I’m a huge fan of technology and have been writing about and a part of the consumer electronics industry since way before even the crudest of cellphones were on the scene. The rise of cellular data networks and wifi everywhere is phenomenal and enables some marvelous things. Heck, I have an Apple Watch on my wrist and an iPhone in my pocket just about all the time.
But that’s the thing. It’s in my pocket. Not on the table, staring at me 24×7, even when I’m out with friends.
I just got back from a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and have to report that I was startled and, yes, a bit depressed by the obsession everyone had with checking in, sharing photos, keeping up on Facebook, and more. All the time. To the point where if we went out for a meal together, there were times when it looked like this:
Now perhaps I was in the wrong and I should simply have pulled out my own iPhone and checked to see what was new on the Twitters, in my Facebook groups and on Instagram, should have shared a funny Snapchat or even just played a game on my phone, but to me the point of socializing is to, well, socialize.
It was frankly weird at times, particularly with the food bloggers who obsessively took photos of their meals and shared them on Instagram prior to taking their first bite. But it was a production, so one or two people would be lighting the dish with their phones acting as flashlights while the third rotated the plate to get just the right angle. All in a dark, upscale restaurant.
Now I have no doubt that the photos they took were beautiful and likely capable of being used on the restaurant’s Web site and next social marketing campaign, but I couldn’t help wonder whether those of us at the table weren’t just secondary to their solo obsession. Whether the imaginary world of our online community and followers wasn’t overshadowing the real world of the people we were sitting with.
Where this gets particularly important is that we parents are modeling behavior for our children too, and I certainly don’t want them growing up in a world where everyone’s jacked in to the Internet and unable to actually just sit and be present with another person. And yet, my children complain that when they’re with friends, everyone’s playing with their phone. Monkey see, monkey do?
Linda (my ex) and I are also in the midst of this very same discussion regarding A-, our 19yo daughter. Her boyfriend lives 800mi away and so it’s not unreasonable for them to be in touch via texting, Facetime, etc, but it’s really non-stop and she can’t even manage the duration of a movie without having to check in with him. Indeed, in an email this morning to Linda, I said “I’d also like to have you and I figure out some sort of approach to help A- learn how to self-moderate her own device usage…”
It’s something I’m aware of within myself too, so I don’t mean to come across as holier-than-thou with this post. There is something inherently compelling about this tiny mobile computer that lets me communicate with anyone in a fraction of a second, whether it’s through a text message, email, a comment on one of my YouTube videos or even just a quick game of Cribbage. But I don’t want to live in the world where everyone’s smartphone is more interesting than their friends and family are, and where we become too familiar with the top of each other’s heads as looking down becomes the standard posture. And yeah, let’s add Pokemon Go to the equation (and the 100’s of variants that’ll start trickling out).
I realize it’s an uphill battle, but whether bloggers, Instagrammers, Snapchat stars or otherwise, is it really so much to ask that if people are going to spend time with me that they put their $#[email protected]$ devices away and stay focused? Or am I trying to slam the barn door shut long after the horses have bolted?