Monday, April 29, 2013

The Plight of the Connected

As many of my readers might know or might have noticed, I work in higher education. I'm around 18-2osome-year-olds every day. Well, not every day now since this week is finals, but you get the drift: I have contact with the "next generation" of America on a cyclical basis. 

And I'm tired of seeing them so fucking connected. 

Last week I was walking down the hall in the academic building I work in. It was right before the 8:00 a.m. class, and I walked right by a classroom with college students waiting for their instructor to open up it for class.

There were probably at least a dozen students waiting there. Every single one of them was looking at their damn smart phones -- texting, surfing, checking out statuses, whatever. 

It's not that I hate smart phones. I don't. Mrs. Nasty has an iPhone, and she uses it all the time to help us out -- looking up stuff, getting directions, etc. 

However, the plight of the connected is that they're constantly tied to and looking at their phones at the expense of other endeavors. 

Take the example I used above -- and it's a real-life one, not a hypothetical. It's close to 8 a.m. in the morning, and they're looking at their phones. Even at that time of the morning, I have better suggestions for college students' time as they wait in the hallway: daydreaming, "resting their eyes," chatting with a classmate, reviewing notes, flirting with someone, rereading material because there might be a quiz, checking out someone's ass, et al.

But no, they're tied to their phones, like the devices are electronic newborns/kids that always have to be checked on, cradled, and helicoptered. 

Meanwhile back in the other tactile world, less face-to-face conversation is happening. 

I, like some others, agree with the solution Sherry Turkle relates at the end of "The Flight from Conversation": "look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation."

Her argument and what she relates in her book reminds me of Robert Putnam's points in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Yes, technology can help community-building initiatives and spur civic engagement. I think that's hard to deny, and I know people could trot out copious examples of how online systems and smart phones have aided and abetted good (and bad) things happening for a community and for individuals. 

However, I am troubled by people being so tied to their phones that they don't notice what's around them, whether it's people, birds, trees, their own reflections, and other aspects of the "environment."

Look up and notice what's happening around you. 

Or just think about something -- reflect and ponder -- instead of being hyper-connected to your phones. Practice mindfulness. 

Wake up from your technological blinders. 


Babe Runner said...

The phone is in some ways what the cigarette used to be. If you feel insecure, it gives you something to do so that you can look cool or at least preoccupied. While cigarettes are obviously worse for physical health, I do wonder what the phone is doing to mental health. When I'm with a group of people in a social setting, I'll take bets with myself to see how many minutes will pass before someone whips out their phone for no good reason. The number is often dismayingly small.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Your example reminds me of the images I've seen when people gather and put all their phones in the middle of the table, so they won't check them and thereby focus on the people they're with, not their phones.

I'm thinking about making that move in my classes. Let's put all of our phones in this pile and pick them up at the end of class.

travolta said...

Have you pre-emptively banned Google Glasses yet, you Luddite?

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

I didn't know about those products until you just mentioned them.

And now I have something new to hate.