@world: put down you smartphones #growup

By Middlebury Campus

My phone is the most basic model sold at the Verizon store. It can take pictures (but not videos); it has a speakerphone and texting options. Beyond these ‘bare essentials’, it has no multimedia or Internet capabilities.

I had the option to upgrade my phone two months ago and I chose this model over a smartphone. Why? Partially for the same reason I still use my 3rd generation IPod and eight-year old headphones — I’m a late adopter and I’m frugal. But it was also a conscious choice to prevent my subsequent enslavement to a mobile device.

I’d like to preface my ensuing rant with a disclaimer: I don’t think that all people with smartphones are slaves to their device nor do I completely disown the use of smartphones. My complaint mainly lies with those who can’t tear themselves away from their Blackberry even when it transcends the line of appropriate behavior. I sound like an old man, I know, but stay with me.

Nowhere has my concern been more acute than at an Allman Brother’s Concert I recently attended. As the concert started, my Dad and I were scoping out the crowd and the remarkable interior of the Beacon Theatre in New York City. As we gazed across the sea of people in the dim light, my eyes were drawn to numerous LED screens illuminating the muted darkness above the audience. People were busy texting, tweeting and BBMing while Derek Trucks was busy shredding onstage. Instead of enjoying the actual performance of guitar gods, these drones were busy taking low-quality pictures in anticipation for recalling the concert. Their view of the concert was blinded as they changed their Facebook statuses to “@ the Allman Bros concert lolz #winning” in hopes of getting a few jealous comments from friends. They were crushing the vibes pretty badly.

I feel that the pervasiveness of digital communication on-the-go is reaching scary proportions. Entire relationships  bend and break on single texts. For me, I feel that it’s hard to convey authentic feelings in 150 characters or less.

But I feel that excessive smartphone usage has more significant implication beyond making people look a little foolish. Renny Gleeson, an advertising consultant, gave a remarkably terse yet informative TED talk that has not really shaped, but at least helped justify my opinion regarding cell phone usage.

Gleeson’s argument revolves around the notion of a “culture of availability”: an increased notion of availability from having smartphones (via phone, texts, emails, etc.), induces increased obligation on people to make themselves accessible. Recent studies have postulated that we are even becoming “Pavlov Dogs” as every Facebook notification or text alerts our dopamine receptors of a pleasurable signal and we slowly, and subtly, become addicted to checking our various inboxes for digital notifications. So this increased obligation to phones and faint addiction are making putting one’s phone down difficult.

Additionally, with increased Smartphone usage, capturing our lives in digital format has become the norm. By spending so much time documenting our lives, Gleeson posits, we are basically asserting that, “our reality is less interesting than the story I will tell about it.” Our artificial reality is taking precedence over our actual reality. This is some serious Matrix stuff, eh?

But we really should consider the implication of this ersatz communication method. Gleeson notes that when you are standing in a room texting, you’re effectively saying, “what’s happening here, now, isn’t as important to me as what could be happening anywhere else.” A tweet can never replace a face-to-face interaction. Trolling the Internet isn’t an evil in itself, but it should be done when someone isn’t in the company of others who they could interact with instead.

Ultimately, the flood of smartphones and increased accessibility is a reality we all must come to terms with. We just have to, as a collective group, ensure that these digital forms of communication never usurp the profundity and significance of real, face-to-face interaction.

As a note: If you see me texting at a party, don’t slap it out of my hand. I’m just being ironic.