I enjoy all three of my Apple devices and use them all everyday: my iPhone for texting, for being in touch with my family, and even for the occasional phone call; my iPad for reading, watching baseball, checking email, staying up to date on what’s happening in the world, and for its mobility, and my laptop for working on MillersTime or writing more than 140 characters or short emails.
But there’s a price (beyond money) for all this connectedness and ability to be in touch.
I’ve always felt there are three ways to enjoy something, three ways to experience an event, an activity, or what we do: looking forward to it, enjoying it while it’s happening, reflecting on it after it’s over.
Most people, myself included, seem to be better at the first and third of these than at the second. At least that’s been my working assumption for years.
With the added reality of our new technologies, I think there is a further diminishing of our ability to fully engage in something while it’s happening because we also often have our eyes on our ‘smart’ phones, tablets, etc. We are so constantly connected and checking them that I think our attention is diluted from what we are engaged in at any given moment.
Pick almost any activity – parents in the park with their kids, people driving, fans watching a sporting event, diners at a restaurant, people walking along the street, folks traveling, etc. – and there’s a good chance some of them/us are also checking our phones for messages, texts, pictures, info, etc.
Or what about the intrusion to reading? When I’m reading on my iPad, I find myself at the end of every few chapters, checking my email or a baseball score, or for some other piece of information that takes me away from what I’ve been reading.
I’ve noticed over the years that when some new technology captures our attention, whether it’s the TV, tape recording, pagers (remember those?), desk top computers (remember those?), music players, cell phones, etc., the tendency is initially to over use them before we learn to control our use.
But I sense something different is happening with the smart phones and our ability to be always ‘connected.’ Whether it’s an addiction or not, I’m not sure, but I think they are more than just a distraction.
For all the benefits they bring, I think they also interfere significantly with our attention to events and experiences while they’re happening.
Am I just getting older and a bit fuddy-duddy, or do others see what I see?
It makes me really mad. These smartphones are licenses to be rude, it’s a horrible thing. People are addicted and it’s scary that they don’t even realize it. People are risking their own (and more importantly other people’s) lives just to “see what their friends are up to.” And the companies that make these things and sell them to the public don’t give a crap about what they’re doing to society, as long as they make more and more and more money.
I often imagine, say, the guy who came up with some new way to text or whatever, hosting a party, and having his friends looking down at their phones in mid-conversation with the guy, and I wonder, Is that what he wanted? Does he get mad that people are being rude to him BECAUSE of something he invented and is rich because of? (Or is he too busy being rude right back, also checking his phone, probably his bank account)?
We are not fuddy-duddies, we are people who were raised to be polite and are watching society completely lose that. And people say that every generation thinks the next one is ruining everything, and how it used to be fine but now things are going down the drain. But this…this is clearly different.
Ben Shute said:
I agree, but I think the gadgets just add to what is a common characteristic – I think in our culture we’re not very good at enjoying what’s happening at the moment. Some things — a good sports game, play, concert, or movie — may draw us in and capture our consciousness, but in general our awareness of and appreciation for what’s going on around us is pretty weak. The gadgets make it worse — when reading a physical book, do you stop and check your email, or is it the iPad that makes the book and the email seem equivalents in some way and lead you to switch back and forth between them?
Judy White said:
I don’t have an Ipad or a smart phone, and am writing on my desktop, ever the Luddite. From my perspective I completely agree. We’ve taken our pre-teen and teen grandkids on trips, at some trouble and expense, and felt they weren’t really there with us, but rather back home with their friends whom they are texting. We hike and bike on lovely trails and watch people, even when biking, focused entirely on their phones, not being where they are. Living this way, to me, creates a fragmented life, being many places at once but seldom really being where we are and who we are with.
His Lordship, The Duke of Brooklyn said:
Do you a actually have your iPhone ON during a movie? Please, tell me you don’t!
When you’re out to dinner with your lovely bride, and you are telling her how wonderful she is and that you love her, do you have it on then? Please, Tell me you don’t!
If you are having dinner with guests OR you are the guest of another, do you answer
The damn thing in the middle of a discussion on why Romney sucks or other world shaking topics, do you answer the damn thing? Please, tell you you don’t!
If the answer to any of the above is YES, then I’ve got a news flash for ya: the damn thing has an “on and off” switch! Turn it off and be present to the moment in front of you….much more important than the game scores, or the text that grandson had a bowel movement, etc etc.
To be present to the NOW is such a gift and our greatest challenge….we make our choices everyday.
Land Wayland said:
I can’t really comment knowledgeably about this “problem” because I do not own a cell phone, Ipad, or any other sort of modern communication technology. Why? Because I don’t want to be interrupted or tempted when I am engaged in any activity whether driving, reading, working in the yard, eating, talking with my wife, etc. etc. I watch TV about 30 minutes per week and then only for such peak experiences as the presidential debates, world series, or other similar top level events. (I also go the movies about once every 2-3 years and the only movie on my “wanna see” list is the new Bond flick).
And yet I am active 2-3 hours a day on my computer and am a dedicated user of Google and AOL and Facebook because of the windows (and doors) they help me open. But when I use my computer I am the person making the decisions and using the tool for my purposes. I also read about 2-4 hours per day because, again, I am making the choices regarding where my attention goes and I do this very carefully so I can focus on those issues I deem to be of enough importance that I want to give them my full attention.
I am suggesting that a person’s response to modern communication technology depends entirely on how that person decides to control how his or her time is spent. Some people are more open to and lured by the vagaries of the world then others. At age 70, I have concluded that the vast majority of events in the world are not worth my while (been there, seen that, read about that) and I want to focus on those events that are.
If you are going to use these gadgets, don’t even think about whether you are spending your time wisely. You made that decision when you turned the device ON. If your use of it bothers you, turn it OFF and put it on the shelf or in the drawer (or give it away).
Diana Bunday said:
I never thought I would be at all concerned with the new technologies. I thought they were just for others not for me. After all I had an electric typewriter, a telephone and that was all I needed or wanted.
Now some years later I have a computer and an I phone and I spend way too much time on them and on my Kindle. I like using these things to keep in touch with my children and grandchildren and some friends. I do not feel the need to be constantly connected however.
I spend time on e-mail that I am beginning to hate. Why am I on 2 list serves anyway?
I like being able to phone my partner in a grocery store when I have lost him or I have forgotten what exactly we came here to find.
One of my daughters emailed the following to me this morning:
“If you don’t read Sherry Turkle’s book……I will stop reading Millerstime.”
She is referring to the book “Alone Together” and the author who is probably the best articulator of what technology is doing to human relationships. You can check out her excellent 20 minute TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html) to get a sense of why she feels technology is taking us places we don’t want to – shouldn’t? -go. She does not argue we should ignore the technology, but that we shouldn’t ignore how it is changing us.
My post above raises not only the questions Turkle does but goes further than just what technology is doing to relationships. My concern is even broader: what we are allowing technology to do to our experiencing of the here and now.
I don’t own a smart phone. I don’t need one. I’m afraid that if I do get one, I will then “need” it.
I just read in yesterday’s Globe about an etiquette class being offered to MIT students. It seems they have to be taught not to answer/look at/otherwise play with their phones during lunches and dinners. They have to be taught to turn them off and leave them in their briefcases/pockets/or other hiding places. Of course, it’s entirely possible that their potential bosses don’t know that, either!!
I just read that someone has patented an implant, so you can never, ever miss a phone call, because the implant will vibrate inside of your body…