to.
Like most technology, the smart phone is a tool. Used well, it can be useful and helpful. Used poorly, it is neither of those things. We humans are not good at limiting ourselves and often go overboard. Anything that allows us to forget our problems for a while or makes us feel important are easily misused. Well, problems don't go away regardless of how often we ignore them and we, none of us, are as important as we'd like to think. The world won't end if the phone is turned off and put away.
I know I take a perverse pleasure in not being technically up to date, but even if you love the latest gadget, all I ask is that you think carefully about its usage. Or maybe even question whether you need it in the first place. A small stupid phone still makes phone calls and texts. And even better? With a pay-per-use plan, you have to think whether that phone call is really important. Often it's not.
The socially-engaged, happy, non-ranting blogger will return tomorrow.